Gorilla Head rock viewed from Lot's Wife Pond on the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-47 lots_wife_pond

St Helena; Journeying to a remote South Atlantic Island

Journeying to St Helena, in the South Atlantic is one of the last, true voyages available. Although the building of an airport is well underway, now the only way to visit is by ship. The 10 day voyage aboard the RMS St Helena is a large part of the attraction. Arriving by sea harks back to the golden age of exploration, and it was with a great deal of anticipation that I finally stepped ashore on the remote island.

The South Atlantic from the Barn and Turk's Cap on the British overseas territory of St Helena on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-21 turks_cap

The Barn and Turk’s Cap

“more to the island than the home of Napoleon’s tomb”

The relatively small volcanic lump of rock is home to under 4,000 “Saints”, as the inhabitants are known, and walking down the main street of the capital Jamestown, it’s immediately obvious there is a village community. Everybody seems to know one another, greeting each other with friendly waves, and smiles, while as a visitor I was soon feeling equally welcome.

View of Lot and Lot's Wife rocks on St Helena in the South Atlantic on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-24 st-helena

Volcanic St Helena

This became even more clear as I settled into the Wellington House guesthouse, which felt like stepping back in time, and had me instantly feeling at ease. Especially after a short chat with the landlady Ivy, her helpful, cheerful manner seemed to epitomise the spirit of the island.

St Helena has been visited by many explorers, the historical celebrities of their age. The list includes Captains Cook and Bligh, Charles Darwin, Edmond Halley, who set up an observatory there, and of course a reluctant Napoleon Bonaparte.

A South Atlantic rainbow on the remote island of St Helena on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-4 south_atlantic

A South Atlantic welcome

Arriving on the British overseas territory of St Helena in the South Atlantic on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-5 st_helena

Arriving on St Helena

There is a steady stream of knowledgeable, mature visitors to the island. For most however, if aware of it’s presence at all, it is merely the exile of Napoleon; where he died. However, there is much more to the island than the home of Napoleon’s tomb, the title thrust upon it by history. Yet it is only a small part of the appeal of the British overseas territory, and I set about discovering it’s many attractions.

After a before dawn climb of the 699 steps of Jacob’s Ladder, I spent the first day driving around the island in a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Exploring places that the usual tours don’t reach, with my guide Aaron, from Cox’s Battery to Sperry Island. I admired the view of the South Atlantic Ocean from Turk’s Cap, drove along steep, winding roads lined with extensive slopes of flax, the remnants of a once flourishing industry, which now dominates the island vegetation.

Jamestown, on the remote island of St Helena in the South Atlantic on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-18 jamestown

A capital city

Visiting the “Bell Stone” was a particular highlight, I’d anticipated a bell-shaped stone, however the musical lump of rock hides a more pleasant surprise. Banging a small pebble against what looks like a nondescript lump of rock, produces a melodic note, it’s even possible to play a tune, except for the tone-deaf like me.

Lot Rock and Baptist church on the British overseas territory of St Helena, in the South Atlantic on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-23 st_helena

Typical St Helena scenery

Jacob's Ladder on St Helena, British overseas territory in the South Atlantic on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-14 jacobs_ladder

looking down Jacob’s Ladder

It’s a great way to discover the island, and I was already realising there was plenty more to explore. The Napoleon attractions of the Briars, Longwood House, and of course the tomb in Geranium Valley required a visit. Even if the tomb is empty; he now rests in Les Invalides, Paris.

“I spent a morning crawling between cow pats”

Over the next few days, I witnessed beautiful sunsets, and sunrises, trekked to Lot’s Wife Pond, a natural swimming pond refreshed by the crashing waves of the South Atlantic, and surrounded by a stunning, and rugged scenery landscape, and met scores of friendly locals.

Gorilla Head rock viewed from Lot's Wife Pond on the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-47 lots_wife_pond

Gorilla Head rock viewed from Lot’s Wife Pond

I spent a morning crawling between cow pats, stalking the skittish, endemic wirebird, crept up on fairy terns, and hung out with the islands most famous resident; Jonathon. The celebrity, giant tortoise is beginning to lose a little of his blistering pace, but as the oldest known living land animal, he’s still the main attraction at Plantation House, the Governor’s home. He even attracts attention from the international media. He was a true professional throughout our meeting, obviously used to dealing with the demands of paparazzi photographers.

Plantation House, home to the Governor, and giant tortoises on St Helena, in the South Atlantic on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300 plantation_house

Plantation House, but not Jonathon

Tasting the produce of a distillery described as the most remote in the world, was a worthwhile way to spend an hour. It’s an impressive operation producing gin, spiced rum, coffee liqueur, and tungi.  This is the potent spirit made from the “prickly pear” cactus, and a speciality of the island.

There was even an opportunity to tick off a bucket list activity; swimming with a whale shark! I’d enthusiastically jumped off the charter fishing boat into the South Atlantic swell, the largest fish in the oceans swam within a few feet of me, repeatedly. It’s unlikely there has been a more excited trail of bubbles in the Southern hemisphere, and although the fishing hadn’t been too successful, with only one small yellowfin tuna on-board, it was still the best fishing trip ever.

Longwood House, Napoleon's exile on St Helena, the British overseas territory in the South Atlantic on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-28 longwood_house

Longwood House, exile of Napoleon

Napoleon's Tomb in Geranium Valley, on St Helena, South Atlantic on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-33 napoleons_tomb

Napoleon’s Tomb

Dining on the island is exceptionally good value, unsurprisingly, seafood is not only excellent, but amazingly cheap. I was even informed it costs less to feed pet cats on tuna steak than on tinned cat food. It is often a challenge however, it’s a small island, which often means the few restaurants available are either full or  closed. Once ashore, the few dozen tourists off the ship strain Jamestown’s dining options, so booking early is a necessity. If staying at Wellington House I’d recommend trying at least one of Ivy’s home cooked meals.

The wirebird, only existing endemic birdlife of St Helena, South Atlantic British overseas territory on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-3 wirebird

The endemic wirebird

“still one of the last remaining true adventures available”

Meeting a number of the “Saints” was a privilege, they are always good company, friendly, with many of stories of their own. They were keen to hear why I was visiting the island, and even laughed at my poor jokes. The tourism board had arranged several opportunities to meet a number of locals, each time was entertaining, leaving me looking forward to the next meeting even more.

A Zulu princess on St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-311 zulu_princess

Visiting a Zulu princess

Wirebird chick in the grass of Deadwood Plain on St Helena on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-10 wirebird_chick

A well camouflaged wirebird chick

St Helena is a close-knit community, even those that have left the island, working in Cape Town, Ascension, the Falkland Islands or the United Kingdom still seem part of the island community. Everybody knows everybody, their business, and they are always keen to hear, or share news about Saints abroad.

Nesting fairy terns near Lot's Wife Pond on the St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-45 fairy_terns

Nesting fairy terns

Jonathon the giant tortoise, the oldest, known living land animal on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-350 jonathon_tortoise

Jonathon, the giant tortoise

Exploring one of the world’s most remote islands had been great fun, and although I’d been assured 8 days would be enough time, I still boarded the ship feeling that there was  more to explore. An ideal escape, that will become more accessible with the building of the airport, but until then it’s remains one of the last, true voyages we can make.

One of the St Helena giant tortoise at Plantation House on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-34 giant_tortoise

A Plantation House giant tortoise

Sunset off South West Point, overlooking Sperry Island on St Helena, in the South Atlantic on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-6 sperry_island

A Sperry Island sunset

Swimming with a whale shark in the South Atlantic Ocean off the island of St Helena on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-36 whale_shark

Swimming with a whale shark

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Comments 15

  1. Joanne

    Wow what an exciting and beautiful place, and rich with history and familiar names I recognize. I love small remote places and friendly natives, very nice to experience. Not sure I would jump in the water with a whale shark though that was very spontaneous of you, and a bit daring, but then I guess that’s what separates the true explores form the average. The pictures you took are incredible, you truly captured the beauty of the island thanks for sharing it I look forward to reading and seeing more ..Thanks again

  2. Zoë Dawes

    Place looks fantastic Iain – love your photos and fancy meeting a Zulu Princess! It’s certainly fits the ‘off-the’beaten’ track profile – very quirky 😉

  3. Linda

    A little shiver went down my spine, and a drew a sharp breath when I saw your tweet about this post! When I was in junior school I read a book which was a fictional (possibly based on a real person) account of a young girl on St Helena, who befriends Napoleon, and thus painted a picture of him as much more human than those of us who studied English history (especially as long ago as I did!). In my youthful (very) idealism I thus considered him much misunderstood and maligned right up into my adulthood, and St Helena became my dream destination.

    Of course I grew up, and learned that the world isn’t all black & white, and the impossibility of getting there dawned on me. When I went to live in Tenerife I learned about the cargo ships which sail there & how you could buy passage on them, which seemed like a great way to arrive anywhere, let alone St Helena, but then I was bringing up kids. More recently I learned that Cook had stopped there – now there IS my hero! And even more recently subscribed to the St Helena tourist board’s newsletter/blog. I am, therefore, gobsmacked and totally fascinated by your post! You most definitely walked on my dreams!

  4. Marilyn Michaels

    absolutely awesome post Iain, it all came to life in my mind as I read through it. ( some simply stunning photos too ) I think I also would have jumped in with the whale shark, how incredible it all sounds

  5. Jenn T.

    Wow, St. Helena looks amazing and your photos are beautiful, as always. I’d love to know how you got some of the more aerial looking shots. Did you have to trek or could you drive up there? So interesting how the little town is built into the seam between the volcanoes. Very cool.

  6. giselleandcody

    What and amazing experience this would have been. I remember reading about St. Helena a few years ago and ever since then it has been a place I have wanted to explore. Thank you so much for sharing such beautiful photos and of your great trip.

  7. Jim_Luc

    What an interesting place and what a great story! Congrats and a little envy. At first sight one might not understand why Napoleon got sick and died there but perhaps beyond the idyllic view there are still traps. Excelent pictures anyway, thx for share it!

  8. Best holiday destinations

    An amazing place with such natural delights. I will surely plan my upcoming vacation to this place.

  9. Ryan O'Rourke

    What rugged beauty! St Helena wouldn’t be a place I would have ever thought of going, but now that I’ve read this: why not? You really captured the spirit of the island with all of your pictures and your stories. So glad you were able to share this wonderful piece on a place most of us probably couldn’t come remotely close to pointing out on a map. Thanks, Iain!

  10. Nicholas Kontis

    Ian, you inspire me. I hope that one day I can get my World Travel List right and promote your travel tales, which are clearly an inspiration to all.
    in the meantime I post your links to my 30,000 facebook travel fans…It’s a few more eyes on your work, and every little bit helps.
    Nick

    1. Iain Mallory

      I’ve been to two out of the three Claire, want to return to both of them soon and visit the other when I can, hope you make it one day,

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