Special-interest holidays worldwide
Special-interest Travel

Ascension Island

The Island of Secrets

View of Ascension Island from Green Mountain
Hibiscus Red-billed Tropicbird Green Turtle The Exiles Club (Previously Marine Barracks) English Bay

Ascension Island might just be a tiny dot in the South Atlantic Ocean but, over the years, it has had immense strategic importance. Latterly it was the Cold War which gave it eminence, what with the NASA station and all the secret bits and pieces about which we know now. But, back in history, it was militarily strategic - particularly when Napoleon was exiled to its nearest land - St Helena which lies two or three days' sailing south. To this day Cable and Wireless and the BBC Relay Station are still hugely important, as is the island's runway - one of only six in the world which can accommodate a landing of a space shuttle in the case of an emergency.

For all these reasons Ascension was, until relatively recently, closed to tourism. That has now changed although getting there isn't all that easy. There are no commercial flights and so we fly with the Royal Air Force from Brize Norton. There are only 26 civilian seats on each flight (2 flights a week) and they serve not only Ascension but also the Falkland Islands and, sadly, the air fare is horribly expensive. But it's worth it.

At first sight this is a stark island, seemingly full of volcanic clinker and little else. But that is not the case. There's a surprise round every corner. The island has 40 volcanoes and 32 sandy beaches, only two of which are suitable for swimming but most of which are home to nesting Green Turtles. The sight of these magnificent creatures laying eggs is an emotional experience, as is that of watching the hatchlings rushing to the sea in the early morning trying to avoid the attentions of the island's endemic Frigatebirds. There are fantastic seabird colonies and the island's National Park, Green Mountain, is something else.

The journey to Ascension is, in itself, a bit of an adventure as we fly with the Royal Air Force from RAF Brize Norton. Don't worry - no parachutes and green lights: it's a standard AirBus chartered from a commercial airline. Once on the island we'll travel round in a minibus or, for off-road activities, LandRovers. We'll also have a four-hour boat trip to Boatswain Bird Island which is a fabulous seabird colony where we get up close to the rock and the birds and during which we'll also hope to see turtles and dolphins.