Culture

Want a Quiet Island Getaway? Try Tristan da Cunha, World's Most Remote Inhabited Island

Tristan da Cunha

Imagine a lush, verdant island paradise where the inhabitants are friendly, the scenery is breathtaking, and you won’t find another tourist for miles. No smoke monsters. No need to befriend a volleyball. You may be thinking of Tristan da Cunha.

The South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha may sound like an idyllic getaway, but traveling to the British territory is a bit of a trick – its nearest neighbor, the island of St. Helena, lies a staggering 1,501 miles away, making Tristan the world’s most remote inhabited island.

“To get here, you would have to get a flight to Cape Town and reserve a berth on either the fishing ship or the research vessel that comes once a year,” says Ian Lavarello, chief islander. “The trip takes between six or seven days and that’s also weather-dependent. In the winter months it could take nine, ten days to get to the island from Cape Town.”

One travel website offers trips to Tristan da Cunha, but they start at $8,250, and travel dates are limited.

The territory has a fascinating history that dates back to the 16th century.

The four islands that make up the tiny nation – Tristan, Inaccessible, Gough and Nightingale – were discovered and named by Portuguese admiral Admiral Tristao da Cunha in 1506. No one attempted to colonize the rocky outcrop until more than 300 years later, when Napoleon was exiled to nearby St. Helena. Realizing the island’s strategic position, the British military quickly took possession of Tristan in 1816. A young Scottish Corporal and his family were stationed on the island and several other men of various nationalities landed there by happenstance.

As the story goes, when Tristan found itself with five lonely bachelors by 1827, the islanders commissioned a regular visitor of Tristan to bring back five suitable women from St. Helena. By 1832, the population had grown to 34, with six happy couples and 22 children.

Tristan da Cunha
Tristan da Cunha island

Today, the nearly 300 residents of the islands only town, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, or “The Settlement,” as its residents call it, live a life that recalls small town life before technology seemed to take over. The island has limited access to television and internet, and the only grocery store in The Settlement restocks only the items that arrive by supply ship every so often.

Tristan’s residents harvest from their own gardens and keep chickens, cows, and sheep in addition to working full time jobs. Islanders share with each other – and export locally harvested food to other nations around the world. The inhabitants make an existence not too different from America’s pioneers centuries ago.

“It’s a very close-knit community. Family, even friends, they’re always helping one another,” says Lavarello, “You can go to work in the morning and when you get back a family member or friends will pop in to drop off some bread or eggs or whatever. Its very different compared to anywhere else in the world.”

Lest you think of life on Tristan da Cunha as perfect, the island itself can get pretty dangerous.

The climate on the island is relatively mild and cool with highs typically in the 50s and 60s, but rainy weather is near a constant and can make fishing expeditions a bit of a challenge. Being directly on top of an active volcano is also a danger.  In 1961, a devastating eruption nearly leveled the Settlement, forcing the islanders to flee to the U.K. They returned and rebuilt two years later, but a massive hurricane once again devastated the island’s infrastructure in 2001.

These days, Lavarello works closely with the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor the island’s seismic activity to get ahead of any future calamity. Though the U.K. does provide assistance in the face of disaster, the lack of an airport means that any help that islanders need may take awhile to get there, so when disaster strikes, the islanders are pretty much on their own.

The dangers imposed by the natural world haven’t stopped the small, brave population from staying on their tiny island paradise.

Tristan da Cunha offers life on an island paradise that can be more surprising that most travelers may ever realize – except for those who happen to spring for an $8,000 trip to the South Atlantic.