“An island of contrasts… from a dramatic coastline to lush pastures”
St Helena has a fascinating history – on the island, the evidence is all around you. Discovered in 1502 by the great Portuguese navigator, João da Nova, it changed hands a number of times and came finally under the control of the British in the middle of the sixteenth century. There is even a disputed theory that the island was the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s story of Robinson Crusoe.
At one stage it was a busy and vital staging post for British East India Company ships on their long, slow voyages between England and the Far East.
But things change. The opening of the Suez canal dramatically reduced the island’s importance to world trade and, while the Union Castle liners on the South African run to Cape Town continued to call at the island until 1977, now it is a quiet backwater dreaming, perhaps, of a busy and exciting past.
Geographically, the island is a mere 47 square miles in area, situated about 1,500 miles north-west of Cape Town and well within the Tropic of Capricorn. The island has no natural harbour and no airport, though there are plans to build a small airport afoot.
Because of its position, the weather is warm all year round, varying between 32°C (89°F) in April and May, to 21°C (70°F) in October and November. However, higher up in the centre of the island, it can get quite cool at night.
Rains usually fall from late March to early May, with April being the height of the rainy season and again in July to September, with August being the height of the rainy season.
Geologically, it is an island of contrasts. In part, a wind-eroded desert with multi-hued ridges and 1,000 ft-high cliffs of bronze-coloured volcanic rock; part, green pastures and lush, vegetation filled valleys. There are a number of unique, endemic plants and wildlife and considerable efforts are being made to restore these to their former eminence in the face of imported species such as the New Zealand flax which the islanders once grew as a cash crop but is now a problematic weed.
The ‘Saints’ themselves are a happy mixture, descendants of the British East India Company workers, Boer prisoners of war, African and Chinese servants, amongst others. They are friendly, cheerful and helpful. They want to make your holiday a pleasure and you are always very welcome on their island. There are about 3,800 permanent residents but many Saints need – and wish – to work away from the island to make the most of the wider opportunities offered in the outside world. Many work in the UK and on Ascension Island but, although they may remain away for many years, they inevitably return to their home in the South Atlantic. Sailing aboard RMS St Helena ensures you will be travelling with them – and many tales they have to tell!
For more information on St Helena visit www.sthelenatourism.com