Travel on board the Royal Mail Ship
St Helena is a very special place in many ways. Famed as the island where Napoleon was tucked out of harm's way for the last five years of his life, it has a fascinating history. For generations it was a bustling port of vital importance to the East India Company's trade routes and its population reflects the international influences from European, to African, to Indian and to Chinese.
Scenically it is spectacular with high cliffs rising from the sea, interspersed with steep valleys and with a lush interior. Above all this is the safest of destinations where a genuinely warm welcome is extended to that rarest of breeds – the tourist (or visitor as the islanders think of us). Here the pace of life is delightfully slow and there isn't a mobile phone in sight. A slow internet connection is possible but expensive, and the atmosphere is therefore utterly conducive to complete rest and relaxation.
Safe and slow it may be, but the island holds many attractions other than its scenery and history. For walkers the Letterbox Walks offer varying degrees of challenge; the island archives are a source of fascination for people with family links in the island's colonial past; the botanist can wonder at the extraordinary work being done to re-establish the island's endemic plants and every birder wants to see the Endangered Wirebird (recently upgraded from being Critically Endangered thanks to the tireless work of conservationists). The seas around the island are home to Bottle-nose Dolphins and a school of up to 400 Pan-Tropical Spotted Dolphins are regularly sighted on boat trips along the north coast. In 2013 this activity also allowed us to see seven Whale Sharks which came right close up to the boat. Fabulous. We visit the island's distillery and its secondary school and learn of the history of the slaves who were abandoned on the island when the trade became illegal.
At the moment the only scheduled travel service to the island is the Royal Mail Ship – and what a way to travel. The RMS St Helena is not huge (maximum 150 passengers) but caters superbly for its passengers and is a way of life as well as a vital service both for passengers and cargo. The atmosphere in port when the ship is due is tangible: for some it represents reunion with family and often the first meeting of a grandchild with its grandparents; for others it is a turning point in their lives as they leave the island for the first time to find work overseas.
But St Helena will not stay this way for ever. The long-awaited airport is scheduled to open in April 2016 with weekly flights from Johannesburg (schedules and fares to be announced in September 2015). When that happens the subsidy will be removed from the Royal Mail Ship which (presumably) will cease to serve the island. At the same time it is anticipated that mobile phones will be introduced and so much will change. But the island itself will remain entrancing with fabulous scenery, extraordinary history and wonderful people. And, importantly, it will be accessible to those people who can't spare the current three weeks it takes to visit.
Before all this happens we will have three guided 8-night holidays on St Helena during which time we can really get to know the place and some of its people. All our tours also include time in Cape Town and the Western Cape. Please look through the details in the fact box on the right to see the alternatives. We are privileged that some of the leading experts in their fields spend time with us so that we can begin to get to grips with the botany, the birds, the marine life and the island's history and heritage.
Of course not everyone wants to participate in a guided tour, so you can also join these voyages or any others on the Royal Mail Ship by booking with us as an independent traveller. Please note, however, that between now and April 2016 there is only very limited accommodation available on the ship.
If you are wanting to be among the first to visit the island by air, let us know now so that we can ensure you get all the information as soon as it's availalble.
Our deep knowledge and love of St Helena ensures that whether you travel with our group or independently you are assured of the best possible personal service and advice.