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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.