Ascension Island

Photo © Gelli

Travel Guide Africa Ascension Island

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Introduction

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.

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Brief History

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.

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Geography

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.

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Cities

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Sights and Activities

Green Mountain National Park

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 land crabs, Fairy terns and red necked francolins. There are a number of bush walks 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.

Other Sights and Activities

  • Fort Hayes, Georgetown (There are signs pointing to it near the port). M 5PM-7PM, Sa 10AM-noon, or by special arrangement if possible (call 2326(W) or 2455(H)).
  • Fort Thornton, Georgetown (Across the port from Fort Hayes).
  • St. Mary's Anglican Church, Georgetown. It's part of Diocese of Cape Town along with its counterpart in St. Helena. Built in mid 19th Century as the Naval Church. Has much history laid on the Wall Tablets inside.
  • Red Lion British Navy Barracks, Green Mountain National Park. Built in 18th Century in a subtropical forest which covers the Green mountain, and have a very nice clock-tower. Starting point for many trails and "letterbox" walks (which are special because the climate on the mountain are noticeable cooler than on other desert parts of the island).
  • The Dew Pond, at the Peak of Green Mountain, Green Mountain National Park. A destination of a noticeable "letterbox" walk. See how climate zones change during your short 1 mile trip to the 2,817ft peak.
  • Exiles Club (Marine Barracks). Historical building, dates back to 1830. There are now some shops in it.
  • Sport fishing - One of the most popular activities around Ascension Island is to go sport fishing.
  • Golf - Ascension Island has what was once named the Worst Golf Course in the World. Located between the settlements of Two Boats village and Georgetown, the course has 18 holes and the greens are in fact 'browns', a reference to the sand and oil mix used to make them. The rest of the course is made up of volcanic ash and rock, which makes for some interesting rounds.
  • Scuba diving - There is some terrific Scuba Diving in the waters surrounding Ascension Island. At present, however, there are only local enthusiasts and no recognized Diving Operation. Some of locals are often willing to take experienced visitors with them
  • There are Fumaroles and Lava Tunnels to explore (at Command Hill, near the Catholic Grotto)

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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
  • 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

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.

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Getting There

By Plane

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.

By Boat

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.

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Getting Around

By Car

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.

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Red Tape

Visitors require entry approval from the Administrator's office, requested in advance in writing. They must also have full medical insurance which will cover the expense of medical evacuation, if needed.

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Money

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.

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Eat

Because everything is imported, prices for food are very high on the island. If you get the chance to go out fishing with the locals, you may walk away with a bag of tuna. Sometimes the community hosts a fish fry that is open to everyone.

There are very few places to eat, with odd opening hours:

  • The Restaurant, in the Obsidian Hotel, Georgetown. Breakfast 7:30AM-9AM; dinner 7PM-8:30PM. For dinners bookings are really required.
  • Snack Bar, at Volcano Club at the US base. Tu-F 5PM-9PM, Sa 4PM-9PM (last orders at 8:50PM). American-style fast food.

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Sleep

The only hotel, Obsidian, with restaurant and car hire, closed September 2017.

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Drink

  • The Anchor Inn, in the Obsidian Hotel, Georgetown. 6:30PM-11PM daily.
  • The Saints' Club, Georgetown. The bar opens in evenings.
  • Two Boats Club, Two Boats village. The bar is open from 7:30PM.
  • Volcano Club, at the US base. From 5PM. Seems to be the most crowded venue on the island and has the best selection of alcohols.

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Health

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.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

The Island is very safe and hardly and crime exists here.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

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Quick Facts

Ascension Island flag

Map of Ascension Island

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Capital
Georgetown
Population
1,100
Religions
Christianity
Government
Saint Helena Dependency
Languages
English
Currency
Saint Helena Pound
Calling Code
+247

Contributors

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Ascension Island Travel Helpers

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This is version 21. Last edited at 12:21 on May 6, 19 by Utrecht. 15 articles link to this page.

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