With a surface area that stretches to 90 km2, Ascension Island is located approximately in the middle of the South-Atlantic Ocean (7º56’S, 14º22’W). The nearest land is that of St-Helena, roughly estimated as being 1'200 km far.
The forming of Ascension dates back to millions of years ago. It is linked to a complete string of volcanic islands, starting from Gough Island in the south proceeding to Tristan da Cunha, St-Helena and Ascension and following upwards till Cape Verde, the Azores and Iceland. The separation of the American and African plates resulted in the existence of these islands. This ‘tearing’ of the two continents is still associated to a volcanic activity and this is mainly how islands like Ascension have been created.
44 volcanoes are constituent of the landscape; there are some perfect examples of volcanic cones and craters. The grounds are vast fields of basalt lava, volcanic ash and stones. The island can be termed as being relatively ‘young’; for soil erosion and the continuous flow of seawater have had little impact on its scenery. Presently, the volcanoes are only of a dormant nature, the most recent eruption occurred at "Sisters Peak" approximately 700 years ago.
The highest point in the island (Green Mountain), approximately 859 metres in height, with lush green vegetation. At every rainy season, it rapidly gains more grounds on the island. "Green Mountain" rarely welcomes the rays of the sun as clouds seem to be forever fixed over the peak. Foggy atmosphere and a high level of humidity are guaranteed!
There are four ‘villages’ in the island: Georgetown (capital and harbour), TwoBoat Village (residential area), Traveller’s Hill (RAF Base) and Cat Hill (US Base).
The principal places of interest (see map) are:
The few small buildings spread here and there testify to the weak density of the population: the jail resembles a bungalow, a small bank looks more like a cinema’s cash register and the police station provides shelter to the mere 6 policemen of the island. Opposite is the church of St-Mary, very beautiful, yet small, nearly half of the size of traditional churches. A few steps further, besides the sea; the "Pierhead" is used as the harbour. A large pier allows passengers to disembark in boats from their ships.
Constructed in 1829, the turtles’ ponds are still visible at the northern exit of Georgetown. These ponds were used to keep the turtles alive before they were loaded onto the ships as fresh food for the crew. Following the road, we come to Clarence Bay. Each night, especially in the months of December to June, the turtles come to lay their eggs on this vast beach.
The golf course of Georgetown is worth the visit. It has obtained the distinction as being the worst golf course in the whole world: the greens are brown, consisting mainly of sand and dust that have been smoothed to the ground with oil!
This bay started being used in 1830. It served mainly as a quarantine zone for sailors, victims of the yellow fever, who were amidst the crew of those ships patrolling along the coastline of Africa. A small cemetery, dating from 1838, provides a testimony of this epoch. By looking at the place, it is easy to understand the origin of its name: Comfortless Cove. Today, however, it is a popular place for relaxation and a pleasant shelter against big waves for swimmers.
This beach, the most popular one of the island, was used, in 1925, by an enterprise, which stored guano. Today, we can find the South Atlantic relay station of the B.B.C, fuel tanks as well as the power station and the desalination factory, which supplies most of the island with water and electricity.
Hannay’s beach, beautiful and secluded, is known for its powerful "blowhole" (some kind of water fountain brought about when the sea is engulfed under rocks and come out again through a vent). At the far end of the beach, we have a spectacular view of the Boatswain Bird Island. The observation post for the Ariane rockets is located just above the beach.
-Boatswain Bird Island:
This large and stout rock is shelter to various species of sea birds. It can be reached only by boat though.
Known for its immense colony of "Wideawake bird"; there, 20’000 sooty terns have found shelter to lay their eggs and bring up their offspring.
-Pillar Bay, Cristal Bay, Cocoanut Bay:
These sites, of savage beauty yet with barren lands, are found along the coast but cannot be reached easily by boats. The best solution is to go on foot from the Nasa Road.
Green Mountain is the only place on the island where the vegetation is green and lush. There prevails a pleasant coolness and the time is always favourable for a stroll. To gather water brought about by the surrounding humid atmosphere, a pond enclosed by bamboos (renowned as being excellent water channels) was digged out in the 1870s, as well as a "water catchment" - an immense "collector" of rainwater. The latter, steered towards a reservoir which is linked to a pipeline going downwards to the foot of the mountain, was supplying the population with fresh water. A tunnel has even been constructed to allow water pipes to reach to both sides of the mountain. The relics of these installations are still here and in proper working condition.
-Devil’s Riding School:
This is a huge volcanic crater whose center formerly contained a lake. The latter then dried itself out and created quite an extraordinary landscape. Excellent panorama of a crater and the "Wideawake field" landing strip.
The peak of this mountain offers an astounding view of most of the island and of a tremendous lava flow.
Text: © M.Chabod / F.Bettex • Photos: © Fabrice Bettex / Mysterra