All being well, this weekend sees a brand-new international tourism destination arrive on the scene. St Helena, one of the remotest islands in the world, will start to receive visitors by air following the opening of its new airport and the start of a regular air service.
The new weekly service, provided by Air Link, a subsidiary of South African Airways, will fly a weekly service from Johannesburg to St Helena, refueling in Windhoek, Nambia along the way.
The five hour flight time will replace a five day journey; the time it took for visitors to travel to the island on the ageing RMS St Helena, one of only four ships left in the world to carry the prefix, Royal Mail Ship.
Visitors to the island are in for a treat. Or a shock. A British Overseas Territory, the island’s remote location (1500 kilometres west of Africa and located in the middle of the South Atlantic), made it an ideal location for a prison, not just for Napoleon, but Boer prisoners of war and even Zulu kings.
The island’s heyday was in the eighteenth century when thousands of Royal Naval ships involved in catching transatlantic slave ships called in there for fresh water and other supplies. Ever since then, the the island has slipped into relative obscurity. Of course, having a population of only 4,000 and no real economic activity doesn’t help. The last major industry, supplying twine made from locally grown flax to the Post Office, collapsed when the Post Office replaced string with nylon.
The new airport, built using UK taxpayers’ money has not had an easy beginning. Excessive ‘windshear’ meant that the original air service provider, who had hoped to operate a larger aircraft, had to be replaced with one who could bring in a smaller one, so guaranteeing safe landings but bringing fewer tourists.
However. Welcome to the modern world, St Helena, maybe it’s your time again?