I didn’t know about Tristan da Cunha until my friend Marc told me about it. Before he met me, he was working as a mechanical engineer on the island. It’s not just any island — it’s the remotest island in the world.
Tristan da Cunha, which is part of the British overseas territory in the South Atlantic, is home to around 260 people. Its small community consists of British citizens, and expatriates. Some of its residents are currently working overseas.
The remote volcano-active island is located about 2,100 km to the south of St. Helena. When Marc told me about the island, I wasn’t just impressed by how remote it really is, but also by the way its inhabitants live their lives there.
I wanted to know more about the island and its people. Thus, I interviewed Marc about his experience there. He spent nearly 2 years on the island.
You can watch Marc’s interview here.
Life in Tristan da Cunha
According to Marc, life in Tristan da Cunha was amazing. If he could go back there again, he would. Despite being in a small community, the locals of the island are always keeping themselves (and everybody else) busy with their daily routines and local events. There’s always someone throwing a birthday party, celebrating anniversaries and so on. And everyone is always welcomed to join!
Marc said he didn’t find living there boring. Instead, he felt joy and happiness whenever he did things with the rest of the community. And since it’s a small community, it feels more like a family to him.
Of course, even in a small community, fights do happen. But at the end of the day, the spirit of living in a community always brings people together.
And like many parts of the world, the community celebrates yearly events like Easter, Christmas and many more. You might think the photo above (with the scary monsters) is a photo of a Halloween celebration, but it’s not. The celebration is called ‘Old Year’s Night’, and the monsters are known as “Okalolies”. Every year on the 31st of December, young men will dress up as Okalolies and roam around the village to scare off the ladies…. and get drinks!
Marc celebrated his 28th and 30th birthday there. He was surprised to receive presents from the local people. In fact, almost all of them brought him presents!
Listening to his stories made me feel like visiting the island in the nearest future. If I decide to visit the island, I have to be prepared for it. The journey is going to be long. According to Marc, the island is only accessible by sea. And the journey could take up to 7 days!
Travellers who are keen to go there are advised to be flexible with their travel dates. Since the island is the world’s remotest island, ships don’t go there very often. It’s hard to tell when the next ship is going to arrive, or leave.
Just because you have all the time in the world to travel, doesn’t mean you can just show up in Cape Town and hop into a ship to Tristan da Cunha. It doesn’t work like that, honey.
Your visit to the island must first be approved by the island’s council. Your application may also require a local Police Certificate in advance. There are also other things to consider: the length of your stay, your accommodation, shipping schedule and so forth. And it’s essential that you give your visit a good thought. What do you want to achieve from your trip?
If you asked me, I would love to stay there for a couple of months and live with the locals. And I also would love to see the Northern Rockhopper Penguins. In order to see them, I must wait until August. That’s when they (also known as ‘pinnamins’) come ashore to breed and eventually lay eggs in September.
The island is also home to some of the rarest wildlife. It’s a breeding place for wild animals such as seals and seabirds. During your visit to the island, you’ll likely come across Albatrosses and as I’ve mentioned earlier, the Northern Rockhopper Penguins. Of course, you’ll have to spend your day exploring the island in order to see them.
Quick facts about the Northern Rockhopper Penguins:
The Tristan islanders call them ‘Pinnamins’. The penguins often go to the Jew’s Point Tristan da Cunha penguin rookery, a Nature Reserve established in the 1980s. There the penguins get to enjoy the grey sand beach.
Quick facts about the Yellow-nosed Albatross:
The Tristan islanders call it ‘Molly’. It’s one of the smallest in the albatross family, and only breeds in the Tristan da Cunha islands.
If you’re lucky, you might even get a chance to see whales whose tails are often seen out of the water for several minutes from the Tristan Settlement.
At Tristan da Cunha, people eat what they produce. They grow their own crops and livestock. The community loves potatoes. Potatoes are a staple, just like how bread is a staple food in Europe, or how rice is a staple food in Asia. You can find animals like cows, chickens, sheep, ducks, geese and donkeys in Tristan da Cunha. Pigs were formerly bred for pork, but not anymore as they were too expensive to feed.
Explore the island’s attractions
There are many things you can do in Tristan da Cunha. The island’s warm hospitality and breathtaking landscape will surely keep you busy throughout your stay there. Most visitors stay for 6 months or more, and eventually become part of the community. Just like Marc!
From fishing to hiking, there are all kinds of fun outdoor activities await you in Tristan da Cunha. Who knows what you might find there?
While there are activities that you can do on your own, some of them may require local guides once you leave the Tristan settlement. Here are some recommendations of fun activities for your itinerary for you to consider.
If you think you have the patience to catch a fish, then fishing is definitely for you. Please be reminded that all recreational fishing application must first be sent to the Head of Natural Resources Department of the island.
Visit (or sleep at) the Thatched House Museum
Yes, there is a museum even in a remote place like Tristan da Cunha. It sits right between the east of the settlement and the historic volcano that erupted in 1961. Opened in 2012, the museum welcomes overnight stays. The price of a night stay there might be affordable for some people, but I find it too expensive for me, though.
It costs £100.00 for up to two people to spend a night there. Hot beverages, sugar, candles, sleeping bags, and traditional Tristan homemade meals prepared by islanders (which will be sent to you at lunch time) are inclusive of the price you pay for the accommodation.
Nevertheless, I might just pay for the experience if it’s indeed worth paying for. It’s not everyday that I get to sleep in a museum. As the matter of fact, I’ve never done that yet.
Take a hike to Tristan da Cunha ‘Love Island’
If you happen to be in Tristan da Cunha in February, perhaps take a hike to ‘Love Island’ on Valentine’s Day. Or go whenever you have the chance to do so.
Queen Mary’s Peak is the island’s summit and is a mecca for lovebirds. Why? Just look at the stunning view of its heart-shaped crater lake! Isn’t it gorgeous?
It’s not easy to get there, though. The journey is tough and can be dangerous. You’ll definitely need an islander as your guide. And the weather must be permissible, too.
Take a tour to the 1961 Volcano and Volcanic Park
In 1961, the people of Tristan da Cunha were forced to evacuate the island and return to England when the island’s volcano erupted. Today, the inactive volcano is a tourist attraction. There is a path to the summit that tourists can either go on their own, or go on organised hikes.
After your trip to the volcano, relax at Volcanic Park, or also known as ‘Park 61’. It was built next to the 1961 volcano in order to commemorate 50 years since the Tristan community was evacuated to England.
Have a cup of tea at Café da Cunha
In the island’s post office and tourism centre, there is a small coffee house for tourists to chill and relax. At Café da Cunha visitors get to enjoy refreshments and appreciate images and artefacts from throughout the island’s history. Larger exhibits can be found outside of the building.
Join the locals
As I’ve mentioned earlier, the people in Tristan da Cunha are always doing something. There are always activities for the locals that you can join. The community knows how to have fun, too!
Every year before Christmas and the New Year’s holiday, the people of Tristan da Cunha gather outside of their homes to have their sheep hand-sheared. The shearing is skillfully done by male islanders. Be sure to watch them in action while you’re there!
Take a long boat from Tristan to Nightingale Island
At Nightingale Island, you can take a walk, hike, and watch seabirds. It’s a great place for those who are looking for some quiet times. And the scenic surroundings are most certainly Instagram-worthy. If I had a chance to take at least a photo there, I’d frame it and have it hung on my wall.
Spreading joy and happiness
During Marc’s stay on the island, he and his crew produced a “Happy” video for the community of Tristan da Cunha. Everyone seemed so happy. In reality, they are just as happy as they were in the video!
I personally think the line from the animation ‘Moana’ that says “You can find happiness right where you are.” truly reflects the simple, beautiful, and romantic life of the people in Tristan da Cunha.
Why do I find the life in Tristan da Cunha romantic? Well, people are more connected to each other. They know each other’s names as well as they know where everybody lives. They get involved in each other’s celebrations. They live and work together in a community. Although they’re more connected to the outside world today, they continue to embrace their simple lifestyle. If you ever fall down on the ground and need help to get back home, someone will take you back home.
What’s Tristan da Cunha currently up to? To catch up with their latest updates, or to learn more about how you can visit the island, visit http://www.tristandc.com/.