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Tristan da Cunha

Photo © Taffski

Travel Guide Africa Tristan da Cunha

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Introduction

The Sign says it all.

The Sign says it all.

© All Rights Reserved Taffski

The island of Tristan da Cunha lies in the southern part of the Atlantic Ocean, removed over 2,000 kilometres from the nearest major landmass (South Africa) and is the most isolated inhabited piece of land in the world. To add to the distance (psychologically speaking) is the fact that the island is only accessible by boat, a 6-day journey from Cape Town. Unsurprisingly, it is little inhabited and infrequently visited by tourists. Even the 300 inhabitants had to leave during the sixties when the island's volcanic peak erupted.

The island is the largest in an archipelago, also named Tristan da Cunha. The various islands, including the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Gough Island and Inaccessible Island, because of their remoteness, are virtually untouched by human hands. Due to this, they boast an impressive array of birdlife, including the Wandering Albatross, Flightless Rail and Petrels.

Tristan da Cunha is a dependency of Saint Helena.

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Brief History

The islands were first sighted in 1506 by Portuguese explorer Tristão da Cunha, although rough seas prevented a landing. He named the main island after himself, Ilha de Tristão da Cunha, which was later anglicised to Tristan da Cunha Island. The first survey of the archipelago was made by the French frigate L'Heure du Berger in 1767. Soundings were taken and a rough survey of the coastline was made. The first permanent settler was Jonathan Lambert, from Salem, Massachusetts, United States, who arrived at the islands in December 1810. He declared the islands his property and named them the Islands of Refreshment. Lambert's rule was short-lived, as he died in a boating accident in 1812. In 1816 the United Kingdom formally annexed the islands, ruling them from the Cape Colony in South Africa. This is reported to have primarily been a measure to ensure that the French would not be able to use the islands as a base for a rescue operation to free Napoleon Bonaparte from his prison on Saint Helena.
The islands were occupied by a garrison of British Marines, and a civilian population was gradually built up. Whalers also set up on the islands as a base for operations in the Southern Atlantic. However, the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, together with the gradual move from sailing ships to coal-fired steam ships, increased the isolation of the islands, as they were no longer needed as a stopping port for journeys from Europe to the Far East.In 1867, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and second son of Queen Victoria, visited the islands. The main settlement, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, was named in honour of his visit. On 12 January 1938 the islands were declared a dependency of Saint Helena. In 1961, a volcanic eruption forced the evacuation of the entire population to wooden huts in the disused Pendell Army Camp in Merstham, Surrey, England before moving to a more permanent site at a former Royal Air Force station in Calshot near Southampton, England. In 1962, a Royal Society expedition went to the islands to assess the damage, and reported that the settlement Edinburgh of the Seven Seas had been only marginally affected. Most families returned in 1963.

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Geography

The Tristan da Cunha Archipelago is situated about 2800 km west of Cape Town, South Africa. The archipelago includes a number of islands of which the main island Tristan da Cunha is the only one that is inhabited. All other islands, Inaccessible, Nightingale, Middle, Stoltenhoff, and Gough are uninhabited and even more difficult to reach. The latter has a manned weather station though.

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Regions/Islands

  • Tristan da Cunha is the main island and the only inhabited one.
  • Inaccessible Island
  • The Nightingale Islands include Nightingale Island, Middle Island and Stoltenhoff Island
  • Gough Island], 395 kilometres south east of the main island, is also part of the territory.

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Cities/Towns

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Sights and Activities

Gough and Inaccessible Island

Gough and Inaccessible Island are of the more remote islands of this already remote archipelago. Especially Gough Island is far south, almost 400 kilometres from the main island of Tristan da Cunha. Together the islands form a site on the Unesco World Heritage List and are home to many rare bird species.

Queen Mary's Peak

The dramatic volcano crowning the island of Tristan Da Cunha, 2062 metres (6760 feet) above sea level.

Edinburgh of the Seven Seas

The world's most isolated settlement, permanently inhabited since the early 19th Century.

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Events and Festivals

  • January 1 New Year's Day Public holiday is the 2 January if 1 January is a Sunday; public holiday is the 3 January if 1 January is a Saturday
  • 3rd Monday in April Queen's Birthday (Elizabeth II's actual birthday is April 21)
  • May or June - Ascension Day
  • May or June - Whit Monday
  • May or June - Ratting Day
  • August 14 - Anniversary Day
  • December 25 - Christmas Day The public holiday may be on a different day
  • December 26 or 27 - Boxing Day. If the 26 December is a Sunday, then Boxing Day is held on 27 December; the public holiday may be on a different day

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Weather

Climate on Tristan da Cunha and neighbouring islands is marine subtropical with relatively cool weather and high rainfall, but rarely extremely cold or hot. Average rainfall is between 1500 and 2000 mm a year and average temperatures around 15 °C, but with some variations between the islands. November to March is summer, June to September the coolest period, though differences between months are generally not very high. Rainfall is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year.

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Getting there

By Boat

It is not possible to get to Tristan da Cunha by plane, so you will need to take the boat, most likely from Cape Town or sometimes from Walvis Bay in Namibia. As there are only about 10 ships making the trip a year, it requires special planning if you want to travel there by yourself. Most places on board are booked months if not a year in advance, mainly for locals returning to their island. If you are lucky enough though, the trip takes 5 or 6 days and will mean you have to spend months on the island. Tickets roughly cost about US$800 for a return trip on one of the fishing vessels and around $1,000 to $1,200 on the Agulhas ship. It's best to check the Tristan da Cunha website for details about schedules and prices. Also, contact them at their website for permission to visit the island and arrange accommodation and possible trips on Tristan da Cunha and surrounding islands.

Otherwise, if you want to visit for a brief periode of time, it is best to join a tour with boats (mainly sailing ships) between Antarctica and Europe for example. Pricey, but priceless! Oceanwide Expeditions offers a cruise to Tristan da Cunha and other remote islands in March-April.

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Getting Around

By Road

There is a paved road (the M1) from Edinburgh (aka The Settlement) to the Potato Patches, which are about 3 miles away. There are no vehicles for hire on Tristan; however, local transport is available to the Potato Patches. This local transport could be an islander's car, tractor, and during the mornings a bus service also operates. The bus is targeted at pensioners, who can ride on the bus for free. The charge is £5 return.

By Boat

There are boats for hire for trips around Tristan da Cunha island or even to Nightingale Island. Also, there are cruise trips to Nightingale Island and Inaccessible Island, mostly including Zodiac trips. Gough Island is the least visited of the islands. You need to arrange things with the local government and rates include permits and local guides.

By Foot

Travelling by foot is the most common method of getting around Tristan da Cunha Island and the only way of moving about any of the outer islands. Due to rugged, steep terrain, going all the way around the island is difficult, but if you are just staying in the village of Tristan, the flat, grassy ground there is easy to manage.

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Red Tape

All travellers wishing to visit the remote island of Tristan da Cunha must ask for special permission from the Tristan Government.

Travel to Tristan da Cunha requires careful planning, often more than a year before a visit. There is no airstrip on the island; all visitors must arrive by boat. There are no entry restrictions based on nationality and, while the island requires an application (which must be approved), there are no "visas" for entry to Tristan da Cunha. Prior to booking passage all visitors to Tristan da Cunha must receive permission from the Tristan Government. Write an email to admin@tristandc.com and specify the proposed dates of your visit, preferred passage (name of vessel), type of accommodation sought, nationality, age, and the full purpose of your visit. A Police Certificate (official record of your criminal history, or lack thereof) may be requested.

Visitors are the lowest priority for passage on vessels and may be forced to forfeit their passage to persons with a higher priority (medical evacuation, officials on official business, even locals leaving on holiday have higher priority). When planning a visit, consider a departure when several other vessels will be departing soon thereafter to avoid being stuck on the island if forced to forfeit your departing passage.

In general, a few of the requirements that also apply for Saint Helena, apply here as well, meaning a valid passport and proof of onward or return transport.

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Money

See also Money Matters

Tristan da Cunha is one of just a few of the UK overseas territories that doesn't have its own currency. Both the British Pound Sterling as well as the Saint Helena pound, which is tagged 1:1 with the UK Sterling, are valid.

Notes come in denominations of £20, £10 and £5, and coins are £2, £1, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1pence.

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Eat/Drink

The only public place available is the Prince Philip Hall which occasionally serves food, the building also houses the Albatross Bar - the island's only pub. Opening hours are sketchy to say the least, and the only time it's very likely to be open is when cruise ships are docked at the island. If you are hungry and the hall is closed, your only other bet is a visit to the Island shop.

The Post Office also houses a small café, serving tea, filter coffee and cakes.

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Sleep

Self-catering accommodation is £20 per night, while home stays, which include meals and laundry, cost £40 per night. There are discounts for Tristan Islanders and children. Booking information is available on the Island's official website (see below).

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Health

See also Travel Health

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

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Keep Connected

Internet

The Internet Cafe houses a number of PCs and spaces to use your own laptop, and costs £10 for visitors for the duration of their stay. Internet access for the island is via a satellite link, so the 1Mbps connection is shared between everyone - don't expect it to be fast.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

There is no mobile phone network on the island (nor will you have had signal for the last week after you lost sight of Cape Town!)

A payphone is available in the Internet Cafe - you'll need to ask for it to be unlocked if you wish to use it.

Post

Post can be sent from the Post Office, or the post box just outside, but will likely travel back with you on the same ship as you are on. Expect it to take a couple of weeks to arrive at its destination. Last posting dates for each ship are advertised at the Post Office when known.

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Quick Facts

Tristan da Cunha flag

Map of Tristan da Cunha

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Capital
Edinburgh of the Seven Seas
Population
300
Government
Dependency of St Helena
Religions
Christianity
Languages
English
Calling Code
+290
Nationality
Local name

Contributors

as well as Peter (13%), dr.pepper (2%), magykal1 (2%), hasbeen (1%), Herr Bert (1%)

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This is version 29. Last edited at 8:02 on Apr 18, 17 by Utrecht. 12 articles link to this page.

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