Back in 2015, South African Maaike Duk visited St Helena with a group of seven friends. Maaike had heard the RMS St Helena was being decommissioned, and wanted to experience a voyage while she still could.
But Maaike fell in love with the ship, and with the island.
In July of this year, Maaike brought 13 of her family members back to the island with her.
The 14 members of the Duk family – Maaike (who the family calls “Grannie”), her sons Graham, Rob and William with their wives Helena, Jude and Briggie, and grandchildren Adam, Matthew, Ben, Mia, Emma, Nicholas and Francie – were on-island from July 9 to July 17.
The Duks stayed at Prince’s Lodge for the duration of their holiday.
“[It was] wonderful,” Briggie said. “It couldn’t have been more perfect: So two large rooms in the front downstairs, a large kitchen, and then three large bedrooms upstairs, with a ‘Grannie flat’ for Grannie on the side.”
Though the family members spanned over a few generations, all age groups enjoyed the holiday – especially the Museum and the Post Box walks.
“I think one of our highlights would be Diana’s [Peak], followed very closely by High Peak,” Graham said. “High Peak we did twice.”
The Duks managed to squeeze six Post Box walks into their eight-day stay: As well as Diana’s Peak and two stints at High Peak, the family walked High Hill, the Barn, Sugarloaf and Flagstaff.
The family also visited the donkey sanctuary in the Blue Hill area, went on a dolphin boat, walked Jacob’s Ladder and spent time snorkelling – all of which the younger family members particularly enjoyed.
With the opening of the St Helena Airport drawing slowly but constantly nearer, is the fact that one woman felt so strongly about St Helena and the RMS – strongly enough that she brought 13 people back to the island with her for an eight-day turnaround – a positive sign for St Helena’s tourism industry?
The family also visited Napoleon’s Tomb, and had sundowners at High Knoll Fort.
In their eight days on St Helena, the island captivated the family.
Maaike most enjoyed the “ambience” of the island.
“The people are very friendly, warm, kind – go beyond the call of duty,” she said.
Briggie most appreciated the diversity of the island.
“From lush, green hills to these moonscape sceneries, the diversity of the scenery was beautiful,” she said.
Graham split what he enjoyed about the island into four categories: Meeting the locals, meeting fellow travellers, seeing geography and seeing history.
“The geography is amazing,” he said. “The diversity is pretty insane for such a small island, from sort of arid to lush; it’s sort of the English landscape on steroids, mixed with a bit of Swiss-Alps type thing. And I think the fact that it’s all amplified by the remoteness of this tiny little island in the middle of nowhere. It’s extremely unique.”
Coming from South Africa, the Duks were also amazed by the level of safety they felt on the island.
“There was one incident where I mean, coming from South Africa this was totally not like us: We were at Ann’s restaurant for supper, and all the kids were just playing in the Gardens. It was dark, pitch dark, and they were all out there on their own, it’s not closed in so anyone could have come in and taken them. At home we would never ever do that. But we were so happy, the kids were just outside on their own in the dark, we don’t know where they are and we were happy with that which is very unusual for us.”
It seems some of the Duks, at least, will be visiting the island again once the airport opens.
“We’ve all been talking about how it might change with the airport,” Graham said. “It’ll be interesting to go back in a couple of year’s time once the airport is operational and to see how things have changed.”
Maaike, however, will likely only return if she can get onboard a ship rather than a plane.
“I love the ship, I adore the ship,” Maaike said. “So I wouldn’t come back to St Helena [if there are only flights].”
Though other members of the Duk family said they would return when flights began, the RMS was still a large part of what made St Helena so “magical” for the entire family.
“We went out to visit the airport, and it’s such a stark comparison: The modern-ness of the airport versus the waterfront where you land on the ship,” said Helena. “It’s huge. You think, ‘how will this work? Do you really want to make it work?’ Because it’s so charming, so beautiful and so special; do you really want to open it up to so many more tourists? You almost want to keep it to yourself. A best-kept secret. But inevitably it will go that way, but I think there should be a fine line of how you do it.”
The Duks extended thanks to the staff of the RMS. They noted that on the way to the island, the kids made comments of the ship being “boring.” But on the way back to Cape Town, the kids found their groove, and loved the five-day voyage.
The older family members thoroughly enjoyed both five-day voyages.
“It’s special being on a boat like this that’s not too big, not too small,” Graham said. “100-plus passengers is quite a special dynamic.”
The Duks would like to extend special thanks to Reggie, Jane (from Ann’s Place), the MacAskill family and Irene and Donald Harris. The 14 family members are now back home in Newlands, Cape Town, but have already started discussing return trips.
“Even though we did pack in quite a lot, we felt that there’s lots of things we didn’t do, so there has been talk of coming back soon,” Graham said.
A special thanks to the Duk family for letting Sarah interview and photograph them during Voyage 260, as well as including her in the family during her stay in Cape Town.