Remote St. Helena Island Gets Brand-New Airport

At just over 1,200 miles from the southwest coast of Africa, remote, volcanic St. Helena island may be about to burst onto the scuba-diving scene. A tiny blip in the otherwise endless expanse of the South Atlantic, the island is just 6.5 miles across at its widest point, and is perhaps most famous as the place of final exile for Napoleon Bonaparte, who died here in 1821. With a population of just over 4,400 people, it’s the ultimate destination for those who wish to step off the beaten track and experience something entirely out of the ordinary.

Although St. Helena is on the itinerary of a few luxury cruise ships, until now the only regular method of transportation to its shores was aboard the RMS St. Helena, one of the world’s last working Royal Mail Ships. The journey from Cape Town in South Africa took five days, rendering the island accessible only to those with plenty of time and cash to spare. May of 2016, however, brings a new era for St. Helena tourism. At the end of the month, Comair will become the first airline to offer commercial flights to the island’s new airport.

Initially, the five-hour flights will run once a week, transporting 120 passengers plus cargo from Johannesburg to the island and back. Depending on the success of the first flight schedule, flights may be offered with increased frequency in the future. The opening of St. Helena’s new airport has also paved the way for charter companies, with operator Atlantic Star offering a direct route from the U.K. for £1,299 round trip.

On the island’s official tourism site, director for St. Helena Tourism Cathy Alberts says, “the introduction of air links will open up St. Helena to a global audience and well and truly put our island on the map. Travelers looking to plan their next big adventure and discover somewhere untrammeled by mass tourism should set their sights on a visit in 2016.” With its striking volcanic scenery, St. Helena is a nature-lover’s paradise, offering incredible opportunities for hiking, botany and bird-watching. Perhaps its greatest treasure, however, and the one most appealing to scuba divers, is the surrounding ocean.

Diving in St. Helena

Washed by the nutrient-rich waters of the Benguela Current, St. Helena promises perfect conditions for divers. Visibility typically hovers at around 100 feet (30 m), while water temperatures range from 66 F (19 C) in winter to 79 F (26 C) in summer. Like many remote islands, St. Helena has quite a bit of endemic and near-endemic marine life, including rare species of eel, damselfish and gurnard. Deep water is within a stone’s throw of shore, making the island a magnet for bucket-list pelagics as well. Manta rays, whale sharks, devil rays and dolphins are all seasonal visitors to St. Helena.

With a history dating back to the 16th century, St. Helena is also home to a bevy of historic wrecks, eight of which are within reach of recreational divers. Ranging from 39 to 92 feet (12 to 28 m) in depth, they include the Papanui, the Witte Leeuw and the Darkdale. After sinking in 1911 after a fire onboard, the Papanui now lies in 43 feet (13 m) of water and is the perfect wreck site for beginners. The Witte Leeuw (Afrikaans for White Lion) dates back to the 16th century and was a favorite dive site of Jacques Cousteau, while the Darkdale was a victim of WWII torpedo-fire.

Although infrastructure on the island is limited, local operator Sub Tropic Adventures currently offers guided dives, dive courses, sport-fishing excursions and whale-shark and dolphin snorkeling tours. With tourism expected to increase from 2,800 international visitors per year to 10,700 visitors per year by 2020, there has never been a better time to experience St. Helena’s remote reefs and bountiful marine life.

The post Remote St. Helena Island Gets Brand-New Airport appeared first on Scuba Diver Life.

Comments are closed.