Pitcairn Islands: A Dark Sky Sanctuary in the Pacific and a paradise for astro tourists
The Milky Way as seen from Pitcairn is a once in a lifetime treat for a very few tourists calling themselves Astro Tourists. The sky is unlimited at night in the remote Pitcairn Islands. This Pacific islands are once again putting themselves on the world’s stage as they embark on a journey to become an official ‘Dark Sky Sanctuary’. Currently, there are only three locations on earth deemed a ‘Dark Sky Sanctuary’ —a designation that means everything in the world of Astro Tourism.
The Pitcairn Islands, officially Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands, are a group of four volcanic islands in the southern Pacific Ocean that form the last British Overseas Territory in the South Pacific.
The four islands – Pitcairn proper, Henderson, Ducie, and Oeno – are scattered across several hundred miles of ocean and have a combined land area of about 47 square kilometers (18 sq mi). Henderson Island accounts for 86% of the land area, but only Pitcairn Island is inhabited.
Pitcairn is the least populous national jurisdiction in the world. The Pitcairn Islanders are a bi-racial ethnic group descended mostly from nine Bounty mutineers and the handful of Tahitians who accompanied them, an event that has been retold in many books and films. This history is still apparent in the surnames of many of the Islanders. Today there are only about 50 permanent inhabitants, originating from four main families.
From total solar eclipse meetups to Northern Lights photography workshops, worldwide Astro Tourism is a rapidly growing industry. In recent years, Astro Tourism has been heralded as an industry leader among sustainably-minded travelers and travel companies alike. For these reasons and more, Pitcairn is doubling down on Astro Tourism by applying to become a ‘Dark Sky Sanctuary’ in 2018.
Pitcairn’s application will be a strong one to be sure and this isn’t the first conservation- minded designation the islands have sought out. In 2015, the United Kingdom named the waters surrounding the Pitcairn Islands as the largest protected ocean area in the world. Today it remains the 3rd largest Marine Protected Area in the world. Pitcairn’s steadfast commitment to conservation will ensure its natural riches will remain pristine for generations to come. Located more than 500kms from its nearest populated neighbour, deep in the South Pacific, the Pitcairn Islands have amongst the world’s clearest oceans and night skies in the world. Furthermore, with a population of only 50 people, and a volcanic landscape that provides a variety of dramatic viewing points, Pitcairn is ideally placed to meet the specific needs of Astro Tourism.
As its first step into the Astro Tourism world, Pitcairn has invited Emeritus Professor of Astronomy at the University of Canterbury, John Hearnshaw, to visit the islands in February 2018. His role will be to assess the suitability of the island for Astro Tourism as it relates to the training of night-sky guides, location scouting, and light metering. Training topics with Pitcairn’s budding Astro guides will include information on planets, stars, nebulae and galaxies, lunar and solar eclipses, timekeeping in astronomy, black holes, quasars, and cosmology.
With locations identified and training for locals guides beginning in February 2018, Pitcairn’s next step will be to apply for its ‘Dark Sky Sanctuary’ designation. If awarded this prestigious honor, Pitcairn would join the ranks of only three existing sanctuaries on earth including the remote regions of Chile, New Zealand, and New Mexico.
Making the announcement, Pitcairn Travel Coordinator, Heather Menzies said, “Pitcairn has amazing dark skyscapes. In line with our commitment to protecting our environment, we aim to curate a world-class night sky-viewing experience on Pitcairn. Being such a pristine and remote island, our natural amphitheatre will provide an ideal location for intrepid Astro visitors.”
Located halfway between New Zealand and Peru, Pitcairn has been home to the descendants of the HMAV Bounty mutineers since 1790 and remains one of the most remote and undiscovered tourism destinations in the world. This new opportunity will provide visitors with yet another compelling reason to visit this fascinating and remote destination.
Access to Pitcairn is via a quarterly shipping service that offers 12 round-trips annually between Mangareva in French Polynesia and Pitcairn Island.