A volcanic outcrop in the South Atlantic Ocean, the island of St Helena is a 47-square-mile sub-tropical paradise, with rolling hills and a rugged coastline making it prime terrain for exploring on foot.
Home to an impressively varied range of walks and trails for such a small area, the island’s diverse landscape – from mist-enshrouded cloud forest to ancient desert – offers everything from gentle ambles to challenging hikes, with natural beauty at every turn. Walkers have the chance to view some of the more remote parts of St Helena and encounter its endemic plants, unique wildlife and rich heritage.
A walk around the capital Jamestown is a great way for visitors to find their feet having stepped off the RMS St Helena, a five-day voyage from Cape Town and currently the only way to access the island. Follow in the footsteps of Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington, Charles Darwin, and Captain James Cook. The more energetic can head up the 699 steps to conquer iconic Jacobs Ladder, embedded into a steep cliff face in Jamestown.
Continuing on a Napoleonic theme, walkers keen to uncover the emperor’s legacy should include the Boundary Wall and Nymph of the Valley trails in their itinerary. A soon to be released commemorative Napoleonic guide, to coincide with the bicentenary of his arrival on St Helena in October 1815, will describe many of the points of interest along these walking routes.
Post Box Walks
The best way to tackle walking on St Helena is to start with the Post Box Walks, devised by the St Helena Nature Conservation Group (SNCG). Covering some of the most scenic and untouched parts of the island, the 21 walks are rated on a difficulty scale of 1 to 10. The more arduous walks are not for the faint-hearted and should only be attempted in the company of an experienced guide. At the end of each walk is a post box containing an ink stamp and a visitors’ book.
The Diana’s Peak walk is a must, taking in the highest point on St Helena and affording 360 views across much of the island. The trail follows old military and flax plantation access routes within the Peaks National Park, itself part of the Central Ridge National Conservation Area.
Other popular walks include Heart Shaped Waterfall, a short walk from Jamestown that takes in the iconic waterfall via a series of steps, stairs and bridges, and Thompson’s Valley, which starts in pine woodland and descends to the North West coast.
Ask a local and Lot’s Wife’s Ponds will no doubt also get a mention. The route winds along the coast before descending to the ponds, teeming with sea life, where a refreshing swim is an unforgettable experience.
The perfect picnic spot can be found at Lemon Valley. The downhill walk is fairly easy, with the reward of swimming and snorkelling in the bay. It is also possible to arrange for a boat transfer back to James Bay after a day of fun in the sun.
A Post Box walks of St Helena booklet is available from the Tourist Office and most retailers on the island, and provides detailed descriptions, maps and points of interest.
A number of footpaths are available for walkers who prefer something a little tamer. These include Plantation Forest, Peak Hill and Fairyland, information for which is also available from the tourist office.
The Walking Festival
Stepping out on foot is such a popular pastime for locals and visitors alike that St Helena plays host to a Walking Festival each March, launched in 2007. The three week programme includes walks to suit seasoned hikers and relaxed adventurers alike, including a number of the Post Box Walks as well as guided strolls around Jamestown.
Way to go
Getting there is part of the adventure. Until the airport opens in February 2016, the main way for tourists to visit is aboard the RMS St Helena. Limited spaces are available on the final sailings up to July 2016, and once flights are available to book in late 2015 travellers will be able to join the weekly flight with Comair (a British Airways codeshare partner) from Johannesburg.