5 things you need to do on your next trip to Saint Helena

Longwood House. Picture: Supplied

Longwood House. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 8, 2024


Saint Helena boasts unparalleled adventure, impeccable beauty and unrefined nature.

According to the Saint Helena Tourism website, the island offers many things to see and lots to do – from visiting the Georgian town to the rugged coastline, from the rolling hills to the stark yet striking geology at Sandy Bay.

The island has a small population, mainly descended from people from Europe (mostly planters, government employees, and ex-soldiers serving in the local St Helena Regiment), Chinese, and slaves.

Famous as the place of Napoleon Bonaparte’s exile and death, this 120 square kilometre island is one of the most remote settled islands in the world and, until recently, also one of the most inaccessible.

With the opening of Saint Helena’s airport, it is now possible to fly into this far-flung destination to discover its uniqueness.

Television personality Dan Nicholl recently visited the island and put together his list of recommendations on what to do when you get there.

Nicholl’s travels take him to all parts of the world, with recent trips covering Greek islands, vineyards in Bordeaux, Scottish golf courses, and Hong Kong nightlife. To date, he has visited 53 countries and counting.

Here are Nicholl’s top recommendations for what to do when you get to the island.

Hit the water

Swimming with a Chilean devil ray sounds both terrifying and lunacy – and it feels like both the moment the four-metre sweep of oceanic Batman swoops silently past you.

But fear quickly gives way to amazement, as the gentle, curious giants circle around you in the surprisingly warm Atlantic waters that surround the island.

Alternatively, pull in tuna or bonito (but expect a fight), or go snorkelling or diving over the myriad wrecks around the coast.

Take a walk

There are 21 post box walks across the island, so named because each one finishes with a post box containing a stamp for your hiking passports.

Some are gentle meanders; others verge on extreme sport; all offer striking views of the constantly changing terrain.

Not feeling so energetic?

Stroll through Jamestown for a spot of time travel, taking in VHS rental stores, and a museum that captures the vibrant history of the island.

Jonathan the tortoise. Picture: Supplied

Hang out with a pensioner

At 191 years old, Jonathan the tortoise is believed to be the oldest creature on the planet. For someone who has seen the best part of two centuries, he is in remarkably good condition, with a surprising turn of speed for a 300kg tortoise, and an even more surprising flair for romance.

His girlfriend, Emma, barely into her fifties, still receives regular “visits” from him.

Grab a coffee

One hundred grams of the premium island coffee will cost you £90 (R2 000) at Harrods, a tribute to the purity of the island’s single-origin Arabica beans, which arrived nearly 300 years ago from Mocha in Yemen and have been unsullied since.

Make your way to Wranghams, a small, mist-swirled plantation in the middle of the island, for a barista pilgrimage that will be hard to beat – accompanied by the best baking on the island.

Longwood House. Picture: Supplied

Brush up on history

Jonathan is one of the island’s most famous living inhabitants; his counterpart from the deceased category, naturally, is Napoleon Bonaparte.

The French consul, Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, is a learned and entertaining guide on a visit to Longwood, where the French emperor spent his final years.

The house has been carefully recreated to showcase life in 1821 when Napoleon died; look out for the gardens he carefully curated, the wine cellar he was afforded (headlined by the Cape’s Groot Constantia), and a home that sweeps you back almost to the year Jonathan the tortoise was born.