Wednesday, February 15, 2012

First Quad Bike Trip on Pitcairn Island

The Saga Ruby cruise ship disappeared out of sight and I took a deep breath and turned to face the scene before me. Up close the landslide damage sustained on the island over the weekend was fresh and raw. Vast amounts of mud and debris had come down the hillside and clogged the harbour. The usually pristine and clear waters of Bounty Bay waters were churning with clay and silt. Broken banana palms lay along the rocky edge.

Islanders were busy unloading the bags and baskets from the long boat. Quad bikes were being loaded and the long boat was being winched up the concrete slipway into the shed. Policeman, Bill Lambie had the muddy school trailer connected to his quad bike and our smart clean suitcases were loaded into that. Bill indicated that Paul was to be a passenger with him, and I was to travel with Rae Motu, the social worker, as passenger on her quad bike. Rae started the quad bike with ease and I gamely climbed on.

The concreted steep road up the cliff face known as the ‘Hill of Difficulty’ had been cleared and the quad bike went up it nicely. I was surprised that ‘The Edge’, the place where all the classic photos of the Pitcairn landing and boatsheds are taken from, is actually on the left side as you ascend the hill. In my mind “The Edge” had always been the raw red clay clearing on the right, but not so.

Rae kept up a running commentary as went past homes and buildings. “There’s Big Fence where Olive and Steve Christian live” she said. “There’s the Church and the Community Square”. I could have named them myself as I had studied them so often before arrival.  However, when she said “there’s the prison”, I was again surprised. I had imagined that the prison where the men had spent their time as a result of the sex charges would have been out of the community, not right in the heart of it.

The concreted road went further than I had thought it would before turning into a muddy dirt road.  The trees formed a canopy overhead and then we descended down the hill into the cool of the banyans.  The banyan trees were the most amazing trees I had ever seen. The tops towered beyond my sight and all we could see were the strange smooth divided root-like structures.

The road was littered with squashed mangoes and the smell of fruit was in the air. Bunches of bananas were drooping from many trees and I also saw passion fruit vines laden with fruit. From the banyan grove onwards I had to hold on tightly to the rear framework of the quad bike carrier. The road became increasingly muddy and slippery and Rae drove carefully. The bulldozer had obviously been working on getting the road cleared.

“The bridge to the Eco trail is out” Rae yelled. “If people want to visit Christian’s Cave they will have to go down through the school grounds.  Simon has to go that way now to get to his house. I don’t know when that bridge will get repaired.  The harbour is the priority.”
We churned through the mud up the last section. My admiration for Rae’s driving skills grew.  “I’d never driven a quad bike before we came here,” she said.
Hopefully my driving skills will one day be as good as hers.

And then we were there. "Welcome to Pulau" said the sign. Our new home was perched on the hillside above the school. The towering cliff face forming a dramatic backdrop behind the house and the sea out to the front.

What a truly magnificent setting!

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