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A brown, barren island in the South Atlantic, Ascension Island, a dependency of Saint Helena, has attracted to its shores a diverse group of people: British soldiers, telegraph workers (an early breed of tele-sales marketers?), US military and a handful of migrants from nearby Saint Helena. Biological specialists have also frequented the island for research purposes, generally finding that the island is incredibly unique but awfully brown. In a bold attempt to add some colour to the landscape, Ascension Islanders have managed to plant an artificial forest, aptly named Green Mountain. In honour of this feat, the local government has even gone so far as to call it a national park.
The Portuguese explorer João da Nova is believed to be the first to discover the island (in 1501), but he did not report it. When in 1503 Afonso de Albuquerque, a Portuguese navigator sighted the island on Ascension Day in the church calendar, he named it for that day. It is possible that the island was sometimes used as an open prison for criminal mariners, although there is only one documented case of such an exile, a Dutch ship's officer, Leendert Hasenbosch, who was set ashore at Clarence Bay as a punishment for sodomy in May 1725.
Ascension Island was first inhabited in 1815, when the British garrisoned it as a precaution after imprisoning Napoleon I on Saint Helena to the southeast. The location of the island made it a useful stopping point for ships and communications. The Royal Navy used the island as a victualling station for ships, particularly those of the West Africa Squadron working against the slave trade. A garrison of Royal Marines was based at Ascension from 1923.
In 1922, Ascension was made a dependency of Saint Helena. The island was managed by the head of the Eastern Telegraph Company on the island until 1964 when the British Government appointed an Administrator to represent the Governor of Saint Helena on Ascension. In 1982, Ascension Island was used as a staging post for the British Task Force during the Falklands War.
In 2008 British diplomats requested sovereignty, at the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UN CLCS), over 200,000 square kilometres of submarine territory around the island. This would enable exploration into new reserves of oil, gas and minerals, though none are thought to exist.
The main island, Ascension, has a land are of roughly 91 km². The island is a volcanic peak, with much of the island a wasteland of cinder cones and lava flows.
The tiny Boatswain Bird Island lies off the east coast of Ascension and is a haven for sea birds, who used it to get away from the cats, rats and humans that were introduced to Ascension from African and Europe. In 2006, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, declared Ascension Island free of feral cats, after a campaign to eradicate them. As a result, the sea birds have started nesting on Ascension Island again.
Green Mountain National Park was opened in 2005, making it the island's first national park. The park absorbs a large chunk of the southeast, and features a wide variety of native wildlife and plants, including landcrabs, Fairy terns and red necked francolins. There are a number of bushwalks possible in the park, which also features a 300-metre long tunnel used to pump water through the mountain in the 1830s.
For more information, see the Ascension Conservation website.
Ascension enjoys a tropical climate, with generally warm and relatively humid conditions. Daytime temperatures range from around 26 °C from July to November to almost 30 °C from February to April. Nights are between 22 °C and 25 °C respectively. Rainfall is normal throughout the year, but tends to be heavier from January to April, although the number of rainy days is higher from July to December.
The airport and land-bridge air services to Ascension Island are operated by the Royal Air Force. Flights to Ascension Island are operated by a special RAF charter service who allow a limited number of civilian passengers on board. Note that it is not possible to book flights until you have proof of your onward sea passage. Departures are from the Brize Norton RAF airbase in Oxfordshire.
Cancellation insurance is highly advised as the charter flight is subject to changes in date according to operational requirements, whilst the RAF reserves the right to refuse civilian passengers without reason. Even with a confirmed booking, civilian access to the flight is also strictly subject to change at short notice if military requirements dictate it. More details on prices and schedules can be found through the Ascension Island travel agency.
The Royal Mail Ship "Saint Helena" travels regularly between Saint Helena and Ascension Island, Walvis Bay and Cape Town. The schedule is primarily designed to meet the needs of locals and cargo for St. Helena, and thus follows a timetable but not a consistent routing. In general terms, the ship leaves Cape Town once a month, before heading to St. Helena, sometimes via Walvis Bay. From St. Helena it will then run 1 or 2 shuttles to Ascension Island, before returning to Cape Town, again sometimes via Walvis Bay. Occasionally, Cape Town is omitted, and the ship returns to St. Helena directly from Walvis Bay.
Twice a year (in March and October) the ship travels from St. Helena via Ascension to the UK, currently docking in Portland on the South Coast.
As there is no public transport on the island, all visitors that wish to see something are required to rent a car. Several companies offer rental cars, but they are not very cheap. There is about 40 kilometers of tarred roads on the island and all major sights can be visited in a few days. Bikes can be rented as well, and if you like hiking then you are on the right spot as well.
Recently, taxis have been introduced on the island, so if you only want to take a car once or twice and you are with several people, this makes for a nice option as well.
Same requirements apply as for Saint Helena.
See also Money Matters
The currency in use on Ascension Island is the Saint Helena Pound, which is fixed at parity to the British Pound Sterling.
Notes come in denominations of £5, £10, and £20, while coins are available in denominations of 1p (penny), 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 (pound) and £2.
See also Travel Health
See also Travel Safety
See also International Telephone Calls
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Ask Gelli a question about Ascension Island
I live on St. Helena, and everything/everybody goes through Ascension on it's way pretty much anywhere. if i don't know the answer, i 'll know many who do and can get back to you.
Ask Inisfree a question about Ascension Island
I lived there for 2 years. But it was a long time ago!
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