Olive Christian makes the best fruit salad in her entire country. She’s never won an official award, but everyone agrees that her trademark mix of watermelon and pineapple bests the rest — and besides, it’s easy to take a straw poll when you’re only asking a few dozen people. Olive lives on the British overseas territory of Pitcairn Island, an autonomous representative democracy which, according to the latest census, has 50 citizens. It’s basically the smallest country in the world.
Seemingly lost in the bluest recesses of the Pacific, halfway between Peru and New Zealand, Pitcairn was thought to be a hallucination of sea-weary sailors until it was settled in 1790 by a band of British defectors (and their Tahitian brides) unhappy at the prospect of having to return to Mother England. Like most of the Pitcairn’s citizens, both Olive and her husband of 40 years, Steve Christian, are direct descendants of the original mutineers.
Olive is waiting for me at the harbor as my ship arrives, and she recognizes me immediately since I’m the traveler, arriving among a small gaggle of locals who were off-island for medical treatment. I swing my leg over the backseat of her quad bike and we immediately putter up the near-vertical incline to the reach the settlement.
“It’s not the Hilton, but it’s home!” Olive announces as we pull under the shade of a canopy made from aluminum siding. By the time I’ve showered off the two days of freighter travel, she’s already settled into her role as my island mom, whipping up runny eggs and crispy bacon (just the way I like ‘em), and scooping out a heaping portion of her trademark pineapple salad drizzled with fresh passionfruit.
Her hospitality never wavered for the two weeks of my visit, from elaborate evening picnics overlooking the landing, to rides down to the volcanic pools for a midday swim. On Pitcairn, the tradition of the homestay is practically as old as the island’s settlement, when the members of the Topaz, an American whaling vessel, were welcomed on shore after they stumbled upon its mutineer-castaways. It remains the island’s only form of accommodation to this day.
For the last 200 years, each arriving long-haul vessel has meant new visitors and usually new goods, too. The needed parts to get the island’s wifi up and running arrived on the freighter before mine. And just like that, Pitcairners joined the gig economy, monetizing their centuries-old homestay experience by joining the largest community accommodation marketplace as the world’s most remote listing.
Starting at $150 USD a night, each visitor is matched with one of the local families. Meals and washing are included in your stay, which is good since there’s a noticeable paucity of restaurants and laundromats on Pitcairn. And as for Olive’s famous fruit salad? That’s free of charge.
How to Get to the Pitcairn Islands
Not a destination for the spontaneous traveler, Pitcairn is only accessible by cargo freighter, the Claymore II, which transports goods from New Zealand. Passengers join for the last two nights of the ship’s two-week journey by getting themselves to Tahiti then flying to the island of Mangareva (around 4.5hrs) in the southeast corner of French Polynesia to board.
The Claymore II only makes four complete circuits between New Zealand and Pitcairn each year, and there are 12 berths available for travelers (including transiting locals), which means considerable planning is needed to secure a spot on one of the passages. Pitcairn’s homestay committee offers assistance with freighter bookings.