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RMS St Helena

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Please note: The RMS St Helena is out of commission as of 17 February 2018

The Royal mail ship, RMS St. Helena, (affectionately known as "The RMS") is designed as a dual purpose passenger and cargo vessel that provides passengers with access to St Helena island. A lot of the passengers are merely trying to get home, as the ship is the only way of getting to the island (there's no airport).

The RMS St. Helena travels to several destinations, including Cape Town, and Ascension Island and of course, St. Helena Island itself. It is the last remaining Royal mail ship in operation and one of the few vessels that calls at the island. Please email cruises@southafrica.to for departure dates and quotes.

( RMS St Helena cruises are over 2 weeks. For shorter cruises from Durban and Cape Town see MSC Sinfonia)

St Helena Island

St. Helena Island is a remote, rugged island located in the South Atlantic ocean which was first discovered in May 1502 by João da Nova, a Portuguese explorer. He named this volcanic island after Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, whose birthday was on the 21st of May, the date of his discovering the island. It became an important stop over point for sailors in the centuries that followed and many nations, including the Dutch and the Portuguese have fought over possession of this ruggedly beautiful location. It was finally settled by the British in 1659 and its remoteness has had a large part in keeping it an unspoiled jewel in the sparkling waters of the South Atlantic.

It is Britain's second oldest colony and was often used as a place of exile, most notably to the former Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte. It was often used as a refuge for ill sailors who would be left on the island to recuperate from their illnesses. It might interest you to know that during the 19th century white ants completely destroyed the Main street and buildings after their introduction via wood salvaged from a slave ship. In 1840 a Magnetic Observatory was established on the island by Sabine the astrologer, numbering one of three across the globe.

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 had a negative impact upon the economy of the island, but the arrival of 6000 Boer prisoners during 1900 once again boosted the flagging economy. In 1815 the island was appointed its own dedicated schooner for the transportation of good and passengers, but after a pirate attack upon it in 1815 it would be several decades before another vessel would serve this purpose.

The location of the island within the tropics and the influence of the South Atlantic high pressure cell and the Equatorial Trough means that this island enjoys a year round mild climate with no huge temperature variations. The average ambient temperature ranges between 70-80F or 20-27C with cooler weather experienced from June to August. The island experiences two rainy seasons, from March to April and again from July to September. The place lends itself to spectacular sunsets that can be viewed from the high points of the island.

The island boasts a population of just over 4,000 residents, who are descended from a mixture of European settlers, Chinese settlers and slaves of Madagascar and Asian origins. The residents, referred to as 'Saints' are charmingly hospitable and very friendly. The spoken language on the island is English, though due to the diversity of early settlers the language has evolved into a unique lingo specific to St. Helena Island. Every year the 21st of May is celebrated as a public holiday, due to the fact that the island was discovered upon this date. Christianity is the major religion upon the island, thus Christmas and Easter are celebrated in a rather jovial way, with families and friends visiting each other on Christmas eve and enjoying a parade along the main street of Jamestown.

There is also a biennial Walking Festival that takes place on the island, with different walks to suit everyone, from novice to the more experienced hiker. The Festival of Running is held to coincide with the Walking Festival and attracts many foreign visitors to the island. The local people have a great love of music, ranging from folk, to country music and contemporary or rhythm and blues or hip hop for the younger generation. The locals also create their own music with a variety of different styles and influences.

Christianity is the island main religion, with the Church of England enjoying the highest popularity, though other religious representation includes Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Roman Catholics, New Apostolic, The Salvation Army and the BahaI religion. The various religious denominations co-exist harmoniously and all welcome visitors with open arms. Regarding island cuisine, many different styles are incorporated, with roots in Chinese, Malay and British cooking techniques to create a unique blending. Seafood, particularly fish, forms a large part of the staple diet along with rice and roasted fish dishes, superb curries and fish cakes are extremely popular fare.

Visitors to the island will delight in the local arts and crafts and will soon discover that the Saints are a very creative and resourceful group of individuals. They can create beautiful artwork from locally available materials and will often craft items out of the local woods, including aloe, seeds from the Thorn and Acacia trees as well as making beautiful items by dabbling in lace making, pottery, painting and photography.

Located almost midway between South America's Brazil and Angola on the African continent, it is 15 degrees South of the equator and consists of 47 square miles of landmass, being 6.5 miles wide and 10.5 miles long. Due to its geographically remote location an airstrip has never been built upon the island, which makes getting there a large part of the attraction!

The island runs a limited public bus service that caters mostly to the needs of the locals, so as a visitor you should be sure that you have a detailed timetable at the ready if you wish to traverse the island in this way. The island is an area of stark natural beauty and there are many walking and hiking trails that can take you along the majestic coastline or deeper into the lush foothills. The local nature conservation group has devised a series of routes for the avid hiker, ranging on a scale of 1 - 10 for difficulty rating. Even experienced hikers are advised to take along an experienced guide when attempting hiking on routs with an above 5 difficulty rating.

Motorized transport is available on the island and visitors can hire a car prior to their arrival. It is recommended that you book well in advance to ensure availability during your stay. This is the most convenient and independent method of exploring the island, whether by day or by night. Cars drive on the left side of the road on the island and all drivers must be in possession of a valid driver's license. Visitors to St. Helena can marvel at the 7 wonders of St. Helena, as they tour around the island. The first of these is the Diana's Peak National Park, then the Heartshaped Waterfall, the High Knoll Fort, Jacob's Ladder, the Longwood House, Napoleon's Tomb and St. James' Church.

The first Anglican church on the island was built in 1674 by the East India Company . The St. James Church, dating back to 1774, stands in its place today and is heralded as the oldest Anglican church in the Southern Hemisphere. The island was home to Napoleon after his exile from France in 1815 and he resided there until his death in 1821, living at the Longwood House. He was buried on the island but his remains were later exhumed and returned to France. His earlier residence of the Briars and his Tomb are upkept by the French government.

The island is home to several forts which are all highlights of the islands long military history. The first of these is the High Knoll Fort, the largest military building on the island, which was built to provide protection for the Ladder Hill Fort and dates back to 1874. Other attractions include the James Fort, the Sampson Battery, Gregory and Cox's Battery, Banks Battery and the Mundens Battery which offers a spectacular vantage point to view the local birdlife.

Cruising to St Helena Island

The St. Helena Yacht Club welcomes visiting yachts and annually have members participating in the Governor's Cup Yacht Race. There are also a couple of tour operators who can tailor make package deals for those visitors wanting to enjoy the unique attractions of the island. Alternatively, there are cruises available that run from Cape Town, the Falkland Islands, Walvis Bay, the Caribbean or South America. James Bay has no break water and visiting passengers debark their vessel to board lifeboats which then ferry them to shore, making for a unique and exciting experience.

Fauna & flora

The island boasts 45 unique species of plant life that occur nowhere else but on St. Helena. There are no indigenous animal species found on the island, though humans introduced dogs, cats, rats, mice and finally goats, primarily as a good source. Naturally occurring invertebrates number over 11,000 different species and the island has drawn the interest of many a botanist.

Entry permits

Visitors to the island should apply for a Visitor's Pass which is valid for a period of 3 months and will cost £12 or alternatively visitors wishing to remain longer than the ascribed 3 month period can apply for an Entry Permit for a fee of £30 annually.

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