A GREAT FAMILY HOLIDAY DESTINATION | Sharon Henry
On the face of it St Helena might seem more suited as a grown-up’s playground with strong appeal to history and Napoleon buffs, divers and hikers. But wait; there are also plenty of fun activities for kids too, to encourage their sense of freedom and adventure.
As a family travel destination St Helena offers a bonus not always available elsewhere. Our friendly, easy-going pace of life allows peace of mind for parents with youngsters and a level of safety that most of us living here take for granted.
Darrin and I don’t have kids of our own but often borrow nieces, godchildren and friends’ children, especially during holidays, who we usually try to return tired and happy at the end of the day.
Using them as guinea pigs we’ve compiled a tried and tested list of things to do with children on St Helena. Great for first time visitors and even locals wishing to fill a half-term break.
1. Donkey Walking
Strolling through the Blue Hill countryside with docile donkeys in tow has become a favourite island attraction. The St Helena Donkey Home does donkey walking Saturday mornings at 10am. Meet at the shelter located approximately a mile along the Blue Hill main road. Donkey rides are also available on the walks although age and weight restrictions apply.
Donations are welcome.
Please check the Donkey Home’s Facebook page for updates as walks might sometimes be cancelled due to exceptional circumstances.
2. Millennium Forest – Adventure Nature Trail
This is a great place for kids to explore and learn about St Helena’s endemic flora as they follow the interactive nature trail and monster footprints. There are more than 10,000 gumwood trees planted within this 17-year-old forest which is located just off the airport road below Bottomwoods, Longwood. You’ll also find ebony, hair grass, rosemary and boxwood planted around the site.
Learn more about the Millennium Forest by the St Helena National Trust
3. Swimming at Rupert’s Beach
St Helena is certainly not classed as a beach destination; however, we do value the only two beaches that are safe to swim off, Lemon Valley and Rupert’s Valley. The latter has easier access and is the most popular. Don’t let the industrial surroundings or even black sand put you off, it’s fun playing in the surf and snorkelling around the bay.
4. High Peak Post Box walk
St Helena has 21 Post Box walks and High Peak is one of the easiest. In terms of views it is also one of the most rewarding, offering a spectacular panorama of Sandy Bay, Broadbottom and Fairyland. Each Post Box has a visitors’ book and a unique ink stamp which are fun to collect as mementos and proof that you did indeed complete the walk.
The trail starts from the picnic area roughly half a mile after the Donkey Home on the Blue Hill main road. It takes around 15 minutes to reach the peak.
5. Dolphin Watching
Watching hundreds of dolphins up close in the wild is exhilarating for kids as well as adults. Especially when the dolphins do showy jumps, race with the tour boat and ride in the bow waves. St Helena waters are home to a resident population of pan tropical spotted dolphins who travel in a pod of 200-300. There are also the bottlenose and rough-toothed dolphins that can be seen all year round.
Humpback whales usually visit the island in the winter months from June to December to give birth to calves. Whale sharks, the world’s largest fish, visits from January to April. Swimming with these placid, majestic creatures is on many a bucket list.
A few boats offer dolphin tours, costing around £10-£15 per person. Prices vary between operators and are dependent on the number of attendees.
Some of the tour operators:
Enchanted Isle. Contact Johnny Herne Tel: 61366 Enchanted Isle on Facebook
Gannet 3. Contact Robert Bedwell Tel: 23133
Sub-Tropic Adventures. Contact Anthony Thomas Tel: 22758 Sub-Tropic Adventures website
Into The Blue. Contact Craig Yon Tel: 61400 Into The Blue website
6. Jonathan The Tortoise and Walk to Butcher’s Grave
At the grand old age of 185 Jonathan is reportedly the world’s oldest living land animal. He lives on the lawn of Plantation House with three other tortoises and is identified by a white cataract spot in his right eye. The tortoises can be seen from the viewing corridor accessible through the bottom gate. Jonathan is a rare Seychelles giant tortoise who arrived fully grown in 1882, estimated then to be around 50 years old.
A path at the end of the corridor leads to the ‘Butcher’s Graves’ about 100 metres into the forest. In a valley surrounded by giant bamboo are the graves of Francis Butcher and his wife Margaret (dated November 1777) who were slaves of Plantation House.
Plantation House is located 50 metres through the white gate of ‘White Gate’ near St Paul’s cathedral.
7. The Castle Gardens, Jamestown
A tranquil spot under the cool canopy of centuries-old banyan trees makes Castle Gardens (also known as the ‘public gardens’) a beautiful place to visit. Here is where you find the largest green area in Jamestown just minutes from the seafront. Kids can spot fish and tadpoles swimming in the fountain pond, hide and climb the knotty banyan trunks and even play outdoor chess.
You’ll also find topiary sculptures fashioned from hibiscus trees, and memorials, in particular the HM Waterwitch monument that honours the crew who died intercepting slave ships crossing the Middle Passage from Africa to the Americas during 1839-43.
(£5 refundable deposit at the Library to borrow chess pieces)
8. High Knoll Fort Exploration
Originally built in 1798 this military fortification is really cool to explore, although some parts have collapsed and are off limits. There are dark rooms and secret chambers with lots of nooks and crannies to let kid’s imaginations run wild. High Knoll also has spectacular 360 degree views of the island, excellent for photographers. It makes a wonderful setting for a picnic.
This landmark is visible across the island and is easy to locate. The entrance can be found leading off the main road above Half Tree Hollow, just across from Red Gate. Please note: enter at your own risk.
9. Longwood Green Play Park
Play parks are always fun and the one on Longwood Green also has lots of open space. With spectacular views of Flagstaff and the Barn, the Green is a lovely place to enjoy a picnic. Just across the road is Longwood House, the last residence of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Park cost: Free
10. Museum of St Helena
Sat at the base of Jacob’s Ladder the Museum gives a fascinating insight into St Helena’s history and culture with artefacts and memorabilia dating from the 1600’s. On display is a model of the old RMS St Helena that was commandeered in 1982 to serve in the Falklands War along with the story and names of the St Helenian crew who volunteered to stay with the ship. The Museum permanently exhibits ‘Liberty Bound – Slavery In St Helena’ which had originally opened in Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum in 2014.
Donations are welcome.
The Museum is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays from 10 – 4pm and Saturdays from 10 – 1pm. There are special openings when the RMS St Helena is anchored in James’s Bay and during cruise ship visits.