Recommendations from Sipha Mzamo
I spent 6 months as part of the opening team of Mantis St Helena, an experience I can only describe as staggering. I arrived back in Cape Town on the 22nd of January and after unpacking and settling into my new abode, the first thing I felt compelled to do is to journal the life-changing adventure I had just returned from.
I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in International Hospitality Management from the Mantis-affiliated Stenden University in South Africa in May of 2017. Shortly after that, I was fortunate enough to be afforded the opportunity to join the opening team at Mantis St Helena. Such opportunities are rare, so I grabbed this one with all four limbs and set off to the most remote island in the world. My role at Mantis St Helena was pre-opening support, setting up the property management and point-of-sale systems, and eventually grew to Front Office Manager once the hotel was operational on the 1st of November 2017.
St Helena is situated in the middle of the South Atlantic and has a tropical climate. It is basically summer all year round with the exception of ‘Scruffy August’ in which you will experience all four seasons, sometimes four times a day. After being on the island for six months I was basically a local; what is affectionately known as a ‘Saint’, and could be spotted in the market flip-flopping about on my off days. Most people don’t have the luxury of spending six months on St Helena, so as impossible as it is, this is my shot at recommending how to make the best of your 7 days as a Saint (the affectionate term for the locals of St Helena) and experience St Helena’s natural beauty, cuisine, historical sites and amazing people.
Saturday – Arrival:
Airlink flies from Johannesburg to St Helena every Saturday. The shops will be closed by the time you check in but do not despair, they re-open at 18:00 and the town comes alive in the evening. You can go buy the toothbrush you forgot to pack at Warrens and a few other essentials; the most vital being charcoal, blitz, beer, and meat because the next day is Sunday – the best day for a barbeque on the island.
Sunday – Swim & Barbecue at Rupert’s Valley:
Once I relaxed and blended in on St Helena, I found myself always in search of what the locals did, ate, and experienced. The best thing we can do to enhance our experience as sojourners to this mystic place is to follow the lead of the Saints, and hang out where the locals do. Fortunately for all of us, they are warm and hospitable people. Sundays are a big family day for Saints, and the fantastic tropical climate allows for the best seaside fun.
Gather a group of newly made friends and travel companions and head to Rupert’s Valley. Arrive early in order to secure a good spot on the black sand beach. Get the fire going and take a dip in the warm waters which average at about 24 – 25 degrees Celsius. Head straight for the grill after your swim, and enjoy the festive ambiance of cheerful Saints doing the same all over the valley.
Monday – 4×4 Adventures & Rosie’s Bar:
By now I am sure you will be in full holiday mode, it’s time to switch it up a notch with Aaron’s 4×4 Adventure Tours. This is a thrilling experience, and a great way to see the island as you tour around it taking in the stark contrasts of arid land to thriving tropical vegetation – all on one island! If you’re really feeling adventurous, ask Aaron to go off-road to the best vantage points with the most stunning views.
Sundowners at Rosie’s Bar are a must-do. Rosie’s is perched on top of Jacob’s Ladder in Half Tree Hallow. The bar is named after; you guessed it, Rosie – a wonderful host who creates a light and welcoming atmosphere. Order cocktails by the half-hour and enjoy a delicious dinner while you watch the sun fade behind the clouds and retire on the horizon. The pink hues of the sunset touch the landscape making for spectacular scenes, so don’t forget your camera. Booking is essential at Rosie’s Bar.
Tuesday – Learn about St Helena’s forgotten myths:
Do make a point of meeting Basil George, the living record-keeper of Jamestown’s history. Go on a Historic Town walk with this living legend and he will take you through the Company Gardens and show you the clandestine entrance that Napoleon used on his arrival on St Helena’s wharf. Enjoy the tales and Basil’s in-depth knowledge of all the visits of great people who have set foot on the island; from Captain Cook to Charles Darwin and everyone one in between. He will also explain the various architectural influences on Jamestown as it passed through the hands of various conquerors. South African visitors; be sure to end your tour by paying your respects at the Boer Cemetery and visit the Boer Prisoner of War Camp Site.
Believe me when I say that the town walk works up a real thirst! Take a taxi up to the Brewery which produces Tungi (pronounced ‘Toon-ji’), a local drink distilled from the Cactus plant found on St Helena. The brewery also makes Jamestown’s Gin and Sally’s Wine. Introduce your taste buds to these unique flavours found only on St Helena.
Even outside of Whale Shark season there are great chances to see whales or dolphins on the St Helena coastline. You can book a cruise with the concierge at Mantis St Helena and head over to the Wharf steps to catch the boat. I was very lucky on my last cruise on the island and got a breach or two from our finned friends.
Wednesday – Longwood House & Napoleon Bonaparte:
Many have come to know St Helena as the place where deposed French emperor Napoleon lived out his exile after the battle of Waterloo in 1815. Longwood House was his place of residence until his death in 1821. Tour the house with audio guides which help transport you on a journey back in time. Step into the shoes of the iconic French military leader as you wander the halls and peep through the wooden shutters looking out for British spies.
There are 21 Post Box Walks on St Helena with fantastic views over various landscapes, but I must recommend Diana’s Peak and a swim at Lot’s Wife’s Pond. Start off with Diana’s Peak for the most exquisite view of the island and head over to Lot’s Wife’s Pond for a dip in the rock pools where you will feel like you’re being dropped into a fish tank. Pack a picnic as this is a great spot to wind down before heading back to town.
Thursday – Plantation House:
A lovely lady by the name of Debbie takes care of this gem, and she will give you a guided tour around this Victorian homestead which has been the residence of all past Governors. There are beautiful works of art and antiques such as wax statues and treasured century-old cloths. Grab a selfie with Jonathon the tortoise, reputed to be over 185 years old.
Friday – Jacob’s Ladder & Museum Visit:
Every visitor must climb the 699 steps that make up Jacob’s Ladder which goes up the side of Ladder Hill leading from Jamestown to Ladder Hill Fort and the suburb of Half Tree Hollow. Look out for the terraces of Mantis St Helena as you take in the magnificent views over Jamestown and the valley. Upon conquering this trying ascent you are eligible for a certificate from the museum where you can purchase memorabilia and take in the tapestry of the well-preserved history of the island.
As the day cools down and the town comes back to life, you can head down to the Mule yard for sundowners. Here, you will find the island’s workforce ending off the day with a drink and stories of the week’s work. Whether with a group of friends are solo, you will get to share an ale and tales of your experience with the Saints.
Saturday – Squeeze in a Snorkel:
Rise with the sun and go for an early morning snorkel off the rocks in James Bay to discover the Papanui wreck which bustles with unique marine life and coral. After your dip have breakfast on the Mantis St Helena Terrace…look back with pride on your photos and the memories you have made as you tick this life-affirming experience off your bucket-list.
Check out at Mantis St Helena is at 11:00. Transfers from the hotel take you through the island’s changing landscapes as you make your way to the airport. The journey from Mantis St Helena to the airport is about 20 minutes. Check in at the airport is a very relaxed affair and you’ll have time to grab a St Helena coffee in the airport restaurant with your newly found friends before your fond farewells and departure. Look at your passport – you’ve now got a St Helena stamp! There are not too many of those around.