St Helena Island – the undiscovered secret of the Atlantic Ocean
Information and images courtesy of Dr Martin Brossy
- Located on mid-Atlantic ridge 2000 kms due west of north Namibia. Lat.: 15 degrees South Long.: 5 degrees West of GMT
- Measures 16 x 8 kmsapprox.
- Remnant of 2 coalesced volcanoes rising up to 830 metres out of the sea.
- Barren cliffs up to 300 metres. Green mountains in cloud zone.
- Linked to Ascension Island & Tristan Da Cunha as British Overseas Territories
- Population : 4,534 (decreasing). Locals known as “Saints” : very friendly people
- Currency : St Helena Pound (GB Pound interchangeable). Mainly cash economy, few credit card facilities. No ATM’s. One bank in town accepts credit cards (Euro/US Dollar/ZA Rand) and pays cash.
- Economy : “Subsistence” and support from UK Government. New Zealand Flax until 1960’s. No minerals/industry/agriculture. Now trying to increase tourism.
- Isolation : Previous lack of airport and fortnightly ship supplies has retarded development of economy and the people : few opportunities, limited initiative
- Capital : Jamestown
- Sea Temp & Current : (20 -25’c) Benguela current remnant. Warm water !!
- Climate : 21 –28 ‘c in summer. 17 –24 ‘c in winter (sub-tropical). Warm climate !!
- Rainfall : 750 –1000mm pa ; (mainly on higher ground in center of island)
- UK-funded New Airport and New “Port” cargo/petrol loading facilities offer opportunity for growth from 2018. St Helena open to the world now!
- Own “Parliament” for local governance (UK Oversight)
- Magistrates Court for local legal matters (UK Oversight)
- Prison with 1 “Lifer” and a few temporary inmates (max : 14)
- Police Station supervised by British Police
- Oldest Church in Southern Hemisphere : St James Church (1774). Many other churches.
- 1 Bank for cash withdrawals.
- 1 Hospital with 6 doctors, 25 nurses and many ancillary workers. 1 theater.
- About 100 beds for tourism : 30 at Mantis St Helena Hotel, 14 at Consulate Hotel, (others are “B&B”s and “backpackers” for divers)
- Most roads and structures built by East India Company, slaves, prisoners and British military in 18th& 19th Centuries
- 1502 : Discovered by Joao da Nova (Portuguese Admiral / explorer / trader). Used by Portuguese for stop-over (secretly) for whole century.
- 1578 : Discovered by Sir Francis Drake & Thomas Cavendish (English circumnavigators)
- 1633 : Claimed by Dutch Republic (Dutch East India Company).
- 1657 : Annexed by British : Charter given to (British) East India Company by Oliver Cromwell. First settled 1659 by British settlers, soldiers and slaves
- Prosperous Trading rendezvous point and refueling station for ships to eastern spice routes for 2 centuries.
- 1834 -1981 : British Crown Colony (1981 -2002: British Dependent Territory). 1840’s Navy intercepted slave ships to free the slaves
- 2002 : British Overseas Territory : (Resumed full British Citizenship)
- New Airport opened 2017 (one flight a week from JHB to start). Prior to 2017 NO air access existed. Only access to island is/was twice-monthly RMS St Helena ship from Cape Town until 2017.
- Car Hire limited to a few local operators with used and some “new”(ish) cars. Tour guides (4×4’s and “taxi”s available and excellent value)
- Rugged terrain (volcanic igneous rock). 200-300 metre cliffs surround island. Steep valleys radiate from central hilly area. Mountain pass roads with dry stone support walls (built by soldiers, slaves and prisoners mainly for military purposes)
- Cliff side Sea Jetty . WW2 troop carrier used for cargo/containers !).
- New ”Port” opened 2018 nearby (with oil / petrol pipeline capability and cargo derrick). RMS ship to be replaced by Cargo ship from Cape Town
- Very deep sea around the island : 3 kms deep at 3 kms out !!
- Marine Activities : Whale sharks, Dolphins, Devil Rays, Turtles, Whales, Wreck-Diving, Shore & Deep Sea Fishing, Yachting destination
- Napoleonic Heritage (owned & managed by France !!)
- Walks / Hiking trails : 21 “Postbox” hikes. National Trust established
- Birding : Endemic species and many sea birds
- Astronomy (Halley mapped Southern Hemisphere stars). Dark skies.
- Fauna and Flora : Endemic species (Millenium Forest project to re-introduce endemic vegetation)
- Invertebrates : many rare species, eg: blushing snail, spiky woodlouse
- Military sites : 150 cannons, many fortifications and forts, access paths
- Slow pace of life : relax and chill !! Far from the madding crowds !!