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grahamz

St Helena Dive Trip

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Where is it... 1,000 miles off the coast of Africa, a very new destination circa 5 hours flying from J'Burg (until recently it was 5 days on a boat!)

An excellent dive centre run by Anthony (sub-tropic adventures), very knowledgeable on the fish life below and wildlife above - nothing is too much trouble. Totally professional, I did take my own kit but used their BCD which was in great condition, the rest of the gear used by others was in good condition too.
I’d recommend a 6.5mm suit or similar, I used a 5mm with 0.5mm rash vest under and a light 1mm hood (was comfortable on dives with this but slightly chilly by the end of dive 2)
There was some gentle current at times but the beauty of having sites all round the island means there is always somewhere to dive when it is windy, lumpy or currents or stronger as you simply go to the other side/end.
All the Dives were well guided and as you would expect from such a remote destination very small groups and no other divers at the sites.
The whole island is dive-able so there are certainly more sites than time available.

There are 2 Dive centres but all the time I was here the other seemed to be focused on running the Whale shark snorkelling trips and for that reason alone I would use Sub- Tropic, intimate knowledge of sites comes through being in water regularly.
Sub Tropic is well used by the local residents and it was nice to chat to them on the rib, most days there was me or 1/2 others diving

The diving here is Sub Tropical so whilst you won’t get the density of life you see at the equator I thought the amount of fish here was the best I have seen anywhere outside the equatorial zone, it kind of reminded of the diving in the Azores but was definitely fishier!
Of course at the right time of year (Jan - Mar) the real stand out is the Whale Sharks (7-8 metres right up to 14metres) , you have to be lucky for them to pass by while diving but they are regularly seen on the snorkelling trips at the surface.*(so do a few of these)
So many shoals of fish and they seem more inquisitive than elsewhere in the world, probably due to the lack of divers.
Huge shoals of Butterfly Fish, Sergeant Fish that come right up to you as well as large Jacks, Cowfish, Triggerfish, Moray Eels, Octopus & Lobsters (the most I have seen anywhere) endemic Flame Back Angel Fish, Devil Rays, Wrecks, the odd Turtle and if you are extremely lucky Seahorse and Frog Fish

Make sure you do a Dolphin trip too, there is a pod of Pan Tropical 300-400 strong as well a Ragged Tooth Dolphins and Bottlenose

Booking
Either book through an agent or do as I did and sort it yourself as it is very easy. Once I had booked the flights Anthony at Sub Tropic sorted my accommodation, pick up and diving (and all my other trips while I was out there)
I stayed at the Townhouse B&B - excellent and see my Tripadvisor review for more detail

As to trips I found it far better to book direct with the operator rather than go through the tourist office, one less party to mix things up

If you book ahead with SA Link you can get an extra 15kg of sports luggage allowance - persist as when I phoned them they told me to sort at check which is definitely wrong

Full break down of trip

BA flight to J’burg from Heathrow was very good, I came out a day early in case my luggage was delayed as there is only 1 flight a week to St Helena (+ mid week Tuesday in peak season now), it also gave me a chance to nip down to Cape Town.

In hindsight a combi of a week in SA and a week in St Helena would be perfect (or even Namibia)

I stayed 2 nights in the City Lodge Hotel OR Tambo which is perfect, 3 minutes walk from arrivals and importantly you don’t need to leave the airport.

Day 1 (Thur)

Overnight flight to J’Burg and the rest of the day by the pool chilling and swimming (ate in the airport as it is so close)

Day 2 (Fri)

Flight to Cape Town and back (5.30am out and 19.00 back), I used African Blue Tours who where superb.

A very long day but well worth it - Table Mountain, Chapman’s Drive, Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope, Boulder Beach & the penguins and a drive round the vineyards on the way back to the airport

Day 3 (Sat)

9.00 am flight to St Helena with a brief stop in Namibia to refuel (only required on the way out) such a shame you can’t hop on and off here

Landing in St Helena was fine and the English Press (as usual) have made it more dramatic than it is, a real shame as I suspect it has deters some much needed tourists. All islands in my experience have their unique issues and there are many other airports worldwide that can experience wind sheer.

Planes still land in the UK when it is very windy!

Picked up by Anthony of Sub Tropic Diving who arranged everything on island seamlessly for me, my primary reason for the visit is diving and seeing the adult Whale-sharks but I ended up doing so much more....

I stayed at the Townhouse B&B run by Colin & Marlene, a lovely couple and welcome to their accommodation (see review under their hotel entry in Trip advisor) In my view the best accommodation in Jamestown unless you want luxury or to splash on the Mantis but then you would miss out on the local experience you get at the Townhouse

Once unpacked straight into it with a walk up Jacob’s Ladder (699 steps!) once at the top admire the views then 100 yards beyond the top on the left is Rosie’s for a well deserved coffee or homemade ice cream (not signposted but easy to find)

Dinner that evening was Ann’s place, good value - a lovely fresh Tuna steak, salad & fries plus a beer for £10

Day 4 (Sun)

2 dives in the morning, the first was particularly good, endemic Flame Back Angel Fish, huge shoals of Butterfly Fish and some large Jacks following us for the whole dive

A quick Toastie at the Coffee Shop and then out to snorkel with Whale Sharks

You must do this, saw3 good sized Whale Sharks about 7-10 metres

Finished the afternoon off with a stroll from Jamestown to the Heart-shaped Waterfall, a good couple of hours but some great views of Jamestown and you can finish with a well deserved beer and meal at Ann’s place

Day 5 (Mon)

2 dives to start the day again, Long Ledge was particularly good, lots of fish life and really interesting under water geology including a nice swim through / cavern

Quick lunch and then out snorkelling with Whale-sharks, go as often as you can, it is amazing and there aren’t many places in the world where they are this large

A late afternoon stroll up to the top of Mundens Hill, a good walk and nice to see the old gun emplacements and look outs (there is so much history here)

Day 6 (Tues)

A long walk along the cliffs to Banks Batteries at Flagstaff, 2.5-3 hours if you’re fit! The views are stunning and interesting to see the old history, I stood and watched a pod of dolphins make their way by too. (this really should be a Post Box walk)

2 afternoon dives - Bennett’s and Horse Pasture

Lots of nice swim throughs and caverns, an abundance of fish as usual especially around the caverns. The playing of the light through these is superb and mesmerising.

Numerous octopus, a few moray and loads of Lobsters - the most I have seen in all my dives across the world and a sign their sustainable policy is working.

Dinner again at Ann’s place, the fresh tuna is simply superb.

Day 7 (Wed)

A visit to see the super pod of Pan Tropical Dolphins (300-400) on the way to the dive site-not many places in the world where you can see this many in one pod

Note - Anthony runs this trip along with Bird Trips for non divers too, you can also see 2 other types of Dolphin too if lucky and even Whales at the right time of year

Frontier Wreck, a lovely dive with plenty of fish life and we were treated with a swim by Ragged Tooth Dolphins and a Devil Ray

Lighter Rock, the profusion of life here was astounding, thousands of Butterfly Fish

Ragged Tooth Dolphins swimming by again, it is pretty rare to see them underwater

Lunch at one of the various cafes

An afternoon off visiting the museum (free but please leave a tip which helps fund it) and another climb up Jacobs Ladder with an ice cream at Rosie’s as a reward at the top

Day 8 (Thur)

The last 3 dives Boys Valley and another near Banks Battery in the morning, arches and small cavern(s)

Thousands of juvenile Butterfly Fish, lots of triggers, Octopus, Moray, loads of Soldierfish and Snapper too as usual. An old Cannon from years ago on the seabed.

Late afternoon dive on the Bedgellet Wreck and we were treated to a few passes by a large Devil Ray

Lunch - Fishcakes at the Coffee Shop on the harbour front and their St Helena coffee is good, very mellow and you must buy some to take home especially if you look how much it costs in Harrod’s!

Thursday night is movie night at the harbour front played on a large screen and there are great pizzas available from Get Carters adjacent-order early or in advance

Day 9 (Fri)

A day of sightseeing, booked a guide for the day and did the usual but it would be just as easy to hire a car (£20!) how lost can you get on such a small island.

Started with a good look round High Knoll Fort, then onto Plantation House (Governor's residence) you can book a private tour of the house in advance which gets you closer to the Tortoises.

Up next was Napoleon's Grave followed by Longwood House (Napoleon's residence) Take your passport to the gift shop at Longwood and they stamp it for £1

Finished off by walk up and over the highest point Diana’s Peak, fantastic views on a clear day and lovely spot to stop and eat a packed lunch or afternoon snack

Evening was a Hog Roast at Ann’s which is very popular with everyone so book early, a great night out

Day 10 ☹️

Flights out to J’Burg and overnight in City Lodge again

Day 11

Most flights do not leave until 20.00-21.00 so that gives you a whole day, Pilanesburg Safari Park is just over 2 hours drive and has the Big 5 so why not...

I used Pilanesburg Safaris and Tours who were fantastic, 5.30am pick up in hotel reception arrived there at 8.00 and drove around the park until 2.30 with a takeaway lunch from the restaurant in the middle of the park to maximise our time. Back at the airport in good time for check in at 17.00.

The game were scarce on my day but I still saw White & Black Rhino, Elephants, Hippos, Hyena, Zebra, Springbok, Birds and much more

Booking

Either book through an agent or do as I did and sort it yourself as it is very easy. Once I had booked the flights to St Helena Anthony at Sub Tropics sorted my accommodation, pick up and diving

As to trips I found it far better to book direct with the operator rather than go through the tourist office, one less party to mix things up.

All of the South Africa end I booked direct with the hotel or tours - no fuss and very easy to do

Weather

It was 21-25 degrees every day and typically was cloudy in the morning with an odd break before clearing and being much sunnier in the afternoon. To be honest you don’t want it too sunny and hot as most activities here involve exercise

Other

WiFi is not free but at £3.30 for every half hour not too expensive and how much do you need your phone here anyway!

It was good enough for me to use ‘Face-time’ back to home in the UK

 

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Wow, a very cool trip. Well done!

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