The top 5 attractions on St Helena
Experienced British travel writer, Tricia Hayne, visited St Helena in March to update the Bradt travel guide. Here she shares her thoughts on St Helena’s highlights.
For such a small island, St Helena’s got an awful lot going for it, but I reckon I’ve got it sussed: start at the top and work your way to the bottom.
The very tip of the island, often with its head swathed in mist, Diana’s Peak rises to 820m – or, to be really sensationalist, some 5,820m above the seabed. That’s an awful lot of water. Climbing up, we brushed past plants that live nowhere else on the planet, hanging on by a thread on these fertile peaks.
Looking down across the green ridges and guts of the interior, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Napoleon, exiled to the barren wastes of Longwood. I thought the trip to Longwood House, and his (now empty) tomb at Sane Valley, would be more duty than pleasure, a bit like visiting an elderly aunt, but how wrong. To walk in those rooms, to look at his pictures, to stare out of those windows as if from a prison; for the first time, I had a feel for the person behind the myth.
So what of those barren wastes? St Helena does barren well, stark, volcanic scenery that is often breathtaking in its beauty. And few places do it better than the Post Box walk to Lot’s Wife’s Ponds. With narrow, rocky paths and ropes at the stickiest bits, it’s certainly challenging, but to swim in those sheltered sea ponds at the end is just the best.
Then, of course, there’s the view from the sea: towering cliffs rising straight up, liberally dotted with fortifications and the nests of fairy terns. Aboard the Enchanted Isle, we explored the northwest coast. No need for binoculars as we came close to the tern colonies on Egg Island, masked boobies swooping overhead. No time for a camera as we watched hundreds of pan-tropical spotted dolphins, practising their acrobatics just for us.
And so beneath the waves. Making our way from the dive boat we joined spotted fish, striped fish, fish of all shapes and sizes, to swim over smooth boulders thickly spread with red algae. Ahead lay a narrow slit of an entrance, overhung by a broad shelf of rock. It was a tight squeeze but we made it through, emerging beneath a roof of brilliant yellow coral. Long Ledge. It’s a must.
Tricia Hayne’s articles will also be appearing in The Independent newspaper and Adventure Travel magazine. Tricia has 20 years’ experience working on guidebooks, both as an editor and a writer. Travelling with her husband, Bob, she has checked out hotels, restaurants, tourist facilities and plenty more besides in destinations from the Caribbean to southern Africa, as well as in the UK.