I live in Jamestown – the capital of St Helena. One of the many joys of living in Jamestown (probably a blog post in it’s own right) is that everything is within a steady 10-minute walk of everything else. It’s brilliant. No traffic jams, no awful commuting and no packed busses or overpriced trains. As such, it made little sense for me to buy a car. The trade-off of course is that I lose the ability to travel and explore the rest of this beautiful island at will and at my own pace. I certainly didn’t travel 5,000 miles not to see as much of the island as possible!
Although taxis are readily available 24/7, extremely safe and affordable, I fancied the idea of being able to drive around and explore at my leisure. My plan was simple. Work out how to rent a car and head out of Jamestown (up one of the two roads leading out of the valley) and see what I could find!
There are no international car rental companies here. No Hertz, Avis or Enterprise. As with almost all businesses on the island, car rental companies are locally owned and locally run. The resulting experience is a friendlier, less-hassle and cheaper experience.
Renting a car on the island was an unbelievably straightforward process. Within 30 minutes I’d called up, walked to the garage, signed a form and was off.
Although the island is only about 10 miles by 6 ½, it feels so much bigger! The island has around 80 miles of roads.
The road traffic laws are broadly the same as back in England. I say ‘broadly’ as there are some quirks. Firstly, there’s no law requiring drivers to wear a seatbelt. In fact, very few people do. The argument against seatbelt laws was explained to me quite succinctly by a Saint last Saturday night:
- “The majority of roads on St Helena don’t allow you to reach speeds necessary for a seatbelt” (i.e. any crash is likely to occur at a slow speed) and;
- “If you drive off a cliff, what difference will a seatbelt make?”
Despite the passion with which he made his arugment, I remain unconvinced. It was an odd (and slightly rebellious) feeling to drive around in a way that back home would be illegal, but… when in Rome.
Speaking of speed, the limit on the island is 30mph. In some places (such as Jamestown), the limit is much lower, but nowhere on the island can you exceed 30. That’s not really a problem as there aren’t many roads that you could exceed 30mph and to be fair, why would you want to? There’s so much beautiful scenery to see!
You will notice the difference in weather in these pictures, despite them being taken on the same day and all within a few miles apart. The weather on the island varies widely. I left Jamesdown which was basking in the midday sun whilst the other side of the island was being drenched by rain!
Although seatbelts aren’t compulsory, what is definitely compulsory is friendliness between drivers. There’s no road rage, no frustration and no traffic jams. (No traffic lights either and one roundabout by my count). Every driver will wave at you (regardless of if they know you), and it’s custom to wave back! This sometimes extends to passing pedestrians too! It speaks volumes as to just how friendly this place is.
The only other difference to driving in the UK is the drink driving laws. The legal drink driving limit in England & Wales is 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100ml of breath. On St Helena, the limit is higher at 50 micrograms per 100ml of breath. I am against drink-driving at the best of times, but I cannot think of a worse place to get behind the wheel. Many of the roads are very narrow and adjacent to several-hundred-foot sheer drops.
The number plates are quite interesting. The lowest I’ve seen is “5”, but I’m reliably informed that there is a “1”.
Here are some various pictures from my road trip:
The above two photographs were taken at Longwood House which was the residence of Napolean during his exile on the island between 1815 and 1821. Sadly closed on the day of my road trip, it will no doubt feature in a future blog.
I hope you enjoyed the pictures of my mini-road trip! I’ve also managed to find a mobile phone cradle so hopefully (internet permitting) I’ll be able to share some footage of driving on the island.
If you are interested in learning more about driving on St Helena, see the sthelenaisland.info website.
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