In this week’s travel feature, local traveller Shaun Yeo explores Ascension Island.
A remote isolated volcanic Island found in the South Atlantic Ocean, which most people have never heard of before; Ascension Island. The Island was discovered in 1501 by João da Nova Castella, a Portuguese seafarer. His visit went unrecorded, and was “discovered again” by Alphonse d’Albuquerque on Ascension Day, which gave the Island its name.
Ascension Island remained uninhabited until Napoleon I, Emperor of France, was confined in jail at St. Helena in 1815, in which a small British Naval Garrisons was placed in Ascension Island to stop the French from using the Island for their advantage.
Ascension Island then became a victualing station after Napoleon’s death in 1821, and the Island later taken over in 1823 by the Royal Marines. The Island received dependency to St. Helena by Royal Letters Patent in 1922.
Till this date, it is mainly a military only Island and was managed by “Cable and Wireless” between 1922 and 1964, establishing plans for the BBC signal stations.
During the Second World War, the United States Government built Wideawake Airfield, by arrangement of His Majesty’s Government.
Over 25, 000 US planes transited through Ascension Island during the war.
NASA build a tracking station for the Apollo Lunar landings programme in 1967 on the island, but this has since been taken out of service.
Getting to Ascension Island is a bit of a challenge. I went on a military charted flight from RAF Brize Norton in the UK, outbound to the Falkland Islands, stopping over at Ascension Island for refuelling, in which you can get off there.
Only two flights a week was operating to Ascension Island at the time I visited.
Since travelling there, part of the runway has been closed down for repairs and the only way to get to Ascension Island at the moment is through a once a month flight from St. Helena Island.
There is also a Royal Mail boat serving both Islands from Cape Town in South Africa. To enter the Island, you need to have written permission from the Administrator at Ascension Island, unless you are military personnel.
During the months of January through to June, the beaches of Ascension Island is a nesting ground for the Green Turtles.
The second largest population in the whole of the Atlantic Ocean for the Green Turtles is in Ascension Island, and the Island’s only native land animal is the iconic land crabs. You can find these crabs crawling about in the volcanic mountains, but they mainly come out during the night when temperatures are cooler.
Ascension is a very young island, with lots of volcanic features to be explored.
There are many trekking routes which I took, some climbing up volcanic craters, other through lava ridges.
There is even a site full of obsidian volcanic glass which is formed naturally by volcanos, found in abundance. The Island is very barren besides one mountain called “Green Mountain” which is now growing beautiful flora and vegetation, giving the mountain its name.
There is no mobile signal on the Island, but there is a very slow internet connection which can be found in a few locations on the Island, which is very expensive. There are also a few payphones around but again, a call to Gibraltar would be very expensive.
Although mainly a military workers Island, there is a small population now of some 900 locals.
If you are visiting on holiday, besides the treks and beaches, there isn’t anything else to do. There is one hotel in the capital town “Georgetown” and around three restaurants and a few mini-market shops about, which accept card payments and cash back, as there are no ATMs either.
I would love to return to Ascension Island in the future, and be able to volunteer in some marine conservation programs with the green turtles and land crabs, as well as explore the underwater marine life, which I was unable to do this time round.
To read more about Shaun’s travels and diving expeditions check out his blog: www.shaunyeophotography.com