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Tristan da Cunha — Very Remote

Tristan da Cunha is located in the South Atlantic Ocean and is the most remote archipelago in the world that is inhabited. It’s a cluster of volcanic islands and is about 1500 miles off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa.Tristan da Cunha

Although inhabited it has less than 250 people, a school, a pub, and only one shop. The local population is descendants of only seven (7) families.

All the other islands are unpopulated except Gough Island where there are South African workers at a weather station.

Some History on the Island

Tristao da Cunha, a Portuguese explorer, was the first to sight the uninhabited islands in 1506 but was unable to land because of the rough seas. It is rumored that a Portuguese captain, Ru Vaz Pereira, landed on the island in 1520 for water. In 1643 a ship of the Dutch East India Company landed there.

In December 1810, the first permanent resident showed up from Salem, Massachusetts, Jonathan Lambert, with two other men and later joined by a fourth. In 1816 the United Kingdom annexed the islands sending a garrison to secure the area. Although the garrison left in 1817, William Glass and a few others stayed establishing a permanent population.

By 1856 there were close to 100 people living there. In 1875, it became a dependency of the British crown.

After an extremely difficult and hard winter in 1906, the British government offered to evacuate the island but the people refused. Only a few ships visited in the next few years.

By 1936 there were over 150 people with horses and cattle. A scientific expedition from Norway visited in 1938 as well as a representative of the National Geographic Society.

The British used it as a signals intelligence station during World War II which led to improved infrastructure including a hospital, general store, and school. In 1949 the first canning factory was established.

The island was evacuated in 1961 due to a volcanic eruption, but the majority of the people returned in 1963.

In 1995 the Gough Island Wildlife Reserve was established as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gough and Inaccessible Islands have been Ramsar sites since 2008 (wetlands of international importance).

The economy was disrupted by a cyclone in 2001 and a fire in 2008 from which they recovered. In 2020 the waters surrounding the islands became a Marine Protection Zone.

Interesting Facts About Tristan da Cunha

  • there are six (6) islands in the archipelago with Tristan da Cunha being the main island
  • the other islands are Inaccessible Island, Gough Island, and the Nightingale Islands (Middle Island, Stoltenoff Island, Nightingale Island)
  • it has a wet oceanic climate (mild temperatures with limited sunshine and moderate to heavy rainfall
  • there is much biodiversity on the islands with a large seabird population
  • the fauna consists of many native plants and a large amount of acquired vascular plants
  • whales and dolphins can be viewed around the islands
  • all land and resident family farms are community owned. No outsiders are allowed to purchase land or settle there.
  • commercial fishing, government services, and subsistence agriculture are the main economic driving factors. They have limited tourism.
  • the main exports are postage stamps, coins, and Tristan rock lobster
  • there is no airport and the wider area is serviced by St. Helen Airport, at a nearby island
  • since the island can only be reached from Cape Town on ships with limited vacancies all visits much be planned months in advance with prior approval of the Island Council
  • there are no trade unions or political parties in Tristan; the territory has a governor appointed by the British King
  • the language is Tristan da Cunha English featuring unique phonological and phonetic characteristics
  • the main educational facility is St. Mary’s School serving children from ages 4 to 16. Most children leave school at 16 with a few choosing to take the GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education). The Tristan Song Project is a collaboration between the school and British composers where the pupils write poems and are provided a musical setting.
  • the religion is Anglican and Roman Catholic
  • the government funds the healthcare with two resident doctors and emergencies require a trip to Cape Town. There is now telemedical help available. The Camogli Healthcare Center was opened in 2017.
  • there is one policeman on the island and no one has ever been arrested
  • music and traditional dance comprise the main culture of the islands
  • football, baseball, and cricket are played on the island
  • they have their own unique holidays such as Old Year’s Night on December 31st and Rattling Day where dogs are let loose to catch any rats that may have snuck off any visiting boats
  • Cargo ships come to the island only nine (9) times per year so it’s important to order and use supplies wisely

Things to do on Tristan da Cunha

* Queen Mary’s Peak — this is the summit of the island with an elevation of 6,765 feet or 2,062 meters. It is the highest peak in the area with gorgeous views of the island and surrounding area.

* Thatched House Museum — built in 2012 this is a traditional Tristan cottage. There are accommodations available in the cottage for up to two (2) people.

* Tourism Center and Post Office — The post office is a friendly place as stamps are a major source of income for the island. There is a gift shop there as well. In the building is a cafe and the Tourism Center.

* Albatross Bar — having 5 patrons here is a busy night but it is a place to relax and enjoy a beverage

* Calshot Harbour — it was first opened in 1967. It cannot handle any ocean-going vessels but small vessels can transport people and cargo to and from the harbor. There are only about seventy (70) days per year when the weather is good enough for harbor traffic.

* Tristan da Cunha Golf Club — this is quite an unusual course as it is also a cattle pasture with volcanic rock scattered about.

Is It Worth the Challenge to Visit Tristan da Cunha?Tristan da Cunha

It does take some definite planning to get to this remote island. Since the harbor is not deep it requires good maritime conditions for many vessels to anchor there. Only a few cruise ships and boats make a visit there.

If you can afford the money and time this is an area with friendly people in a peaceful setting. Visitors are required to have sufficient funds for their entire stay, health insurance, and a fully paid and confirmed return ticket.

There are no hotels on the island but guest houses are available, rooms in boarding houses or accommodations with a local family.

This is a pleasant place that is community-based with traditional values and very friendly folks. It is a fascinating area with a lot of history and a strong sense of community.

For all the details about planning a trip check out the Tristan da Cunha website.

This just may be an intriguing location to consider adding to one’s destination list.

Happy Travels,

Joseph William

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4 thoughts on “Tristan da Cunha — Very Remote”

  1. Wow, Tristan da Cunha is truly a hidden gem in the South Atlantic Ocean! The history and evolution of this remote archipelago are fascinating, especially how it managed to sustain a small population despite its isolation. I’m curious about the cultural aspects of the island. You mentioned that music and traditional dance comprise the main culture – are there any unique musical instruments or dance styles that are particularly significant to the community? Also, given the limited tourism and external influences, it must be quite an authentic experience. I wonder how the people of Tristan da Cunha perceive the modern world and if they have any concerns about preserving their unique way of life. Any insights into these cultural dynamics would be greatly appreciated!

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Ashley. Many kinds of holidays, birthdays and other life-events are celebrated with a community feast and a dance. Music is a strong part of their culture. 

  2. Wow, what a history for a little hidden island. I find it very interesting that a person from the US, if I am correct, settled there. Then 6 years later, the British Empire showed up and took the island over. This would have been 30 or so years after the American Revolution. I wonder if the Crown was worried the US was trying to claim more land.

    Anyway, Thank you for this great information! It truly does help with my research about how land masses were claimed throughout history.

    Thank you again!


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