Long accessible only by sea, the forgotten isle of Saint Helena finally opened its first international airport in 2016. A flight of a few hours is now all that separates it from mainland Africa – rough five-day voyages across the wild southern Atlantic are a thing of the past. This undiscovered, windswept island – rich with volcanic landscapes and whisperings of Napoleon’s ill-fated exile – has become suddenly accessible.
Amongst these spectacular landscapes, a fascinating ecosystem flourishes. The colourful soils harbour numerous endemic and endangered species. Of the 60 native plant species found on Saint Helena, 40 are unique to the island.
Remote, ruled from afar and somewhat forgotten, the island has a fascinating history. It is renowned as the final place of exile for a defeated Napoleon, who eventually perished here in 1821. His six-year exile still fascinates modern-day visitors, with his residence, Longwood House, now a museum.
WHAT TO EXPECT ON YOUR SAINT HELENA HOLIDAY
Rugged and mountainous, this small island erupts from the cold waters of the Atlantic. Unspoiled landscapes decorate the volcanic terrain, which offers fantastic walking and an intriguing natural history. Away from the hills, the capital, Jamestown, has the atmosphere of an English country village, featuring a mix of colonial and Georgian architecture.
As well as its plant life, the island is also renowned for its birdlife, with endemic species filling the skies. Meanwhile, the seas that crash against the sandy beaches and weather-carved cliffs are home to visiting whales and dolphins.
A short, but intriguing history is the backdrop to this natural beauty. Uninhabited until discovered by the Portuguese in 1502, the island made its name as an important stopover for ships on transatlantic voyages. Later, it became better known as a place at the very end of the Earth – ideally suited for exiling one’s enemies. The most famous amongst these was Napoleon Bonaparte, but the island also hosted unfortunate Boer prisoners and a troublesome Zulu king.
IDEAS FOR YOUR SAINT HELENA HOLIDAY
- Visit the 19th-century High Knoll Fort, whose fortifications have long defended the island
- Walk through ancient tree ferns and black cabbage trees in search of the endemic burrow-dwelling wire bird
- Visit Napoleon’s former home, along with his tomb – now empty, after his remains were repatriated to France
- Cruise along Saint Helena’s impressive coastline in search of spotted and bottle-nose dolphins
- Ascend Diana’s Peak, the highest point on the island, for stunning views of the volcanic landscape
- Sample the potent spirits – including white lion rum and coffee liqueur - brewed by the island’s only distillery