St. Helena: Exploring A Secluded Paradise
Traveling by Mail Ship To A Quiet Island Off The Coast of West Africa
By Luke Dowley
About a thousand miles off the western coast of Angola lies the small island of St. Helena.
Located in the southern Atlantic ocean, this tiny oasis harbors some of the most strikingly beautiful and untouched tropical beaches and landscapes in the world.
When it was originally discovered by the Portuguese in the 1500s, the island was completely uninhabited. Although a few small buildings were erected as St. Helena became an important stop in trade routes, the island remained undeveloped through the passage of time and remained so after a change to British control.
In recent years the population has increased to a mere 4,500, and at just for47 square miles, St. Helena is truly the dream escape for those looking for an alternative to the large resorts and packed beaches that many islands have devolved into. To top it off, there’s only one way on and off the island--by ship.
Great Canadian Travel is known in the travel world for its programs to the rarely traversed and far corners of the earth. Don’t be scared away thinking that they are only for the rugged and well traveled, Great Canadian Travel works primarily as “travel architects” who design their excursions to their client's needs, whether that be luxury, adventure, or both.
Virtually the only ship that travels to and from St. Helena is the Royal Mail Ship, which in addition to catering to guests as a luxury cruise vessel, carries thousands of pounds of cargo to the island regularly. As there is no airport on the island, the Royal Mail Ship is a key part of the sustaining the island, and passengers are warmly received on shore.
Working with this unique cruise ship, Great Canadian Travel has set up a 20-day adventure to this secluded island, complete with multiple full day tours and guides to show you the best spots for relaxing and exploring.
The cruise to St. Helena departs from Cape Town, a location in itself worth visiting at least once or twice in a lifetime. The amount of rich culture and history this area of South Africa has to offer is only matched by the hiking and outdoor activities that the surrounding mountainous landscape has to offer.
From Cape Town, the cruise takes you North West for a total sailing time of 6 days. Although this may seem like a daunting amount time to be at sea, the days fly by as the crew provides a myriad of activities for passengers to enjoy. Games of cricket on the open deck, discos, and films in the evening, and food that could be found in a luxurious hotel are just a few things that turn a few days into an unforgettable experience.
The sight of St. Helena emerging on the horizon will make you truly realize how secluded this island paradise truly is, it’s towering volcanic cliffs blanketed in vegetation protecting it from the atlantic waves spraying up from below. After docking, all guest are assisted to their accommodations. Great Canadian Travel gives its guests the option to choose between staying in the Farm Lodge or a town house located in the center of town. The Farm lodge, a beautifully restored planters house from the 1670s, is the ideal base for exploring the island, and every group is given a car to assist in getting around. The town houses are best for those who want to base there explorations from an area with a slightly less rural feel.
Great Canadian Travel gives its guests the option to choose between staying in the Farm Lodge or a town house located in the center of town. The Farm lodge, a beautifully restored planters house from the 1670s, is the ideal base for exploring the island, and every group is given a car to assist in getting around. The town houses are best for those who want to base there explorations from an area with a slightly less rural feel.
Despite its lack of dense population, the island has a lot of history to be explored. In the late 1600s the East India Trading Company was given the right to govern the island, and built the original fortifications that can still be visited to this day. For a period of time, the Island was marred with unrest due to drought and deforestation. However, in the 1700s order was restored with construction of a more sustainable community. This allowed the settlement to grow into the small town that remains today
On the second day of being on-island, and after a good nights rest, there is a walking tour available that guides you through town and gets you acquainted with the area. However, if you would prefer you can take the time to relax and check out the quaint restaurants cafes.
By the third day everyone is ready for a full day of adventure and a chance to visit more historical sites such as Longwood House. The construction of Longwood House was part of an increase of fortifications in the 1800s with the arrival of St. Helena’s most notable guest: One time emperor of France Napoleon Bonaparte.
Sentenced to exile on the the island by the English,(after his famous trip to Elba) Napoleon lived out the rest of his life on St. Helena in a home here, and it has since been kept up by the French Foreign Ministry. Surrounded by a small but flourishing garden, it is one of many stops while exploring the beautiful coastline.
To balance the history with outdoor adventure, the remaining guided time on the island involves activities such as off-road adventures and boating trips spotting dolphins and other sea life around the coast. Snorkeling tours are also available for those looking to dive in and check out spots creatures of the island hidden by the sea.
Hard to Leave
Like many of the hidden gems in the world that we find ourselves stumbling upon, it is often difficult to leave. After a week on St. Helena, topped off with an exquisite five-course dinner, guests board the Royal Mail Ship and begin their journey back to Cape town, sharing stories and while they unwind in the sun.
Although St. Helena has remained fairly disconnected from the surrounding world, the planned construction of a new airport in 2016 will surely begin to attract larger crowds and more permanent installations.
Because of this, many of the remaining cruises leading up to this construction are already sold out. However, there are still spots available and those who are interested should look to book the trip sooner rather than later.
Given the extensive length of the trip, the price of this excursion to paradise is cheaper than most, starting at just around $4,000. This cruise is tailored to those looking to avoid large crowds, and explore a location that relatively very few people have gotten the chance to experience.
For more information about the cruise and the options available, be sure to check out Great Canadian Travel’s website.
Luke is an editorial assistant for GoNOMAD.com and is currently finishing his final year of studies as an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst