Honey to the rescue as pandemic affects remote Pitcairn Island

Pitcairn Island PO
Tourism revenue is down but online sales of Pitcairn Island honey have gone up. Here it is being packed ready for export when the supply ship comes Image: Meralda Warren/RNZ

By Sally Round, RNZ Pacific Journalist

Honey is helping to keep Pitcairn Islanders afloat after the global pandemic stopped cruise ship visits, a growing source of revenue for the island.

This year 21 ships were due to visit Pitcairn which was settled by Fletcher Christian, his fellow Bounty mutineers and their Polynesian wives in the late 18th century.

Their descendants, who make up most of the 42-strong population, make money selling souvenirs and other local produce when the vessels anchor offshore during tours of the Pacific.

Homestay experiences were also part of the offering to the few tourists who venture to Pitcairn, a two-week boat journey from New Zealand.

Pitcairn Islander Meralda Warren said locals depended on the tourists and households were making between NZ$12,000 and $20,000 annually.

She said there had only been three cruise ship visits this year and income from tourism was now “almost non-existent”.

Since March, the only ship allowed to visit has been the supply vessel Silver Supporter, based in Tauranga, New Zealand.

“We’re very strict. No yachts, no ships are allowed to stop. We’ve had a few come by but they haven’t been allowed to come ashore,” Warren said.

But thankfully online sales of honey had increased over the past couple of months, she said.

Pitcairn Island boat shed
Pitcairn stopped cruise ship visits in March because of the covid-19 pandemic. Image: Meralda Warren/RNZ

“So the honey is still flowing however it’s terribly, terribly slow,” she told RNZ Pacific, pointing out the delays in shipping out of New Zealand because of the pandemic.

Since August, the island, a British territory, had also been receiving extra aid from the British government to the tune of $500 per person per month, according to Warren.

“It goes towards our store bill and paying off our medical loans,” she said.

EU-funded improvements to community buildings had also helped the island this year, Warren said.

Workers were being paid $10 an hour to build a new community centre, store and post office.

Isolation of Pitcairn in a pandemic ’emotional’
Pitcairn Island is one of only a handful of places world-wide which are free of covid-19, which made Warren feel privileged but quite emotional.

“We’re in isolation anyhow yet I don’t feel isolated. Sometimes I feel sad knowing how many people are dying,” she said.

“I sometimes feel guilty I’m living a normal life here on Pitcairn, one that I’ve known all my life and others … out there, they’re struggling.

“That makes me really, really sad that I can still drive or walk around Pitcairn and I can stop at a bush and pick off a berry or pick a banana off a tree, or taro from the valley,” she said.

This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.

Souvenirs from Pitcairn Island
Pitcairn Island … depends on an income from tourism and the sale of souvenirs and local produce, such as honey. Image: Meralda Warren/RNZ
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