Phil's Travels - St Helena
St Helena, South Atlantic (22 July - 12 August 2013)
I have just come back from an amazing trip to an island in the South Atlantic, St Helena, a beautiful jewel of a place that lies between Angola and Brazil. Talk about remote, the nearest land is the island of Ascension, some 1,300km to the northwest (to which access is restricted, as it is a military base), and the nearest significant land mass is Africa, some 2,300km to the east.
There are a few ways of getting to St Helena, all of which require a boat trip. Unless you own an ocean-going yacht or you are a passenger on a passing passenger ship, one can either take the Airbridge from RAF Brize Norton in the UK to Ascension and then board the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) St Helena for the 2-3 day sail to St Helena; or one can fly to Cape Town and take the RMS for the 5-day sail to St Helena. The latter is more reliable and allows the visitor a week on the island of St Helena - this is the route I took.
It took me 22 days to get to the island and back home again, of which seven were spent on the island itself. But what a place! Stunning, visually stimulating, packed full of history and beautiful nature, and surrounded by endless ocean also rich in life and history. There is nowhere else like it. My seven days were filled with meetings and experiences. The Saints are wonderful people and a short walk down Main Street can become a one hour experience as you chat to each Saint that passes you by.
Why St Helena? We have been commissioned by Enterprise St Helena to prepare a report on the potential for tourism and hotel investment on the island once the new airport is open and operational in 2016.
Why would tourists visit St Helena? Despite its size (122 sq km), St Helena packs in more than many big countries, never mind a small island at the heart of an ocean. During the age of sail it was a critical staging post and controlled by the British East India Company for nearly 200 years. It was the final destination for Napoleon Bonaparte (after his defeat at Waterloo) and a place of exile for Boers, Bahraini princes and Zulu princes. Darwin, Halley and many other famous persons of science visited the island and made their names here.
The island's mountainous terrain, remote setting and massaging south-easterly trade winds have combined to create multiple micro-climates and eco-systems throughout St Helena - from barren desert areas to lush mountain rain forest. History is peppered throughout this natural beauty - a walker's paradise.
The ocean is equally spectacular. Several hundred dolphins live off-shore, I saw a mother and baby whale pass by, the number of wrecks along the coastline offers an incredible range of diving opportunities, and the game fishing is world class (one of the few places in the world where you can catch White Marlin).
Would I go back? Absolutely, once the airport opens. Not sure I could find another 22 days to spare. That said, I met some amazing people on the RMS and we had a blast.