3 August 2018

"Atlantic Odyssey 2018" - Part 5 St Helena

St. Helena


St. Helena is known as the place where Napoleon Bonaparte lived out the last few years (1815-1821) of his life. Population about 4,500 people, 121 sq km and since 2002 a "British Overseas Territory".




We arrived off Jamestown, capital of St Helena on April 17th. We had been briefed beforehand about things-to-do on the island.

Customs House, Jamestown Waterfront
White Terns breed in the big trees along the seafront, and on platforms put up for them where their nest cavities have been covered with anti-landslide mesh.

White Tern - Gygis alba
White Tern - Gygis alba

We had seen Band-rumped Storm-Petrels from the back of the Plancius, and a tour we paid to do twice was a standard boat trip (on "Gannet III") to go to Speery Island at the south of St Helena. There are breeding seabirds at Speery and on the cliffs and rocks along the way.  However, the weather was wet and windy and the trips weren’t very successful. The boat really just chugs out to the Island and back. Some days you might get lucky with birds and/or cetaceans...some days not.

Black Noddy - Anous minutus
However, a boat charter solely for the purpose of viewing Storm-Petrels had been arranged, and we were lucky enough to join in. Here is the boat, the "Sea Horse", photographed on a day they were doing a fishing charter.

"Sea Horse" (on a fishing charter )
Here is a shot taken on the day we boarded..Plancius in the background.



Even though it was mid-afternoon by the time we got there, a few kilometres west of Jamestown, we found Band-rumped Storm-Petrels near some rock stacks.

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - Hydrobates castro

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - Hydrobates castro

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - Hydrobates castro

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - Hydrobates castro




A small boat like "Sea Horse" was a great platform for photography. 

Map of St Helena

And on the island itself... 

There is no actual dock at Jamestown so ship-borne visitors and cargo have to get to the quayside in small boats. "Tendered ashore" appears to be the technical term. 'Plancius' was well-equipped for that and the weather was calm.

"The Arch", Jamestown 

"The Arch", Jamestown 

The Islands' official tourist website mentions “100 % quaintness” for Jamestown, and there certainly is an other-worldly feel to the town, set in a deep, rocky valley.  St. Helena may have been under British Rule since 1659, but there are no UK high street chain stores blighting Jamestown’s main thoroughfare. 

Main Street, Jamestown

Main Street, Jamestown

"Jacob's Ladder" from near the top

A popular local feature is the 699-step staircase "Jacob's Ladder". 

"Jacob's Ladder" from near the bottom


White Horse Tavern

"Keep clear" says the road marking - good advice, surely
The Consulate Hotel, Jamestown

Longwood House, in the hills above the town, is a “must-see” due its' most famous ex-resident, Napoleon.  Photography is forbidden inside the building, but much of the material gathered for the museum is not original, the house having fallen into disrepair after Napoleon's demise and the departure of his retinue. 

On the way up or down from town to Longwood House Napoleon’s grave can be visited - but his remains were removed by the French about 20 years after he died. Napoleon is now in a grand tomb at Les Invalides, Paris.

Longwood House

Longwood House

St Helena used to have several endemic birds, but human activity on the island has wiped them all out, except for St Helena Plover - the “Wirebird”. Luckily for the plover, it has benefitted from some conservation attention and appears in several places in the high interior of the island, including here on the golf course on Longwood Plain.

St Helena Plover - Charadrius sanctahelenae (Common Myna in the foreground)

St Helena Plover - Charadrius sanctahelenae

St Helena Plover - Charadrius sanctahelenae

The present governor's residence is Plantation House.  The Governor here is also Governor of the islands of Ascension and Tristan Da Cunha. 

Among the four Seychelles tortoises in the grounds of Plantation House is Jonathan, estimated to be more than 180 years old. Jonathan appears on the St Helena 10cents coin, too. 


Plantation House

Jonathan, the world's oldest living vertebrate
Meanwhile, back in the harbour, a Whale Shark spent most of the day around the Plancius to the delight of people on board.   

Whale Shark - Rhincodon typus

"Hi, we're from Hong Kong and we want to talk about your number plate..."


"1997" - on the pier at Jamestown


St Helena now has an airport, and a few fellow passengers left the cruise here, with the intent to fly to Johannesburg (South Africa) and then homewards.  St Helena's airport has had some poor publicity, but the flights had been reliable over the previous few months. Unfortunately the ex-Plancius flyers had their flight delayed from Saturday to, I think, Tuesday.

But the rest of us did not hear about this until later, when we were at sea again heading north towards Ascension Island.


Sperm Whales - Physeter macrocephalus



6 comments:

  1. This is one of those rare cases where the place you are visiting is as interesting as the birds, which are spectacularly appealing. This whole connection with Napoleon lends an air of exquisite historical connection. I have visited Napoleon’s tomb in Paris, but I doubt that I will ever see where he spent his last days. We are off to GaspĂ©, QC next week which all seems pretty dull when stacked up against your adventures.

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    1. Canada looks pretty exotic from here, David - looking forward to your report !

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  2. I wouldn't mind being exiled there.............

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    1. They've got cold beer and some decent seabirds nearby, and Whale Sharks too, can't be bad.

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  3. I've been several times leading tours, arriving on the mail ship, RMS St Helena whose final voyage was earlier this year - good artcile at https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/rms-st-helena-royal-mail-ship-final-journey-cape-town-a8217436.html The plant life of the island is as interesting as the birdlife - maybe more so. A trip out to see the spinner dolphins offshore is very special with 2-3 hundred at times. I was also lucky to see 6 hammerhead sharks below the boat on one trip. Great memories.

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    1. Hi, Thanks for commenting. We saw Spinner Dolphins well, but we guessed numbers at 60 to 80. I can well imagine the last voyage of the RMS St Helena being a difficult time for the locals, it's a big change.
      St Helena is a great place, but its' remoteness will remain an obstacle to attracting more visitors....

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