There are a few ways of getting around and seeing St Helena, some more practical than others. Personally, I strongly recommend you hire a car but the options are:
You can easily walk around the capital and main town of St Helena, Jamestown, but the majority of things to do, from a tourist perspective, are located outside Jamestown. Accordingly for visitors with only a few days on the island (most) walking is not a practical way of getting around. For those with lots of time and an interest in bush-walking there are some great walking opportunities on the island. Sadly, I didn’t have time to explore any of these.
This is my preferred option where travelling but at times it’s not a viable option. There is a public bus service on St Helena but this is geared to transporting commuters into Jamestown in the morning and out again in the afternoon so, in the main, it runs in the opposite direction that most tourists wish to go for most of the day. If you are very determined you can use the bus but it will take up a lot of time and you will still have to walk quite some distance to and from many of the tourist sites.
Tours and Taxis
This is a very feasible approach for anyone and has the added advantage that if you are on a tour sites will be open when you get there.
Given the small number of tourists on St Helena the majority of sites outside Jamestown only open by appointment – something you need to plan in advance if you are not on a tour.
There are numerous organisations and individuals offering tours – check with the extremely helpful tourist office and indeed consider pre-booking on the RMS St Helena as you steam towards the island. Tour costs vary depending on length, sites covered and the number of people on the tour.
There are a few ‘taxis’ around. These operate in much the same manner as a tour. You will not need a taxi in Jamestown where everything can be visited on foot.
As tours are not my preferred way of seeing things I did not do any tours so cannot comment there-on any further.
Hire a car
In my view this is by far the best way of getting to see St Helena and particularly so if you just have a few days on the island, en route to Ascension Island. If you choose to stay outside Jamestown a car petty much becomes essential.
As noted above it is important to arrange, with the Tourist Office, for sites to be open prior to leaving Jamestown and schedule your travelling accordingly.
I must admit that I was rather lucky in this regard in that I was able to time my visits to restricted opening sites to coincide with the day a large cruise ship was in town. As everything was open for it, I had to organise nothing. The trick to ensure that I was not visiting sites at the same time as hundreds of cruise passengers was to out before the cruise ship bus tours hit the road and then stay ahead of them during the day. I actually managed this very well and only got caught behind a load of buses once, late in the day.
As with everything else on the island, car hire is an informal set-up with no international companies operating on the island. You won’t be getting any frequent flyer points here! Many of the cars available for hire are people’s private vehicles. There are probably a dozen or so places/people that hire out cars and the easiest way to secure one is to email, as I did, the tourist office in advance and let them do the legwork for you. Advance booking is strongly recommended.
Cars are basic but operable and cost about GBP10 (2013) per day. All you need do is add petrol and drop the car off, as you arrange, before you leave. Fuel on St Helena is very expensive but given that there are only about 60 miles of road and you will be stopping to see the sights, presumably, the high fuel cost becomes rather less of a concern. I spent only about GBP20 on fuel in the two and a half days I was there. All up, having a vehicle cost us around a very reasonable GBP40 for 2.5days. A half-day guided tour for two would have cost similar and we would have seen a lot less.
You do need to be careful driving on the island as roads are, in the main, single lane and winding with steep gradients and hairpin bends common.
Take special care if you are going to Sandy Bay, which I recommend you do. I have included further details in my Sandy Bay entry.
Driving is on the left hand side of the road and local etiquette (unless, it seemed, you were a Basil Read employee/contractor working on the new airport – in which case road manners are optional!) requires that you give way to traffic coming up a hill. The speed limit is 20mph in Jamestown and 30mph elsewhere unless otherwise indicated. Everyone, including Basil Read people, seemed to adhere to this.
Another requirement for visiting drivers is that you register with the Police prior to hitting the road. This is a simple process where they record you license details (the only requirement here is that the license is in English). This requirement seemed to me more geared to giving the police something to do (and someone to have a chat with) than for any other reason.
Petrol is available in Jamestown, Ladder Hill, Half Tree Hollow and at Longwood.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries which will take you on a virtual tour of St Helena as experienced by The Rambling Wombat. Do continue with me on this tour via my next entry – Accommodation on St Helena. If necessary, go to my St Helena Introduction entry to start this loop at the beginning.