All you want to know about St Helena.
Where is it?
The island of St Helena is situated in the South Atlantic Ocean,about 1950 kms from the southwest coast of Africa and 2900 kms east of South America. Itsclosest neighbour is Ascension Island, situated 1100 kms to the northwest.
Of volcanic origin, St. Helena is mountainous, presenting an almost continous line ofhigh, sheer cliffs, cut only by a few, narrow and steep-sided valleys around itscoastline. It is criss-crossed by deep valleys or “guts” and slopes steeply fromthe central ridge to the sea. There is little flat land. The highest peak is Diana´s Peak(820 m). There is bush and semi-tropical growth on the high central peaks and grasslandfurther down. Much of the land below the 500 m contour is semi-barren. There is a smallbut interesting endemic flora and one indigenous vertebrate, the Wirebird, peculiar to theisland.
Although in the tropics, St Helena´s climate is kept mild and equable by thesouth-east trade wind. There are marked differences between the climate of the capital,Jamestown, on the northern leeward shore and those of the inland areas. Annual rainfallaverages 152 mm in Jamestown and from 762 to 1016 mm in the central hills. Temperatures inJamestown range from 21 to 32 centigrade in the summer and from 15 to 26 centigrade inwinter. In the central hills temperatures are 5 to 6 degrees lower. Due to the particulartopography of the island, one can more or less “pick one´s own climate”. Highwinds are rare.
The St Helenians (referred to as “Saints” by themselves) are of mixed origin,being descended from British settlers sent out by the East India Company and from manycompany employees and slaves from the South Asian sub-continent, the East Indies andMadagascar as well as a small number of Chinese and Africans. There are about 6 000Saints, more than 750 working on Ascension Island and in the Falklands.
The Saint is well educated, polite and proud of his heritage. He is also easy-going andhas a fine sense of humor. Tipping is unknown and it would be perfectly safe to forgetyour wallet anywhere.
Jamestown, with a population of 1400, is the only town and theport. The other main centres of population are Longwood and Half Tree Hollow.
St Helena was uninhabited when discovered by the Portuguese navigator Juan da Nova onMay 21, 1502 and was named in honor of Saint Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine theGreat, whose festival falls on that day in the Eastern Church calendar. The Portugueseused the island as a watering and victualling base when returning from India and the FarEast, as did the English and Dutch following their discoveries of the island in 1588. TheEast India Company started the first permanent settlement at “Chapel Valley”(Jamestown) in 1659. After a brief Dutch occupation in 1673 the company kept the islanduntil 1834 when it was brought under the direct government of the Crown.
The best-known episode in the history of the island is Napoleon Bonaparte´s exile herefrom 1815 until his death in 1821. The houses in which Napoleon lived,one at the Briars (close to Cable & Wireless) and one at Longwood (neighbouring thegolf course), and his original grave are owned and maintained by the French Government andattract much interest.
During the 1840s, St Helena was an important base for Royal Navy vessels attempting tostop the slave trade from West Africa. The island´s economy suffered greatly with theadvent of steamships and the opening of the Suez Canal (l869). Between 1900 and 1902 some6 000 Boer prisoners-of-war were imprisoned on St Helena and a large British garrison wasstationed there.
Currency and banking
The St Helena pound is equivalent to the pound sterling. Only St Helena currency islegal tender.The single bank is the Government Savings Bank, which does not offer the fullrange of normal commercial banking facilities. Travellers cheques are accepted by Solomon& Co Plc. Only cash is used.
Where to stay
There are two hotels in Jamestown, The Consulate Hotel and Wellington House, the lattermore family-styled. Prices are moderate and service personal. Food is rich and ofexcellent quality. Tap water is perfectly safe. There are several public bars. Meals andsnacks are also served at Ann’s Place and at Dot’s, all in central Jamestown.
Using a local telephone card you can dial direct to any part of the world. The localtelephone system has recently been fully developed. Fax service available through Cable& Wireless.
TV was recently introduced on the island. Previously a lot of video films and recorded UKprogrammes were watched. The only radio station is Radio St Helena, broadcasting on 1548kHz with 1 kW. There are daily BBC newscasts as well as local news and entertainment.
There is no public transportation system. However, there are more than 1500 cars on thissmall island and car rental is inexpensive. Renting a car is highly recommended. Althoughbeing a small island, the mountainous character of the island makes transportation slow.Only the fittest make it on foot. The roads are narrow but well maintained and driving iscourteous. Mail service is through the “RMS St Helena”,delivered either to Cape Town or to Ascension Island for further transport. A letter cantake anything from one week to one month, depending on coordination with the boat. StHelena stamps are beautiful and collector’s items.
What to do and see
St Helena harbour area is excellent for diving. Lots of fish, clear water, old wrecksand no sharks. There are no beaches on St Helena and ocean swimming is dangerous due toheavy currents. There is a nice public pool in the Jamestown harbour area. The best pool,however, is “Lot´s wife´s pond” in the Sandy Bay area.It will take you half an hour of walking on a tiny path over a ridge, and you may evenneed a rope to get down, but it is worth it. The “pool” is a maze of smallnatural ponds, full of fish, protected from the mighty trade winds by a natural rockywall. Fishing is excellent. A local fisherman will take you out for a day or less at avery reasonable cost. The best game is barracuda and tuna, in the range of 25-50 kg andthe most delicious one is “Bull´s eye”. Your landladywill be pleased to serve it in the evening. Huge merlins are caught every now and then andyou will often see the dolphins close to your boat. Napoleon is, of course, a greatattraction to the tourist. There are two museums and the empty tomb. There is a Frenchconsul with a very solid knowledge about these museums. While thousands visit Elba and TheInvalide Dome every month, very few persons have seen these unique collections. Golf canbe played at Longwood. The St Helena Golf Club will be pleased to let you use localequipment at a fair price. The course, with 9 holes, is rather flat but in a splendidsurroun-ding. There are facilities for tennis (concrete) and badminton.
The St Helena “expats” are very fond of what they call “Walks”. Don´tlet yourself be fooled by the expression! The island has very few flat areas and most ofthese walks take a fit person. However, if you are in reasonable shape, you will findquite a few interesting walks in very good company. There are historic walks(fortifications, old guns, landingplaces, graves), biological walks (endemic species,endangered species, reforestation, flax clearing), natural science walks (e.g. Halley´sobservatory). You can also climb the peaks and get a stamp at the “Post Office”at Diana´s Peak! Yes, there is a mail box there, once in use, now with a stamp,certifying your climb.
If you are interested in biology, there will be much to see on the island and the localbotanical garden is a positive example of how Man, very late, started to save theisland´s nature. The endemic ebony was thought to be extinct. One small bush wasdiscovered in the 80’s; now there are thousands of seedlings all over the island. Theislands only existing St Helena Olive-plant was recently found dead on Diana’s Peak.
Shooting is a popular sport and a license for partridge and pheasant can be obtainedduring season.
Plantation House is the residence of the Governor. In the beautiful garden you will meetthe oldest inhabitant of the island. He is called Jonathan, a tortoise and said to beabout 200 years of age, once brought from Mauritius.
Sandy Bay is located in the south, facing the trade winds. Thelowest part is a sterile desert and the shoreline is fortified. The upper part is afertile agricultural zone where the island´s high-ly reputed coffee is grown. The cartrip down the serpentine road is an experience in itself. In your immediate view you willhave the huge monolith “Lot” and in the background the smaller “Lot´swife”.
How to get there now
There is only one possibility of getting to the island, unless you have your own boat.The “RMS St Helena” makes its journey from Cardiff to Cape Town 6 times a year,stopping at Tenerife, Ascension Island and St Helena(once a year at Tristan da Cunha).From Cardiff to St Helena the trip takes about 13 days, giving you almost three weeks onthe island before the ship returns and takes you back to Cardiff. Starting from Tenerifecan shorten the trip. Price for trip Cardiff – St Helena one way varies from GBP 1600 to450, depending on comfort onboard. The ship is well equipped and with a pleasantatmosphere.
For further information contact Curnow Shipping Ltd, The Shipyard,48-50, Killigrew Street,Falmouth, Cornwall , TR13 9J UK, Tel 1326-211466, fax 1326-212808. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
How to get there in the future
The government of St Helena wishes to promote a certain amount of tourism. The mainobstacle of tourism is slow trans-portation to the island. This will be improved by goingby air from UK to Ascension Island and adding a shuttle boat between the two islands. Thiswill make trips of two weeks possible. It will also make Ascension Island available fortourists. The Island administration itself does not encourage tourism, there are nopermanent residents and very limited facilities. However, a short stop-over is veryinteresting for any tourist.Whenever a suitable ship has been acquired, there will bepossibilities of limited group travel from UK to St Helena via this air-ship link.
SATT is an non-profit organisa-tion with the aim of promoting tourism and generalknowledge about St Helena. For return postage we shall be happy to send you more specifiedinformation about the island. Our adress: Box 6014, SE-60006 Norrkoping, Sweden
Would you like to know more?
There are two videos available about St Helena, produced by Silverglade, fax+44-171-827951. “Island of Saint Helena” is from l962 while “Saint Helena,South Atlantic Ocean” is a modern version. Available in PAL and NTSC.
A comprehensive list of St Helena literature can be obtained from Miles Apart, 5Harraton House, Exning, Newmarket, Suffolk CB8 7HF, England also at 6025 Cheshire Drive,Bethesda, MD 20814, USA. Much South Atlantic literature is available from Anthony NelsonLtd., P O Box 9, Oswestry SY11 1BY, England. Fax 069l 828898.
The excellent St Helena coffee is available from Bettys by Post, 1 Parliament Street,Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG1 2QU, England. Fax 0243 565191. Approx. price 6UKP/lb.
Thanks to Barry Waever who let us using his picture “Where St. Helena islocated”.