“Stepping Stones” to Pitcairn Island
Foreword by Graham Ford

As published in the April 2010 magazine

As members of our party assembled at Heathrow’s Terminal One departure lounge on that July afternoon, it was the culmination of nine months preparation, looking at airline time-tables and hotel brochures. No doubt visiting Pitcairn Island would be the highlight for all of us, but for me the prospect of seeing other exotic islands, that I had only previously read about, added a flavour of adventure and expectation to the trip.

Many years ago, during my early school days, I chose to write an essay entitled ‘Islands of the South Seas’, for which my generous geography master gave me B++ (despite a number of spelling mistakes!). Unbelievably he even complimented me by noting my maps were “expertly drawn”. It was to be my first introduction to Pitcairn and the islands of the Pacific, and an interest which soon led me into my lifetime hobby of collecting stamps.

My next ‘Stepping Stone’ was joining the Pitcairn Island Study Group. I can’t remember exactly the precise date, but I still proudly possess my 1980-81 membership card, signed by Anne Hughes. The formation of the UK Chapter some years afterwards added a new dimension to my interests and opened up so many varied aspects of study, not always linked to stamps.

We are fortunate to have as a life member, Dr Michael Brooke, who offered our membership the opportunity to travel with a 2009 expedition to the Pitcairn Islands. A multi-funded project was to seek feasibility of long term extermination of rats on Henderson Island. Six PISG UK members eventually joined our first ever Society-organised ‘trip of a lifetime’.

Here at Terminal One we were at long last boarding our flight to Los Angeles, the first stop of our long awaited ‘adventure’. The members of the Henderson Island expedition were to join up with us in Tahiti, so we had a relaxing few days acclimatising ourselves to the warm Pacific climate. Fortunately, the local weather lived up to its sunny reputation and we never saw any rain in Southern California.

On to Tahiti … and its enduring beauty. From our hotel, the views over the palms and swimming pools to the reef and Moorea beyond, bathed in morning sunshine, will remain with many of us for a lifetime (unfortunately, so too will the bill for breakfast!). The view towards Tahiti from Moorea, with its soft sand and warm multicoloured waters, immortalises the image of paradise. Scenes from the motion picture South Pacific were filmed near here.

On our second day, we left behind the hustle and bustle of the main town of Papeete. Several times our couriers turned off the main road that circles the island, to visit various historical sites. One could have almost visualised James Norman Hall on the veranda of his house writing his famous books. The Benedictine bottle, resting on top of the tomb of Pomare V, certainly immortalised Tahiti’s last monarch’s downfall. Matavia Bay was extremely atmospheric and certainly came up to most expectations. Standing on the beach it really did not take much to imagine the Bounty approaching through the reef with islander-laden canoes paddling out to greet their visitor. Tahiti has so many places of interest that we were almost late getting back ‘home’.

During the flight to the Gambier Islands the tangle of atolls of the Tuamotu Archipelago, some of which have the largest lagoons in the world, looked spectacular from our aircraft. These colourful and alluring specks of land are sometimes described as the low or dangerous islands, but our aircraft safely made a transit stop at Hao (Island of the Harp), giving us all the briefest of opportunities to look around. Interestingly, Quiros the Portuguese discoverer of both Henderson and Ducie islands, was also the first European to see Hao.

We arrived at Totegegei airport, Gambier Islands, during a tropical storm, which, although we did not realise it at the time, was to prove more than a little troublesome during the first night of our voyage to Pitcairn. The largest island, Mangareva, is very different geographically and culturally. Despite the efforts of evangelists, among whose number were George Nobbs and John Evans, both from Pitcairn, who visited Gambier during 1834, it has a very strong Catholic tradition. The Gambier islands are so far from anywhere that the French refer to them as being “at the end of the world”. Breadfruit grows everywhere in the gardens of Mangareva’s main town, Rikitea, but somehow, seeing it growing there was rather special, reminding us that without this fruit we would most probably never have visited the South Pacific.

At last we were on our way. The good ship Braveheart was to be the final ‘Stepping Stone’.

I’m sure you will find the following contributions from my fellow travellers of great interest.

David Townsend for chauffeuring us around Los Angeles.
Jacqui Christian – our thanks for making the BBQ possible.

Number 40 • April 2010