Saint Helena Island  

On the Radar

The craggy Atlantic outcrop synonymous with an emperor’s exile is now much easier for regular travellers to conquer with a new airport opening this month.

Unique biodiversity, Napoleon’s place of death, an open-topped charabanc and the world’s oldest tortoise are some of the attractions that have historically defined visits to the island of St Helena. This speck in the South Atlantic has a population of just 4.131 who, until this year, were linked to the outside world only by a Royal Mail Ship, which also ferried people interested in the endemic flora and fauna on the five-day trip from Cape Town. A new airport – a five-hour flight from Johannesburg, starting this month – will make it more accessible for another breed of traveller, albeit one that can no longer revel in the drawn-out task of reaching one of the planet’s remotest inhabited islands. Twenty-first-century contact hasn’t come without controversy: the runway cuts across the home of the critically endangered wirebird and a number of rare invertebrates, but it’s also an opportunity to generate a wilder interest in their protection. For now, the island still has a wild feel. A barren coastline rings a verdant interior where forts, waterfalls and the Longwood House museum (where Napoleon was exiled) are catnip to hikers and history buffs. The tiny faded capital, Jamestown, is squeezed between valley walls and has just a few restaurants. The best of the limited places to stay is the relaunched 18th-century Consulate Hotel while South Africa’s Mantis group will open St Helena’s first smart boutique property in three connected Georgian buildings later this year.

Napoléon à Sainte-Hélène by Francois-Joseph Sandmann

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