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Saint Helena: a place of exile. Not exactly a tourist brochure catchphrase, ey? Yet this is what Saint Helena is best known for, since it was the island to which Napoleon Bonaparte was banished for the final years of his life. And certainly, passionate fans of bad boy Bonaparte will rest assured knowing that Saint Helena is hardly a pit of desolation. With a gorgeous volcanic backdrop and a nice tropical climate, the emperor could have had little to complain about (besides that whole failure-to-take-over-Europe thing). Today, travellers are even attracted by the island's remoteness: situated more than 2,000 kilometres from the nearest continent, Saint Helena offers just the kind of getaway busy folk need.
Most historical accounts state that the island was discovered on 21 May 1502 by the Galician navigator João da Nova sailing at the service of the Portuguese Crown, and that he named it "Santa Helena" after Helena of Constantinople.
The Portuguese found the island uninhabited, with an abundance of trees and fresh water. Though they formed no permanent settlement, the island became crucially important for the collection of food and as a rendezvous point for homebound voyages from Asia.
In 1657, the English East India Company was granted a charter to govern Saint Helena by Oliver Cromwell, and the following year the Company decided to fortify the island and colonise it with planters. The first governor, Captain John Dutton, arrived in 1659, and it is from this date that Saint Helena claims to be Britain’s second oldest colony (after Bermuda). A fort was completed and a number of houses were built. A new parish church was erected in Jamestown in 1774. Captain James Cook visited the island in 1775 on the final leg of his second circumnavigation of the world.
In 1815 the British government selected Saint Helena as the place of detention of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was brought to the island in October 1815 and lodged at Longwood, where he died on 5 May 1821. During this period, Saint Helena remained in the East India Company’s possession, but the British government met additional costs arising from guarding Napoleon. The island was strongly garrisoned with British troops, and naval shipping circled the island.
The latter half of the 19th century saw the advent of steam ships not reliant on trade winds, as well as the diversion of Far East trade away from the traditional South Atlantic shipping lanes to a route via the Red Sea (which, prior to the building of the Suez Canal involved a short overland section). These factors contributed to a decline in the number of ships calling at the island from 1,100 in 1855 to only 288 in 1889. From 1958, the Union Castle shipping line gradually reduced its service calls to the island. Curnow Shipping, based in Avonmouth, replaced the Union-Castle Line mailship service in 1977, using the RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Saint Helena.
The British Nationality Act 1981 reclassified Saint Helena and the other Crown colonies as British Dependent Territories. The islanders lost their status as "Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies" and were stripped of their right of abode in Britain. For the next 20 years, many could find only low-paid work with the island government, and the only available overseas employment was on the Falkland Islands and Ascension Island. The Development and Economic Planning Department, which still operates, was formed in 1988 to contribute to raising the living standards of the people of St Helena.
In 1989, Prince Andrew launched the replacement RMS Saint Helena to serve the island; the vessel was specially built for the Cardiff–Cape Town route and features a mixed cargo/passenger layout.
The Saint Helena Constitution took effect in 1989 and provided that the island would be governed by a Governor and Commander-in-Chief, and an elected Executive and Legislative Council. In 2002, the British Overseas Territories Act restored full passports to the islanders, and renamed the Dependent Territories (including Saint Helena) the British Overseas Territories.
Saint Helena is one of the most isolated places in the world, located in the southern part of the Atlantic Ocean and more than 2,000 kilometres from the nearest continent. The island is about 122 km2 big and is composed largely of rugged terrain of volcanic origin. The centre of Saint Helena is covered by forest, of which some has been planted. The coastal areas are barren, covered in volcanic rock and are both warmer and drier than the centre of the island. The highest point of the island is Diana's Peak at 818 metres above sea level. In 1996 it became the island's first national park. To add, there are also several rocks and islets off the coast, including Castle Rock, Speery Island, The Needle, Lower Black Rock, Upper Black Rock (South), Bird Island (Southwest), Black Rock, Thompson's Valley Island, Peaked Island, Egg Island, Lady's Chair, Lighter Rock (West), Long Ledge (Northwest), Shore Island, George Island, Rough Rock Island, Flat Rock (East), The Buoys, Sandy Bay Island, The Chimney, White Bird Island and Frightus Rock (Southeast), all of which are within one kilometre of the shore.
The island of Saint Helena is too small to really have any regions. However, politically and postally, the island of is split into 8 districts of roughly equal size: Alarm Forest, Blue Hill, Half Tree Hollow, Jamestown, Levelwood, Longwood, Sandy Bay and St. Paul's. Each one of these districts is much larger than the central settlement of the same name that it contains.
Two other islands make up the political entity that is "the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena and Dependencies", and fall under the authority of Saint Helena:
Jamestown is the only town on Saint Helena, and is indeed known to locals as 'town'. Several other settlements are dotted around the island, some of which (such as Half Tree Hollow) actually have a larger population than Jamestown. However these are generally an unplanned assortment of houses spread over a fairly large area and have no focal point or centre as such and thus cannot be considered as towns. For more details, see the Regions section, above.
Saint Helena has a colourful history and is home to a number of significant buildings:
The island has a range of interesting rambles including to Diana's Peak - the highest point on the island. There are a network of 27 "postbox" walks to scenic points and valleys, which are an excellent way to see the island for those who are reasonably fit and adventurous. Information is available from the Tourist office, the National Trust and the St. Helena Conservation Group (SHCG), though for safety reasons, you will not be permitted to take leaflets for any walks rated above 5 (on a scale of 10) unless you have first attempted them with a local guide.
The waters around Saint Helena are home to some pristine coral ecosystems with excellent visibility (20 metres). Fish include unique species of Pufferfish, Butterflyfish and Wrasse only found in the immediate vicinity of the island.
There are also a variety of festivals. The Walking Festival is held biennially and consists of a week’s programme of walks to suit every walker, whether you are a beginner or a seasoned hiker. The Festival of Running is also held in the same years as the Walking Festival and attracts many participants from overseas as well as locals. The Festival of Arts & Culture is also a biennial event and highlights St Helena’s people and culture with a two-week programme of activities and events. See the events page for dates. Church parades, where the Scouts and Girl Guides march in Jamestown, takes place every 4th Sunday in the month and on patron saint days, on Remembrance Sunday, these youth organisations are joined with the Church Lad’s Brigade, the police, and other societies/institutes. Scout’s Sports Day is a yearly event which raises money for the Scout’s group. It is hosted at the ‘Mule Yard’ at the seafront during the August Bank Holiday weekend (which occurs on the last week in August). Scout’s Sports Day organises activities for kids, food stalls, bar, music and side shows.
Saint Helena has a (sub)tropical climate with no great extremes regarding temperature. The north coast has a very low annual rainfall, just over 100 mm in Jamestown for example, but this coast is sheltered from the southeast trade winds which bring much more rainfall along the southern coastline and also at higher altitudes more inland, roughly between 750 and 1,000 mm a year. Temperatures vary from around 16 to 19 °C from July to November (14 °C to 16 °C at night) and 22 °C or 25 °C from January to April (18 °C or 219 °C at night). Rainfall is pretty constant throughout the year with around 15-21 rainy days a month. The highest precipitation is in July and August, while May/June and November are driest.
Saint Helena Airport is an airport under construction since early 2012. The airport is scheduled to open in February 2016, which is when the ship serving the island is to be retired.
There is no airport on Saint Helena, so all visitors must arrive by boat. Thus to fly to Saint Helena, you must fly to one of Cape Town, Walvis Bay or Ascension Island - according to the ship schedules - and join the boat there.
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 St. 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 Saint Helena, sometimes via Walvis Bay. From Saint 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 Saint Helena directly from Walvis Bay.
Twice a year (in March and October) the ship travels from Saint Helena via Ascension to the United Kingdom, currently docking in Portland on the South Coast. This voyage leaves St. Helena cut off from the world for 5 or 6 weeks. The ship also calls at Tenerife in one direction, and also occasionally in Vigo (in Northwest Spain) on the Northbound voyage according to cargo requirements - eg: to offload fish.
The schedule changes around Christmas to allow as many people as possible to return home to Saint Helena for the festive season, and it can be virtually impossible to arrange passage to Saint Helena in late November or December, or away from the Island in January unless booked at least 12months in advance. Dry-dock and other maintenance requirements mean that schedules are always open to variation.
Normal journey times to Jamestown, Saint Helena, are as follows:
Ascension Island: 3 nights
Walvis Bay: 4 nights
Cape Town: 5 nights (7 nights if ship routed via Walvis Bay)
Tenerife: 9 nights*
Portland: 14-16 nights
*As ships only serve Tenerife in one direction, there is not always an annual Tenerife-St. Helena voyage (except via Portland). There are also no services from Vigo to Saint Helena, again, except via Portland.
The ship carries up to 128 passengers (though a number of berths are always held behind in case they are needed at short notice by visiting experts or officials), and all non Saints are required to show proof of evacuation insurance (£1million), proof of accommodation and a return ticket before their bookings will be allowed.
Potential visitors should note that there is no quayside or breakwater on St. Helena, so passengers from the RMS St. Helena are ferried ashore using small launches. In choppy weather, this can be very interesting and definitely not for the faint hearted!
There are also a limited number of cruise ships who call at Saint Helena a year, and who will very occasionally consent to leave passengers on Saint Helena, or to take them off (though this later course is almost always for medical reasons only). It should be noted that if the weather is not conducive, passengers are not be allowed to get off the cruise ships for safety reasons. An average of 150 private yachts also call at Saint Helena annually.
Getting around Saint Helena is best done by car and with slightly more than 100 kilometres of tarred roads you will be able to see most sights and do most activities within several days. A few companies offer rental cars, all of which are bookable through the tourist office and cost £10-12 per day. Be aware that all are small private companies generally only offering 2 or 3 cars each and supply is limited, so that at busy times - such as Christmas when lots of Saints return home - it can be hard to find a car unless you book well in advance. Petrol prices are very high, due to the cost of importing fuel.
There are several taxis which are run by 3 firms, and there is a small taxi rank in Jamestown, although there are generally only taxis there during shopping/work hours. It is best to book in advance. There are no metres, and prices are agreed with the driver beforehand. Most can be pre-booked for the day with driver/guide for a small fee plus petrol.
Public transport is close to non-existent. There are a few minibus services, but they mostly provide journeys for islanders to get to/from Jamestown. Thus if you are staying in Jamestown whilst you can use the buses to get out and about, on most routes there are no return services.
Cycling is not a practical way to explore the island. The terrain is steep, and many roads narrow and twisting. It is illegal to cycle along many of the roads, including all 3 roads out of Jamestown. There are no bike-hire outlets on the Island.
Jamestown is easily navigated on foot but some parts on the rest of the island can be steep. As well as the post-box walks mentioned above, there are also numerous other paths and shortcuts, though many are no longer well used and can be very overgrown, whilst because the island is so small and traffic limited, it is possible for a reasonably fit person to walk between any two points on the road network (eg: Jamestown to Sandy Bay beach, Thompson's Wood or Bradley's Garage) in under 3.5 hours.
Hitch-hiking is almost perfectly safe (there has never been a recorded or known incident on the Island), and it is quite normal outside Jamestown for anybody in a car to stop and offer a lift to anybody they happen to pass walking. This is great, but can occasionally get frustrating if you are actually trying to walk somewhere!
All visitors need a valid passport and an onward or return ticket. For stays of more than 48 hours, be sure to have proof of sufficient medical insurance. All visitors pay a fee of £11.
See also Money Matters
Saint Helena and Ascension Island use the Saint Helena pound, which is tagged 1:1 with the UK Sterling. Notes come in denominations of £20, £10 and £5, and coins are £2, £1, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1pence.
Many outlets accept Sterling, and both the Bank of St. Helena and RMS St. Helena will exchange Sterling for St. Helena pounds (and back again) for free. Dollars can be used in some places on Ascension, and also at a few tourist places on Saint Helena at a poor exchange rate. The Bank of Saint Helena and the RMS Saint Helena will both exchange Euros, US dollars and South African Rands, though the rates aren't always great. Other currencies are generally not accepted, though Falklands Islands pounds can be exchanged at the bank. Try and dispose of all St. Helena pounds before leaving Ascension/St.Helena/the RMS, as exchanging them anywhere else is virtually impossible.
There are no ATMs, and Credit/Debit cards are not widely used. The RMS Saint Helena, Soloman's fuel station, the Shipping office and Cable & Wireless are the only places where purchases can be made with Credit cards, though cash advances can be made at the Bank of Saint Helena. Note all credit/debit card transactions are subject to being able to get a connection, and if the Credit card machine is out of order (as it was for several months in 2008), you can't use them at all. Don't rely on being able to use them and take a plentiful supply of cash, as you will need it for car hire and hotels as well as daily expenses. If accommodation is being booked separately, it is generally possible to pay for them using a bank transfer from UK accounts: contact the hotel/landlord for details.
Travellers cheques can also be cashed at the Bank of Saint Helena, as can cheques drawn from UK banks if supported by a cheque guarantee card.
Tourists shouldn't come to Saint Helena to work - it is illegal to do paid work on Saint Helena unless you have a work permit or are employed by the UK or Saint Helena Government. Wages are low - about a fifth of that paid for the equivalent work in the UK. A large number of Saints work off the island on the RMS St Helena, in the Falklands, or on Ascension. This is mainly to get a higher income.
English is the national language of Saint Helena, and very little else is spoke on the Island. However, Saints have their own dialect and local words and whilst most Saints will make an effort to be clearer when speaking to tourists, it can take a few days to get used to the accent.
Due to Napoleon, there is an honorary French consul on the Island and French speakers/translators can normally be found if required. Finding somebody who is able to speak/understand any other language can be very pot-luck and depend on who happens to be on the island at the time. There are native Swedish, Cantonese, German and Tagalog speakers living on the Island, and it is generally possible to find an Afrikaans or Xhosa speaker as well. Note, however, that these are all normal people leading normal lives, so don't expect them to be able to help out with your every query.
There are several places to stay on the island, including the Consulate Hotel, Wellington House Hotel and Farm Lodge. There are several smaller options and self catering places as well.
Saint Helena's size, allied with low local wages and limited tourism means that there are not an abundance of options for eating out. Having said that, prices are generally quite good and a large plate of food can cost under £5, and can be even cheaper at lunchtimes. The two main hotels in Jamestown, The Consulate and Wellington House both offer dinner if booked a day ahead, and they will also ask you to choose what you wish to eat when you book. The Consulate also offer lunch time braai's with a changing menu.
Other options include:
In addition, there is a burger van and an ice cream van outside the Castle, whilst Spar supermarket offer pies and pasties plus a daily takeaway lunchtime special.
Outside of Jamestown, Farm Lodge is the classiest establishment on the whole Island and offers a dinner party atmosphere and home grown/made food, but caters for a maximum of 12 and guests take priority so advance booking is essential. Oasis bar in Half Tree Hollow also serves basic meals/Braais at weekends.
There are only two 'pubs' in Jamestown: the Standard and the White Horse, which are virtually opposite each other by the Market. Both are mainly for drinking and mostly frequented by locals, although the Standard attracts some of the Expat community. The Consulate hotel bar, Anne's place (though it is more of a restaurant) and Donny's place on the seafront are the other options for a drink.
Bayside, next to Donny's, is the main club and has regular theme nights and at weekends sometimes charges a small entrance fee. Both pubs plus Donny's often have DJ's or live bands playing, whilst the Consulate Hotel and White Horse have pool tables, though sadly the very popular disco nights at the Consulate ended in November 2008 when the new owners took over. Traditionally, at weekends locals will start at one of the pubs, then head to the Consulate before ending at Donny's/Bayside, although this can vary and it is best to take the evening as it comes, and go with the flow.
There are a few places outside Jamestown, although as the landlords have other jobs they have limited opening hours often at weekends only:
All food items are subject to availability, and this can vary wildly depending on shipping schedules. It is not unusual for certain items to run out altogether, although you can never tell what will run out this time. Despite that, it is almost always possible to find what you want, or at least an alternative.
Bread in Jamestown can be purchased from Star (though not every day) or Musk's bakery (who will accept advance orders), and occasionally Thorpe's. Local meat products are generally very good, and can be bought from the Star, Tinkers (Thorpe's frozen store, across the road from the main supermarket), the Rose and Crown and in the market. Many locals fish themselves and supply friends and family with their catch but local fish can be bought from the market, although availability depends upon recent catches.
Finding fresh fruit and vegetables can be a major problem. Sadly, despite good soil and a conducive climate the island currently has to import a proportion of it's fruit and veg from South Africa and thus supplies can run out, especially just before the ship is due to return. Fruit and vegetables are also noticeable available much more in seasonal patterns. Many islanders grow some themselves, and trade surplus amounts amongst friends and families. Finding a friendly local happy to supply you with occasional local produce is a major advantage!
If that is not possible, Thursday mornings are the best time to get local fruit and veg, though you have to be quick as weekly supplies can run out within 30 minutes of opening. It is worth the effort, though, as local fruit is often absolutely wonderful, and much tastier - if smaller - than European equivalents. Bananas, avocados, mangoes and tomatoes are particularly recommended. The Market and Thorpe's stock solely island grown fruit and veg, whilst the Star and Rose and Crown also sell some imported stocks.
Many other small stores sell certain items of food and drink, though exactly what they sell at any time varies wildly depending on what they happen to have received a supply of. Browsing the eclectic variety of items in the shops of Jamestown is like going back in time to an English village store 50 years ago, and can rapidly become almost a hobby. Outside of Jamestown, there is a decent sized Soloman's supermarket in Half Tree Hollow, and dozens of smaller shops dotted all around the Island. Many are not always that obvious, but all sell a surprisingly wide variety of items.
Saint Helena food includes influences from a wide variety of different backgrounds: British, European, Indian, African and Chinese influences can all be seen. Local specialities to look out for include:
Saints love their deserts, and baking sometimes seems to be almost a national sport. As well as the fritters and fingers, Cakes of all varieties are regularly baked, and together with home made ice cream are well worth a try.
Saint Helena coffee is grown in small quantities and is regularly considered to be amongst the very best in the world. It can be bought as a gift in the gift stores and from the coffee shop, and can be tasted at most cafes and restaurants on the Island. Possibly due to it's scarcity, many Saints drink it quite weak, so be warned and don't be afraid to ask for a strong one if you prefer it that way. Cheaper, Instant coffee is also available everywhere.
British rule and formerly being a stop off for ships heading to and from India has imparted a love of tea to the Island. Black tea is everywhere, and generally drunk and with some milk (and sugar if desired), whilst red (rooibos) and green tea are also regularly available. Most international soft drinks (including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Tango, Mirinda and Mountain Dew) are widely available, as are a variety of fruit juices.
Beer is always available and unlike in Europe, bar prices are generally comparable to buying in shops: At most you might pay 10p extra per drink in a bar. Due to the need to import all beer, variety is not that wide and generally restricted to the Namibian Windhoek (bottled, tinned draught and Tafel) and South African Castle (bottles, milk stout and small tins) brands, although it is often possible to also get bottled Miller and tinned Fosters. Apart from the milk stout, all beer is of the light lager/pils variety. In addition, Donny's and Bayside club sell tinned Guinness. Hunters Gold and Savannah Dry/Light Cider is also freely available. Expect to pay about £1 for a bottle of Windhoek, and £1.50 for Castle or Windhoek Draught tins.
Colin's bar in Sandy Bay is the only place on the island to serve draught beer, and normally has Windhoek draught and Guinness on tap, although as Colin has a day job, they are generally only open on Saturdays.
Wine is freely available and is normally pretty good and imported from South Africa. Note that the "St. Helena wine" is actually grown and bottled in South Africa, though entirely for the St. Helena market.
Spirits are distilled on the Island by the Tungi company who currently produce 3 drinks from the small distillery on the sea-front in Jamestown: White Lion (a Spiced Rum), Midnight Mist (a Coffee Liquer) and Tungi itself - a strong tasting local speciality distilled from Prickly Pear. All are packaged in a distinctive step shaped bottled. Other spirits are imported, widely available and good value. Most spirits cost 90p-£1 per 25ml, and even a Gin and Tonic will only cost £1.10 in most bars. Certain better known brands are priced as "luxury" spirits and cost slightly more.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Saint Helena.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Saint Helena. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
There is a hospital with trained staff available, however, there are no facilities to deal with very serious health issues. Any complicated medical issue must be dealt with off island, and that is a bare minimum of three days away if the boat to Ascension and the plane is just right. More likely you will have to wait several weeks for the boat to Cape Town. Visitors are required to carry medical insurance that will cover the full cost of their evacuation back to their home country.
See also Travel Safety
This island is one of the safest places on earth. Crime is practically non-existent, though there is a jail with a few inmates. You can feel comfortable walking at night anywhere on the island. There are no bugs or animals of concern (with the exception of scorpions). The only safety issue might be falls for those who want to do some climbing. Law, order and security on the island is provided by the St. Helena Police Service.
Summer heat provides the only common safety issue. Take a bottle of water if climbing Jacob's Ladder or doing a walking tour. Plan in advance as 24-hour shops do not exist and little is open on a Sunday. Traffic is limited to 20 miles per hour in the entire Jamestown area, so road accidents are also rare and rarely cause injuries. Rockfalls can occur, due to the steep sided valley in which Jamestown sits. A catch-fencing scheme has been implemented but is not expected to stop all rockfalls. No practicable avoidance measures are possible.
Internet access came to Saint Helena ten years ago, and Broadband was rolled out in 2008. However, due to the logistical issues, it is still reasonably slow and quite expensive, and the entire bandwidth of the Island is less than some European providers offer to individuals.
The Consulate and Wellington hotels offer wireless internet access for guests only, and there are public access wireless points in Anne's place and in the Market (buy credit through Ardee's cafe) which cost £6 an hour. There are two coin operated Internet machines at Anne's place. A third hotspot at the harbour (based around either the St. Helena yacht club or Donny's/Bayside, or potentially, both) is due to be launched in 2009.
See also International Telephone Calls
Due to it's isolation, post from the outside world only arrives when the RMS Saint Helena calls. Thus there are gaps of between 5 and 40 days between deliveries. When the ship has arrived, the Post Office announce on the radio when post has been sorted and is ready for collection. Letters are initially collected from a room behind the Post Office (go through the passage between Post Office and Bank), whilst parcels and registered mail are collected from the main counter. After 3 days, remaining letters move to the main counter and uncollected letters for the outer districts get taken to the sub-post offices on the Island.
Island post is quite rare due to it's physical size, and the fact that everybody knows everybody else and thus delivers items like Birthday cards by hand. The only exceptions are bills and government correspondence, which are collected from the front desk in the main post office (ask to check your local mail) or sub post offices if they remain uncollected.
There are no door to door postal deliveries, but if after a week or two you haven't collected mail, it is not unusual for you to be phoned up or stopped on the street in Jamestown to be told there is mail awaiting your collection.
The main Post Office in Jamestown will hold items marked 'Poste Restante' for 3 months, or longer if they are pre-warned or know the person it is addressed to.
There are no parcel or courier firms on the island, but the Post Office can arrange to send registered post.
The post office announces on it's doors and the radio the closure times & dates for post before each departing ship.
Outgoing mail to the UK and Europe is generally pretty quick (it can be as quick as 4-5days) providing it is posted just before closure of the post and the ship is going to Ascension. Post via South Africa can take significantly longer (up to several weeks) for unknown reasons. Post to other parts of the world can vary from a week to several weeks.
Incoming post from the United Kingdom and North America generally goes via Ascension Island, and if you get lucky and it catches the post in the UK can be reasonably quick, though post does have a bad habit of getting stuck in the British postal system for several days or weeks before being released. Incoming post from the rest of Europe and Asia seems to go via Cape Town and can thus take much longer to arrive.
Note that Saint Helena now has it's own post/zip code of STHL 1ZZ: This was brought in to (a) allow people to shop online and order goods mail order, but more importantly (b) to try and solve a long term problem whereby post marked Saint Helena often ended up in Saint Helens (a town near Liverpool in the North of England) or Saint Helier (the capital of Jersey in the Channel Islands).
Saint Helena produces it's own stamps, which are well regarded and first day covers in particular are well sort after in Philatelic circles, and the sale of them is a small but significant contributor to the Islands economy.
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