Difference between revisions of "Saint Helena (island)"
Latest revision as of 15:48, 28 August 2018
Saint Helena Island is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and is one of the world's most isolated islands, and it is the place where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled from 1815 until his death in 1821. If you start crossing the Atlantic Ocean at the border between Namibia and Angola, Saint Helena Island will appear just less than half way to Brazil. It is the most populous of the United Kingdom's territories in the South Atlantic.
Uninhabited when first discovered by the Portuguese in 1502, Saint Helena was garrisoned by the British during the 17th century (to be used as a refreshment station for ships travelling to and from the East). It acquired fame as the place of Napoleon Bonaparte's exile, from 1815 until his death in 1821, but its importance as a port of call declined after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Saint Helena has two smaller dependencies: Ascension Island is the site of a US Air Force auxiliary airfield; Tristan da Cunha is home to a very small community reliant on fishing for income.
Saint Helena's most famous resident, of course, was Napoleon, who was exiled there by the British. He died on the island in 1821, and you can visit his beautiful grave site in a flower-laden glade, but his remains were disinterred and are now at Les Invalides in Paris. You can visit his two residences on the island. He stayed at The Briars for three months, and lived the rest of his life in a respectable house in Longwood. Both can be visited during their designated opening hours.
The island is still heavily dependent on British aid to run basic functions.
The grandest house on the island, however, is that of the governor. It looks like it was lifted straight out of 18th century England. There are marvellous land tortoises on the grounds, including one purported to be the world's oldest living vertebrate, Jonathan, who is estimated to be between 180 and 190 years old.
The flora and fauna of the island are both unique. Though many endemic species have become extinct, there are some left to be seen. Cabbage trees, gum trees and the local ebony can all be seen. The ebony was thought to be extinct until a local botanist found a specimen hanging off a cliff. It is being propagated and planted around the island. The islanders have also begun to restore the native forests of the island. The Millennium Forest has been planted by many volunteers and consists largely of local gum trees. Native, old growth forests can be found on the highest peaks of the island. High Peak and Diana's Peak have beautiful natural areas.
The Saint Helena Wirebird is a plover-like bird with long beak and legs. It is a land bird, and can be found in open areas including Deadwood and Prosperous Bay Plain. The Wirebird is Saint Helena's national bird.
The Tourist Office is in a quaint building with a beautiful bow window at the top of Main Street where it branches into Napoleon and Market Streets. Staff there can help you book tours and give you all kinds of advice about what to see and do on the island.
The tourist office's telephone is (+290) 22158. Its official website  contains information on visiting the island.
An independent site  also provides visitor information.
Saint Helena has an easy visa policy; all visitors may obtain a Short Term Entry Permit which is valid for up to six months provided that they have a valid travel document, a return ticket, valid medical insurance with medevac insurance and adequate means to provide for themselves for the duration of their stay.
The duty-free allowances are 1 litre of spirits, 2 litres of wine or 4 litres of beer, 250ml of perfume and 200 cigarettes or 250g of other tobacco products. The unlicensed import of fruit, vegetables and plant material is illegal.
St. Helena has a new international airport that began a regular air service in October 2017 provided by Airlink, who provide regular weekly scheduled and chartered services between the island and Johannesburg with a stopover in Windhoek en route, with connections available in Windhoek for Cape Town. Flights occur on the weekend only.
St Helena has a very limited public bus service. Introduced in 2003, the routes and timetables are designed primarily to satisfy the needs of locals. Buses are rare, usually going once or twice only on some weekdays. Visitors can, with some planning, use the bus service to reach some of the island's attractions and walking opportunities. Check timetables carefully and allow sufficient time to catch the return bus, otherwise you may face a long walk back to Jamestown! Stops are well marked, but a nice wave will also get the driver to stop.
Taxis are also available in Jamestown (the rank is situated in front of the Tourist Information Office).
Rental cars (£15+ a day) are probably a more practical method of travel. Due to high demand, please book your car rental in advance.
Saint Helena drives on the left, as in the United Kingdom. Likewise, the traffic signs in Saint Helena resemble those of the United Kingdom.
Walking is wonderful, but mostly in the highlands in the centre of the island. The 21 Post Box Walks, a series of graded trails are a good way to explore much of the island. The walks and routes with maps are available in a book written by the island's Nature Conservation Group, available at the Tourist Office. The cliffs all around the perimeter make it impossible to walk along the coast at most points, and access to the sea is normally by descent of the numerous steep valleys that cut through the volcanic landscape. Though the island is small, don't be deceived -- distances can be great for a walker. Ensure you have plenty of water and sunscreen.
It is very hard to walk out of Jamestown. The city is in a deep canyon coming from the highlands down to the shore, and there are three roads out, one up either edge of the canyon and the third, Barnes Road, an old track that leads to Francis Plain, perched on a plateau 500m above Jamestown. The other way to get to the highlands is via the vertiginous Jacob's Ladder, an extremely tall 699-step staircase, originally built as an inclined plane to bring goods in and out of Jamestown.
The official language of Saint Helena is English, however it is often spoken with a strong accent and using ordinary English words in unusual ways. This dialect is locally known as "Saint". Examples include "What you name is?" and "Us goin Town" (us = 'we' and 'one' is used where 'a' or 'an' might be expected).
Though the island culture is a melange of people from all over the world, immigration essentially ended long ago, and the Malay, Indian, African and other immigrants to the island have not maintained their original languages or cultures.
There are several shops in central Jamestown that offer a selection of local gifts and souvenirs. There are also interesting things to buy at Longwood House. The island museum has a very nice small gift counter.
The St Helena Distillery has a selection of produces including Tungi, a high-proof liquor made from cactus; gin, wines, a Napoleonic themed Brandy and more. The Distillery is located in the Alarm Forest Area, not far from Napoleon's Tomb.
Locally-produced items include woodwork, fine lace and jewellery. Locally made souvenirs can be purchased from:
St Helena Arts and Crafts Shop, The Canister, Jamestown, ☎ +290 22101. edit
SHAPE, The Market, Jamestown. edit
Serena's Gift Shop, Main Street, Jamestown, ☎ +290 22792. edit
GK Crafts, The Market, Jamestown. edit
G-Unique Boutique, The Market, Jamestown. edit
The Museum of St Helena, The Grand Parade, Jamestown, ☎ +290 22845. edit
Purchases are made in Saint Helena pounds. The Saint Helena pound is held at parity with the British pound sterling and British money can be used on the island. Some shops may also accept US Dollars and Euro.
There is a bank on the island which opens weekdays and Saturday mornings, but has no ATM, so be sure to plan ahead, however a branch is available at the Airport if needed. The bank can use your credit/debit card to access your account on-island, however many businesses can not, therefore you will have to carry cash. St Helena money is rarely available in banks outside the St. Helena / Ascension / Tristan area so don't worry about changing in advance.
Must-eat treats include "Pilau" (pronounced "ploe"), "St Helena Fishcakes" made with local tuna or mackerel, "Black Puddings" and an assortment of different curries.
Tourists shouldn't come to Saint Helena to work - it is illegal to do paid work on St. Helena unless you have a work permit or are employed by the UK or St. Helena Government.
Wages are low - about a fifth of that paid for the equivalent work in the UK.
A large number of Saints work off the island on the RMS Saint Helena, in the Falklands or on Ascension. This is mainly to obtain a higher income.
The island must be one of the safest places on earth. Crime is practically non-existent, though there is a jail with a few inmates. You can feel comfortable walking at night anywhere on the island. There are no bugs or animals of concern (with the exception of scorpions). The only safety issue might be falls for those who want to do some climbing. Law, order and security on the island is provided by the St. Helena Police Service.
While there is no particular health threat on the island (no special vaccinations are required), you don't want to get seriously ill. There is a hospital with trained staff available, however, there are no facilities to deal with very serious health issues. Any complicated medical issue must be dealt with off island, and that is a bare minimum of three days away if the boat to Ascension and the plane is just right. More likely you will have to wait several weeks for the boat to Cape Town. As the new Airport is now operational, MedEvac to Johannesberg or further afield is feasible, but obviously very expensive!
Visitors are required to carry medical insurance that will cover the full cost of their evacuation back to their home country.
Most St. Helenians have strong loyalty to the UK monarch and to the Christian faith, and respect for both of these is strongly requested from visitors.
However there are no laws requiring observance of either, by visitors or others.