There was a time, not so long ago, when travelling to someplace like Australia was seen as a big deal or when a holiday in Mauritius was looked upon as something only the rich and famous could afford to indulge in. Not anymore! Nowadays, your average consumer is pretty well traveled and whilst not everyone will necessarily have visited Jamaica, The Maldives or Antigua, nor will they feel as if these destinations are so off the beaten track that they are unlikely to ever visit.
St Helena — now that’s another matter entirely! And if the name sounds vaguely familiar that’s because it is! It’s main claim to fame is that it is the remote island where Napoleon (yes, that Napoleon!) passed away. Despite its ordinary sounding name, St. Helena is quite special in a number of ways but mainly because it is so remote and difficult to get to and before you start remonstrating with me for blogging about a place you’ll never be able to visit — that’s precisely why I’m writing about it because just a few weeks ago, news was announced of a new air service to St Helena which will operate on a weekly basis from South Africa, operated by a company called Airlink. Up to now, the only way to visit the island was to book space on the RMS St Helena, a mail ship which sailed from South Africa and which usually took two weeks to get there!
St Helena island is part of the British Overseas Territories which includes both Tristan Da Cunha and Ascension Islands, amongst the remaining vestiges of the once mighty British Empire on which the sun never set — such was the geographical vastness of its global footprint! All three are islands that I’ve always wanted to visit, precisely because of their remoteness and isolation and it looks that the opportunity for me (and presumably a few other hardy souls) has improved considerably.
In case, your appetite for adventure has been whet and the appeal of the bragging rights that go with being able to say, ‘I’ve been to one of the most remote places on earth’, then here’s what you need to know:
Airlink is expected to offer a weekly Saturday service to-and-from South Africa to St Helena using the new Embraer E190-100IGW ETOPS certified aircraft. The maximum number of seats available on each flight will be 76. The aircraft is expected to depart Johannesburg each Saturday morning at 09:00 local time and fly to Windhoek in Namibia where it will refuel and connect with an incoming Airlink service from Cape Town that will have departed at 10:30. Passengers will then fly on to St Helena landing on the Island at 13:15. Flight time from Windhoek to St Helena is 3 hours and 45 minutes whilst total flying time from Johannesburg and Cape Town to St Helena will be just over 6 hours, including the stop at Windhoek. The return flight to South Africa will depart on Saturdays from St Helena at 14:30 and again fly to Windhoek where passengers will be able to connect with an Airlink service to Cape Town or fly on to Johannesburg. The flight is expected to arrive back in Johannesburg at 22:30 local time with the connecting passengers landing in Cape Town at 23:00.
The island is approximately 47 square miles in area which makes it roughly the same size as Jersey, the largest of the Channel islands so you get some sense of the size of the place. It is located approximately 4,000 kilometres east of Rio de Janeiro and 2,000 kilometres west of the coasts of Angola or Namibia in southwestern Africa. Although discovered by the Portuguese in the early 16th century, it was the British who occupied the island and established a small settlement there and where they exiled not only Napoleon but also Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo, a leading Zulu leader who was against British rule and some 5,000 Boers, taken prisoner during the second Boer War at the end of the 19th century. With a population of just over 4,500 — many of them located in the capital Jamestown, St Helena enjoys a tropical climate although temperatures can vary considerably between the north and south of the island because of a combination of prevailing winds and topography.