Saturday, March 7, 2015

Tristan da Cunha, the world's most remote island

Accessible only by a six-day boat journey from South Africa or as part of epic month-long cruises through the South Atlantic Ocean, Tristan da Cunha is about as far from a quick holiday destination as it gets.

The world's most remote inhabited archipelago stands 1,243 miles from Saint Helena, its closest neighbour with residents, 1,491 miles from South Africa and 2,088 miles from South America.

It's just seven miles long and 37.8 square miles in area, and has but one settlement officially known as Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, referred to by locals - less than 300 of them - as The Settlement, located at the foot of the 6,765-foot Queen Mary's Peak.

But despite its unimposing size and formidable remoteness, Tristan da Cunha has a rich history and a plethora of native wildlife that is truly unique.

Oceanwide Expeditions have four cruises that take in three-day stops at Tristan da Cunha, the name given to both the main island and the surrounding archipelago, including the uninhabited Nightingale Islands, and Inaccessible Island and the Gough Islands, which are nature reserves.

Cruises, such as those which leave from Ushuaia in Argentina's Tierra del Fuego, are the most convenient way to see the island.

The other cruise sails annually to Gough Island, run since 2012 by the South African Antarctic Research and Supply Vessel Agulhas II, and carries more than 40 passengers to and from Tristan.

Oceanwide Expeditions' Atlantic Odyssey tours, the shortest and cheapest being the 27-night tour from £3,929 (Euro 5,450), calls in on The Settlement, and aims to land on Nightingale and Inaccessible, which millions of seabirds call home.

The landings aren't guaranteed though, with 30 per cent of attempts via zodiac boat since 1998 having been unsuccessful due to bad weather. Thankfully, tours often factor in a spare day.

On Nightingale Island, the wandering, yellow-nosed and sooty albatrosses all breed, and the Rockhopper penguins that live on all four of the Tristan Islands are also hugely popular with those who manage to make it there.

Even with such attractions, tourism is a minor industry for Tristan, with the majority of earnings coming from their commercial crawfish or Tristan rock lobster (Jasus) operations and the sale of their unique postage stamps and coins to collectors.

However, a range of accommodation is available in the form of home stays with locals - descendants of one of seven families originating from Scotland, England, The Netherlands, the United States and Italy - who also serve as guides and sell craft and souvenirs.

All residents are farmers too, and the entire area is communally owned.

Historically, the island has proven an important stop for sailing ships needing a stopover in the Atlantic, and was annexed by the UK in 1816 to ensure the French couldn't use it as a base to attempt a rescue of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was imprisoned at Saint Helena. 

The Settlement was named in honour of the 1867 visit of Queen Victoria's son Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, when the islands served as a Royal Navy outpost called HMS Atlantic Isle, also said to have been used to monitor shipping movements in the ocean and the radio communications of Nazi U-boats.

Prince Phillip, the second Duke of Edinburgh, also visited there on board the royal yacht Britannia in 1957.

Just four years later, the entire population was forced to evacuate to England via Cape Town when Queen Mary's Peak erupted.

Fortunately, the damage to The Settlement was found to be minimal and most residents returned in 1963.

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