With the opening of an airport soon, St Helena – famous for its association with Napoleon Bonaparte’s exile and death – is going to be an important destination in the global tourist’s map
Talk of St Helena – a remote island in the South Atlantic Ocean – and the first name that comes into one’s mind is Napoleon Bonaparte. Not only was the legendary French emperor imprisoned in exile by the British in the volcanic tropical island, he also died there – as commemorated by a now-empty tomb in Sane Valley.
Until recently and for over 500 years, St Helena – a British overseas territory with a population of about 4,000 people – was accessible only by taking a cruise on board the mail/passenger ship RMS St Helena. However, that is likely to change soon as the place is going to get air access. To make it more accessible to the public, the UK government, as per reports, has spent more than $400 million to construct a brand new airport on the island. Although the airport was scheduled to open for commercial operations in May, there are reports that it has been postponed for the time being, as it awaits final certification and operational readiness.
Saint Helena Catholic Church
So what is it about St Helena that tourists should look forward to? With a uniquely rich diversity of heritage-based attractions, both built and natural, St Helena offers many things to see and lots to do. A full range of 18thcentury English colonial plantation and urban Georgian buildings feature on the island. The capital, Jamestown, has the atmosphere of a small English country village. It has a tightly packed row of colourfully-painted houses on both sides of Grand Parade and Main Street. The view of these streets from the top of Jacob’s Ladderi and the views of the ladder itself, from its top or bottom, are awesome.
In fact, Jamestown can keep one occupied for much of the day. After visiting the Napoleonic properties – Longwood House, the Briars Pavilion and Napoleon’s Tomb – one can also check out Plantation House, the residence of the island’s governor. Plantation House is also home to Jonathan, the world’s oldest living animal, a giant tortoise who is around 180 years old. There are occasional tours of the house,although the paddock (where the tortoise lives) is open during daylight hours.
While at Jamestown, one can also visit the Cenotaph (war memorial), Castle Gardens (some of the island’s endemic plants can be seen here), St James Church (the oldest Anglican church in the southern hemisphere) and the Museum of St Helena.
If you’re a lover of the countryside, head to Alarm Forest. And you can discover the island’s own Bermuda Juniper. You can also go to Diana’s Peak that rises 823 metres above sea level and is the highest point on St Helena. There is a national park here, where many of the island’s endemic plant species find refuge.
The other places that you can check out are Deadwood Plain, the site of the Boer Prisoners of War camp and home to the island’s only endemic bird, the wirebird; High Knoll Fort (the present fort dates back to 1874 on the site of the original citadel that was built in 1798) and Sandy Bay beach where interesting geological features as well as buildings of historical interest can be found.
Written By: Binod Mili