Our time on St. Helena was an adventure and half for the Crew when we dropped anchor near this special English island situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 4000 people, it is famously known as the place the British imprisoned Napoleon from 1815 until his death in 1821.
There are still huge tortoises that roam the grounds of the Governor's residence that were alive at the time of Napoleon’s incarceration and some tortoises are over 200 years old!
St. Helena is an amazing port of call due to its diversity. One part of the island is deserted, almost entirely dry, because of the volcano, and the other part is the complete opposite: green, humid and tropical. The water around the island is also very clear with a couple shipwrecks in the bay that are really interesting.
Swimming with Whale Sharks
We were really excited to hear that it was whale shark season on the island, and they were seeing up to five whale sharks on a trip. We were given two options for trips during our visit and many of us took the opportunity on our first full day of shore leave to experience swimming with these massive creatures. The dive club had also arranged for an open water dive of a cave, one of the numerous dive sites on the island for exploring crystal clear waters and also snorkelling around the shipwrecks offshore.
Diana’s Peak Hike
Our second day on the island we woke up, and got ready for our hike up Diana's Peak, the highest spot on the island at over 2700 feet. We tendered to shore and were greeted by Tracey and her family, who operate the local tour business (Corker’s Tours). Splitting into minibuses, we rotated rides throughout the day so that everyone had the chance to take a ride in the old convertible (circa 1929) while experiencing the sites on the way up to the hiking trail. We began the hike of Diana’s Peak slowly because of the up-hill climb. Also, the mud covering the entire trail forced us to walk cautiously and to be careful. Wood steps, rocks, low trees and mud holes made this hike one of the most fun and unique experiences we could hope for, offering stunning views and a great ambiance. The path led us through three peaks, the highest of which was Diana's, where we stopped for lunch. The downhill hike was hilarious because of the mud; everyone was stressed out about falling in a mud holes; sadly, some of us did!
After 3 hours of hiking, we headed back to the vehicles and had a couple of additional stops along the way. One was at the plantation house, where we met Jonathan, the 180 year old tortoise, who came to St. Helena from the Seychelles as a gift and has been living at plantation house ever since. We then stopped at the Fort and headed to Oasis, where we had a traditional St. Helena Fishcake dinner.
St Helena is also home to Jacob’s Ladder, a set of 699 concrete steps rising up over 600 feet in the main part of town. When Julie, our Shipboard Director told us about climbing the steps as part of our port program, some of us thought ‘’Oh no, not another hike!’’ However, when our bus arrived, everyone was in shock: birds, colourful flowers, infinite green trees and clouds were surrounding us. It was so beautiful and exotic! Some people said they felt like they were in Jurassic World. Even though the steps were originally built to transport goods between the lower and upper part of town, climbing them is now considered a heart/lung/quad busting activity.
Victoria did Jacob's ladder in 7 minutes, 35 seconds!
Everyone onboard was encouraged to do the climb, as it’s quite an accomplishment. Once on top, students can receive a certificate from the museum attesting to the fact that they completed the 699 steps. The view of our ship the Gulden Leeuw from the top (which looked about 2 inches high) was spectacular.
Overall, St. Helena has proven to be a very exciting island that has left us exhausted and in need of a rest before our next port of call: Ascension, UK.