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10 Reasons to Visit St. Helena Within 8 Months

May 16, 2017 Written by Emma Weaver

St. Helena Island, South Atlantic Ocean is one of the world’s most remote islands. But in 2017, it stands on the edge of globalization. Here are 10 reasons why this 47-sq. mile British Overseas Territory should be on your bucket list within the next eight months – before globalization alters its unique personality.

1. Be one of the last passengers on the world’s last working Royal Mail Ship

In April, The Telegraph named the 5-day voyage from Cape Town to St. Helena one of “eight epic journeys you must do by sea before you die” – but you’ve only got until February 2018 to experience the Royal Mail Ship St. Helena. Since its discovery in 1502, St. Helena has only been accessible by ship: But with the imminent opening of the new St. Helena Airport, the 155-berth RMS is in her last days. Most islanders will miss the ship, as they feel she is an extension of the island and the perfect way for travelers to be introduced to St. Helenian culture. But be sure to book quickly – voyages fill up months in advance.

Deck games, such as deck quoits (seen here), cricket and skittles are played each day. <i>Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
The Royal Mail Ship St. Helena in James’ Bay February 2017. <i>Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
Passengers on the RMS get tea or coffee in bed each morning, breakfast, lunch, tea, and a five-course dinner every day. <i>Photo by Sarah Pitts</i>.
With a ship as small as 155 berths, passengers and crew build a close relationship by the end of each voyage.<i> Photo by Sarah Pitts</i>.
2. Be one of the first passengers on one of the world’s most unique flights

Though its opening has been delayed multiple times, the St. Helena Government and the UK’s Department for International Development are currently promising that passenger flight tenders will be announced at “the beginning of UK summer,” and flights will begin late in the year (although sources tell Six Months a Saint there is reason to doubt this will happen as scheduled). Still, the airport and the RMS will likely operate in tandem for a brief period – meaning tourists could experience the RMS on the way to the island, and still have the convenience of a quick flight back to South Africa on the way back.

Construction on the St. Helena Airport finished in 2016, but the airport has not yet opened to regular commercial passenger flights as planned. <i>Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
The runway has gained international attention for its windshear issues, caused by the dramatic landscape. <i>Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
A British Aerospace 146 Avro RJ85, on May 3, became the first passenger flight to transport St. Helenians to and from the island during St. Helena’s transportation crisis. <i>Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
St. Helenians came out in the masses to watch the first St. Helenian passengers touch down on runway 20 May 3. <i>Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
3. Turn your clocks back a few decades

Though St. Helena is very British in most ways, the island has been described as being stuck in a different decade. The buildings in Jamestown, the capital, are still colonial (as are many on the island). Cell phones were introduced to the island just over a year ago, and are not a big part of St. Helenian culture as cell service and data prices are monopolized and expensive. Wi-Fi is also monopolized, expensive and accessible only in a few locations. Everyone, walking or in cars, waves to each other as they pass on the roads. As the island relies heavily on imports, shortages are frequent and many goods are hard to come by. Life moves at a slow, relaxed pace.

A Landrover with the number 1 licence plate sits in front of the clock tower and Market in Jamestown.<i> Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
Jamestown, the island’s capital, winds up for about a mile from James’ Bay into the valley. <i> Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
Sandy Bay, on the southern side of the island, is one of the most remote communities on this already remote island. <i> Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
The island’s sole Firehouse, located on Ladder Hill. <i> Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
4. Get your stamps for the 22 infamous, diverse Post Box Walks

St. Helena has 22 diverse, challenging Post Box Walks. The walks explore all areas of the island and show off a diversity of stunning features and views. Each walk has a ‘Post Box,’ with a stamp and visitor’s book inside, at the end of the trail. If you’re planning on completing them all, make sure to bring decent hiking shoes: As the Post Box Walks booklet (for sale at a few places in Jamestown) says, “Our experience is that confident and regular walkers from elsewhere in the world have found that they are not as able to cope with the local terrain and conditions as they expected.” (But if these 22 walks still aren’t challenging enough for you, contact Ed Thorpe about the Blue Dot Walks – formerly known as the Death Walks!)

A rogue sheep from the nearby farmland accompanies hikers as they near the Post Box at the end of the Blue Point Post Box Walk.<i> Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
National Trust workers Denny Leo and Benjy Lawrence trek down South-West Point as part of their daily predator-monitoring. <i> Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
Most Post Boxes, like this one at the end of Peak Dale, are made of PVC.  <i> Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
National Trust worker James Fantom, who is one of the two-man Post Box Walks Project team, looks out over Turk’s Cap Beach at the end of the Cox’s Battery walk. <i> Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
5. Swim with whale sharks and dolphins, visit the world’s oldest land animal or interact with endemic, endangered species

The waters around St. Helena are filled with whale sharks in the latest and earliest months of the year. Visitors can swim with the creatures, which are the world’s largest fish. If you prefer to stay on land, you can visit the Governor’s residence, Plantation House, where the oldest land animal on earth resides. The place is also a haven for bird-watching and fishing. St. Helena is home to 502 species that are found nowhere else on earth; so, much of the life visitors encounter, from insects and plants to fish and birds, is endemic and/or endangered.

St. Helena is currently the most vital location on earth for adult whale shark research; visitors can swim with the massive creatures.<i> Photo courtesy of St. Helena Tourism</i>.
Jonathan, thought to be around 185 years old, is said to be the world’s oldest living land animal. The video of him getting a bath went viral online. <i> Photo courtesy of St. Helena Tourism</i>.
Wirebird team member Benjy Lawrence holds a Wriebird chick. Wirebird’s are St. Helena’s last surviving endemic land bird.  <i> Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
Green Fish, or St. Helena Wrasse, are endemic. Fishers must throw them back in the ocean if caught. <i> Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
6. Have your own Top Gear experience

Fancy trying your hand on these roads? An automatic car is hard to come by, and won’t do much good on the steep inclines and loose surfaces of many parts of the island. (If you’re driving, don’t forget to wave to every passing car and every person walking by!)

Ladder Hill
Sandy Bay
7. Drink one of the world’s most expensive coffees for cheap

St. Helena coffee is one of the five most expensive coffees in the world. Sold at Harrods as a ‘luxury coffee,’ it is one of the purest available and costs £93.75 per 125g. But when you’re on the island, take a visit to Farm Lodge, Rosemary Gate or the Coffee Shop on the harbor – you can get a 125g bag for just under £9.

The St. Helena Coffee Shop and Rosemary Gate Coffee Estate are owned by the same people. They provide Harrod’s with beans and sell caffetierre coffee, coffee grounds and even frappes.<i> Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
Bill Bolton grows coffee at Rosemary Gate Coffee Estate for his coffee shop and Harrod's. <i> Photo by Sarah Pitts</i>.
The arabica beans turn bright red when they are ready to be picked.<i> Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
A cup of freshly-brewed St. Helena coffee at Farm Lodge. <i> Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
8. Visit famous gravesites and historic buildings

St. Helena is most famous as Napoleon Bonaparte’s final place of exile. The French emperor resided in a large estate in Longwood during his final years, where he kept a flourishing garden. After his passing, he was entombed on the island until his body was exhumed and taken back to France. St. Helena is also home to the cemetery of 180 Boers (from the Boer’s imprisonment on the island during the Boer War), to an involved grave culture, to the slave graves at Rupert’s which were unearthed during the Airport Project and to the Southern Hemisphere’s oldest Anglican Church.

Longwood House was the last residence of Napoleon Bonaparte.<i> Photo courtesy of St. Helena Tourism</i>.
St. Paul’s, the Anglican church, is where many St. Helenians are buried. <i> Photo courtesy of St. Helena Tourism</i>.
The Boer cemetery is home to 180 Boer graves.<i> Photo courtesy of St. Helena Tourism</i>.
Napoleon’s Tomb is now empty, but still an important tourist attraction. <i> Photo courtesy of St. Helena Tourism</i>.
9. Experience stunning dark skies viewing, sunsets and the green flash

Because of its isolation, lack of light pollution and location in the Southern Hemisphere, St. Helena is listed as one of earth’s best dark skies viewing spots. Astronomers have dotted the island’s history over the centuries because at different times during the year, virtually every constellation is visible (providing cloudless nights) from the island. St. Helena is also a prime location to view spectacular sunsets, and to potentially see the green flash on clear evenings.

An immensity of stars and constellations can be seen on clear nights.<i> Photo courtesy of St. Helena Tourism</i>.
A watercolour sunsets fades into darkness in Jamestown.<i> Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
A lone ship sits outlined on the horizon as the sky burns orange from the setting sun.<i> Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
The moon and Venus, the evening star, are seen even before sunset from Half Tree Hollow.<i> Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.
10. Explore the amazingly clear waters around the island at low cost

The waters around St. Helena are very clear, even down tens of meters. DIVE magazine recently featured the island for this reason. The ocean floor is also filled with shipwrecks and marine life, much of which is endemic. Renting a single-person kayak for a day is just £2. Additionally, getting your SCUBA certification on-island costs as little as £280 for the entire course. Saint Helena Island Info’s page hosts a wealth of information about the island’s diving.

The wreck of the SS Papanui is one of the eight accessible wrecks to explore near St. James’ Bay. <i>Photo courtesy of St. Helena Tourism</i>.
Visibility for divers is clear down to about 25 meters, and the temperature is typically between 19-26°C. <i>Photo courtesy of St. Helena Island’s Facebook Page</i>.
Kayaks can be rented from New Horizons for about £2 a day. <i>Photo by Sarah Pitts</i>.
The clarity of the ocean near Jamestown is visible from Signal House, at the top of Ladder Hill. <i>Photo by Emma Weaver</i>.

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