THE EASY-PEASY HIKE ON ST HELENA | Darrin Henry
As outdoor adventure on St Helena goes, the Flagstaff post box walk is hardly expedition grade stuff; mountain boots or sustenance backpacks not necessary for what is essentially a scenic trail that begins on Deadwood Plain. At the same time, this should be on everyone’s list of outdoor activities if they only have a week on St Helena.
The top three reasons you should do this walk:
- It’s easy – as Post Box walks go, I would give it a 2 out of 10 on the strenuous meter
- It’s quick – achievable in under an hour if time is short (quicker with a 4×4)
- It’s spectacular – the views are simply brilliant! Take a camera.
There’s a bonus reason and one of my favourite things about the Flagstaff post box walk, but that comes later!
Home Of The Boer War Prisoners
Today, with the sky beautifully clear at 3pm, we made a last minute decision to get outdoors and hike Flagstaff.
Foxy’s Garage on Deadwood Plain is the starting point. You won’t find a big sign declaring ‘Foxy’s Garage’ so if you’re new to St Helena look for the gate next to the ‘waiting room’ of broken vehicles.
There’s a dirt track cut through the Plain which we usually drive across, but today, for authenticity’s sake (for the blog), we’ve parked at the garage and will be walking the entire route!
The deep blue above us is gorgeous and at 4.15pm the grass and rolling hills away to our right are bathed in warm afternoon light. Mouth-watering conditions for photographers.
This first part of the hike, following the Land Rover track, is easy-peasy. It’s level and straight. In fact the only hazard (if you can call it that) is the danger of stepping into a cow pat. Yes, there are cattle. A healthy looking herd combined from local farming syndicates roam freely all over Deadwood Plain, moving between open paddocks marked with barbed wire fences.
There are no clues that the empty rolling Plain before us was once home to 6,000 prisoners of war. A simple sign post alongside the track, “Boer Prisoner of War Camp Site. 1900-1902” is the only reminder of the tented community that lived here between 1900-1902. In St Helena summer weather, a tent on Deadwood Plain sounds like fun, but winter weather on St Helena is notoriously miserable in comparison. This part of the island especially receives its fair share of fog, wind and rain, so I have a lot of sympathy for the men huddled here at the start of the last century.
St Helena Wirebird Habitat
Today Deadwood Plain is one of the major habitats for St Helena’s endemic Wirebird. We spot a few running away from the track we’re on, a typical tactic to divert our attention from the nests, which are made on grass and quite difficult to spot.
Ahead in the distance the sweeping curve of Flagstaff itself, rises proudly at the end of Deadwood Plain. About halfway along are 12 wind turbines of which 10 are spinning.
It takes 10 minutes to reach the wind turbines and find ourselves walking between the columns – a rapid swoosh, swoosh, swoosh… the sound of green energy!
After the wind farm the track begins the gentle ascent. It’s tempting to keep stopping to take photographs as the light is perfect and the views are amazing, but we push on, conscious the late afternoon temperature drop is already dragging in some cloud.
The fields and paddocks now give way to a few smaller sheep pens. Up here there are patches of the invasive furze bushes. Furze have small, attractive yellow flowers, but make no mistake, for land owners this plant is a real nuisance with its vicious spikes. In fact, only a few years ago this hillside was covered in furze, but a St Helena National Trust project to improve the Wirebird habitat has done an excellent job of clearing the invasive pest.
Up ahead we spot a Land Rover and nearby is Mark Coleman, a sheep farmer who leases these upper fields for his 30 strong flock. We stop to chat for a little while and catch our breath. Mark is feeding the sheep with freshly cut grass from another part of the island – the grass up here isn’t as nice.
Flagstaff Post Box Walk – The Top of the Hill
On we go. It’s taken us about 35 minutes but we’re now at the final stage; the bottom of the tree line that covers the summit of Flagstaff.
This last part of the hike, through the trees, is the steepest, but it’s mercifully short. Five minutes of steady climbing and we’ve reached the top. Through the trees to the far side; the seaward side and, BAM! This is what Flagstaff is all about, the incredible views!
We’re basically now at the top of a 700m cliff with the vast Atlantic panorama curving all around us.
Flagstaff Bay is way below with the wisps of white surf lining the coastline. The large, dark hulk of Longwood Barn is off to the right (a much more difficult post box walk) and further to the right still we can just make out the end of the new airport runway. The distinctive shape of Turks Cap lies lower down in the valley.
In the opposite direction, off to our left is Sugar Loaf, an important waypoint landmark used by sailors. The historic fortifications of Banks Battery are out of sight below Sugar Loaf, where we once hiked to do a photoshoot with model, Emma-Jay. Ruperts Valley and Jamestown are both hidden in the next two valleys along but above them we can see sprawling district of Half Tree Hollow.
Sharon records our trip in the post box visitors’ book and now it’s time to head back. And this is where the bonus for hiking to Flagstaff kicks in – the return journey is all downhill!