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Digital Subscriptions > Travel Africa > July-September 2019 (87) > NOTHING VENTURED NOTHING GAINED

NOTHING VENTURED NOTHING GAINED

Would you journey to one of the most remote places on Earth without really knowing what to expect when you got there? Perhaps this sense of discovery is why we love to travel. It certainly explains the appeal of St Helena.
WORDS AND PHOTOGRPAHS: SCOTT BENNETT

From my lofty vantage point, a world in miniature spread out, a rugged coastline encompassing a landscape of mountains, forests, grassland and semi-desert. With place names like Longwood, Half Tree Hollow, Deadwood Plain, and the Gates of Chaos, it was easy to envision I had been transported to Middle Earth. However, this was not New Zealand. This was the island of St Helena.

A mere speck 16km long and 10km wide, St Helena could be the dictionary definition of isolated. Anchored in the South Atlantic between southern Africa and South America, the island ascends 4000m from the ocean floor to its highest point at 820m above sea level. First discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century, it remained uninhabited until the British East India Company founded Jamestown in 1659. Today, the island is Britain’s second oldest territory after Bermuda.

For centuries, the only way to arrive was by sea. In recent years, the RMS St Helena made the five-day journey from Cape Town every three weeks and was the island’s sole connection to the outside world. But that all changed in November 2017, with the opening of the airport, and the trip was reduced to only six hours from Johannesburg.

Friends Farhat (Raf) and Cisca Jah from the African and Oriental Travel Company in the UK had organised the first diving tour group to fly in and their trip drew raves. They insisted I come, but initially I wasn’t keen: the journey would be long and expensive and what was there to see? Then again, experience has taught me that the unexpected places provide the best surprises. I quickly relented.

I must admit the flight filled me with trepidation as I had read an article claiming St Helena to be one of the most difficult landings in the world. Happily, though, our arrival was smooth with nary a bump. The bus ride between the terminal and plane at Johannesburg airport was more nerve-wracking!

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