Anybody here ever visited the remote islands of St. Helena, Ascension Island or Tristan da Cunha?

If so, tell about what it’s like?

I’ve become fascinated by these incredibly remote, yet inhabited islands in the southern Atlantic ocean. They are considered among the most remote inhabited lands on the planet, and while grouped and administered together, are widely separated. 1,500 miles separates St. Helena (pop. 4500) from Tristan (pop. 250), and St. Helena is 800 miles from Ascension (pop. 800). 2000 miles separate Ascension from Tristan. They’re similarly distant to the nearest continent (Africa) too.

It looks like arranging a visit can be tough. St. Helena’s new airport apparently has one flight a week, while Ascension may have about one a month. Tristan is accessible only by boat. I could handle the cost (with much wincing), but taking the time to get such places would be tough. I’ll have to consider it after I retire, I suppose. Not sure I could sell the Mrs. on such a trip, though perhaps St. Helena might be acceptable to her, given the opportunity to visit Napoleon’s tomb, and given that it supports a few more amenities than the other islands.

I’d love to hear of anyone’s firsthand experiences with these remote islands. Or any other experiences on similarly remote locations like Pitcairn or Easter island. Or even about any other doper’s fascination with such out of the way destinations.

No first hand experience, but I share your fascination. I have read a lot of books about sailing around the world. Often just single handing or a couple. Often remote islands are brought up. I always google them to learn about them.

Too late to edit. I live somewhat remotely by other peoples standards. No mail delivery or trash pick up or any of that. Must have 4 wheel drive in the winter etc. No pizza or food delivery. Closest grocery store or gas station 15 miles away. I do have phone and electricity, and now have a propane tank for heat. I heated with wood for about 12 years.

I find people that live remotely in a community quite interesting.

I’ve never ever heard of them but thanks for posting about them. I have always enjoyed looking up remote islands on Google Earth and reading up on Wikipedia about them. Now I have some new ones to check out. And they are way out there! Tristan is a volcano sticking out of the water.

I’d recommend the book Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire by Simon Winchester. Winchester traveled around the world visiting obscure locations, including Ascension Island, St. Helena, and Tristan.

I’d just like to add that you should go asap.

Once the airport is built, things go modern quickly and a lot of the charm of these places disappears.

I got to see China around 1985 shortly after “independent travel” was allowed. Before that it was escorted group travel only. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t recognize the place now. For example, I traveled to rural areas and big cities (Xian, Cheng Du, Shang Hai, etc.) and never found a hotel, store, or restaurant with refrigeration (I speak Mandarin so I was able to make clear what I wanted.) Finally in Bei Jing, there was a Friendship Store (foreigners only, had to show passport) that had genuine cold Cokes. Not usually a big fan, but it sure tasted good.


Never been, but I think it would be an interesting trip.

If you go, read “The Murder of Napoleon.” Much of it is set on St Helena.

I definitely need to check that out, thanks!

I don’t think St. Helena will get overwhelmed with tourists too quick, with its weekly single airplane arrival/departure being the only scheduled air traffic so far. An interesting article about the airport’s first year of airline activity is noteworthy, IMHO.

Why do folks WANT to live, with such a small group, on Tristan de Cunha? It would feel like there was no escape, no new faces. What about the genetics of a place like that, finding mates that weren’t your cousins? Being a professional, perhaps the only doctor, would be very confining. Is there an actual hospital, however small?

I would love to go to St. Helena. The Napoleonic Wars were an area of study for me as a historian. Maybe someday. Let me know if you ever want a travel companion. :slight_smile:

Good question. But apparently those folks do want to be there.

The entire island of Tristan da Cunha was evacuated to England circa 1960 due to volcanic eruption, and everyone thought it meant the end of that community. But when the danger passed, the majority of the islanders returned to their home, bringing a few new folks with them, in the form of spouses.

And apparently the genetics of those folks has been studied extensively, without finding any real significant genetic problems. Wikipedia has an article on that, I believe, in their page on the island.

I’d likely go nuts there after a couple of weeks, though.

I’d lose my mind.

Anyway, if you scroll down a bit from your link, it says that there’s a very high incidence of asthma amongst the population.

Yeah, that and glaucoma. As a physician I consider those significant but generally easily manageable disorders with complicated genetic and non-genetic factors driving them. I’d be more concerned about the purely genetic and extremely disabling disorders like CF, Huntingdon’s, sickle cell, and other such diseases.

The population is actually a great place to more closely explore the genetics of asthma and glaucoma, and help better understand what role they play there, and may play in the larger world.

There’s another book of some interest, published a couple of decades later, by another journalist-type – The Teatime Islands, by Ben Fogle; who also visited the three islands, and gives his impressions in the book. I’ve read Winchester’s book, long ago – contains interesting material, but I personally was put off by the author’s seemingly inflated opinion of himself as a pundit on all things: to the point that he struck me as “so far up his own backside that he disappears”. I find Fogle something of a twit – but at least, a likeable one.

Their spell in “volcanic exile” was 1961 - 63. I gather that the majority of the islanders outright loathed the complexity and prevailing anxiety of modern life in the UK a little over half a century ago; and couldn’t wait to get back to Tristan.

I understand that Ascension Island differs from the other two, in that it in fact has next to no permanent civilian population: all activity there is essentially military / communications / meteorological / scientific – those who live on the island are the professionals who, for limited terms based there, attend to said doings; plus the ancillary folks who supply life’s amenities for them.

One thing that’s interesting is that these islands really were discovered by Europeans. Unlike “discovering” Hawaii or something, these places were uninhabited prior to them getting there.

Back in the 1960’s, an American engineer was charged with murder at the American missile base in Ascension Island.

He was tried in the courthouse at St Helena, eight hundred miles to the south. The Chief Justice of Uganda was the trial judge. His defence counsel was a well-respected barrister from Toronto (later President of the Canadian Bar Association). He was convicted of manslaughter and served his sentence of twelve years in a prison in England.

I’m going to remember this story till the day I day. It’s awesome!

I can’t offer first-hand experience but my late father visited St Helena on business in 1966. He went out on the Union Castle Line Capetown Castle, the big liners plied between Southampton and Capetown and called at St Helena on the way (they had to stand off and transfer people by boat as there was no harbour). He was to survey the Consulate Hotel in Jamestown and produce a report for Messrs. Solomons, the owners, on whether it should be modernised for tourism (I think he advised that they probably would not get their money back if they did). I remember he had to book a call on the radio-telephone on board to speak to us on Christmas Day. Napoleon’s house at Longwood was one of the attractions there. Jamestown is long and thin, situated along a volcanic valley. A 700-step staircase known as Jacob’s Ladder leads up the side of the valley - the local children descend it by sliding down the handrail.
The chief industry used to be growing flax which was turned into jute. The British Post Office decided to end buying jute mailbags and the flax industry collapsed, turning the plants from assets into giant weeds.

I’m going to try to remember it overnight. :wink:

Link to the story, in the obit of the Canadian barrister: