Ports of Call

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Nightingale Island, St Helena

The term “speck in the ocean” might well describe tiny Nightingale Island. It is a volcano, really, with two peaks totaling less than one-and-a-half square miles in area, surrounded by dense beds of kelp in the South Atlantic Ocean. It was probably spotted by Tristão da Cunha during his 1506 exploration of the surrounding archipelago, but he neglected to mention it. It was finally named in 1760 by an English captain with the poetic name of Gamaliel Nightingale. Rumors exist of a treasure lode of Spanish gold hidden in its numerous sea caves by the pirate John Thomas, but nary a coin has been found. In 1961 islanders from nearby Tristan da Cunha fled to Nightingale after an eruption at home, but they soon removed elsewhere. In 2004 the island experienced its own eruption, though to be the first in over 39,000 years. It is a wildlife reserve hosting hundreds of thousands of seabirds and a few endemic land birds. In 2011 a shipwreck spilled crude oil on the island’s shores and huge numbers of penguins and other birds were oiled. Because there is no fresh water there, birds were transported to Tristan da Cunha to be cleaned. The local government periodically issues commemorative U.K. coins, and one such series includes images of Nightingale Island birds as part of its design.




Nightingale Island, St Helena