At first, most people had heard of St Helena Island, South Atlantic Ocean as either the last place of exile of Napoleon Bonaparte, or as the island with “The World’s Most Useless Airport.”
But now, the island’s historic ‘lifeline’ - the world’s last working Royal Mail Ship, the RMS St Helena - has been decommissioned and St Helena Airport is finally open: Attention has suddenly been turning on St Helena as one of the world’s “newest, unique” travel destinations.
The 4,300 residents of this “secret of the South Atlantic” are hoping increased tourism, facilitated by the new airport, will boost the British OT’s struggling, remote economy.
For adventure tourists, or anyone seeking an authentic and unique destination, the remote British Overseas Territory does have much to offer.
Imagine the UK, a few decades back, but with a vastly different range of scenery and cultural influences.
Jamestown, the capital, is nestled in a deep, narrow valley; its the home of the Castle, the main Government building, as well as of houses, the Museum, the island’s hotel, shops and the oldest Anglican church in the Southern Hemisphere. A drive up Ladder Hill Road is the main exit from town, and is to say the least a memorable drive. And don’t forget to wave at each car and passerby as you’re on your way.
Moving inland and away from the stony cliffs that surround the volcanic island, there is a dramatic change in the scenery. The sheer, barren cliffs suddenly become rolling pastures and lush, vegetation-filled valleys. An assortment of microclimates, as well as around 30 percent of the endemics in the whole of the UK and its Overseas Territories, is found within the island’s 47 square miles.
The island is also rich in history and heritage. An incredibly visible involvement with the East India Company, the slave trade and the British abolition of slavery can be explored, and strong culinary and cultural influences from across the globe make apparent the island’s rich shipping history. Walking tours demonstrate how islanders used to slide down Jacob’s Ladder; where the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte spent his last days and where he was first entombed; where astronomer Edmond Halley observed the Southern skies. And to make things better – even if you’re wanting to see Jonathan (said to be the world’s oldest living land animal) at the Governor’s residence, Plantation House – you’re unlikely to have to wait in any queues.