Grenzen | Borders Insel | Island

The Pacific Borders: No Passport Parties

Oceania is not much fun for border lovers: The countries are far apart, with long distances in between. Travelling by land or sea is highly inconvenient – but at least the airports offer some diversion.

Countries visited: Palau, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Fiji, Tonga, Tuvalu, Samoa, Vanuatu
Documents required: Passport, return tickets (all borders), visa (Nauru)
Waiting time: Generally almost none, except for the Fiji entry at Suva Nausori Airport
Rating: n/a
For a border traveller, the Oceanian continent is a bad challenge. There is only one land border: Vanimo/Jayapura, linking a remote area of Papua New Guinea with Indonesia’s disputed West Papua region, where a conflict is ongoing. It would have been a proper passport party, but for once I did not feel like travelling there alone.

Crossing borders by sea would be the next better option. Astonishingly, those ancient seafaring nations have almost no international boat links. Here are the only ones I found and the reasons why I did not try them:

  • Papua New Guinea – Solomon Islands: Small motorboats cross between Bougainville island (PNG) and Solomon’s Choiseul and Shortland provinces. I did not cross, because this is no official border crossing (i.e. crossing legally is a challenge, at least) and because of not very reassuring reputations of those boats.
  • Fiji – Tuvalu: A Tuvalu government ferry travels once per month between Suva and Tuvalu’s main Atoll, Funafuti. The crossing takes three to four days. I did not cross, because the schedules are available only on short notice. It would have been impossible to fit such a trip into my schedule.
  • Samoa – American Samoa: A weekly ferry links Apia (Samoa) with Pago Pago (American Samoa). I did not cross because I had no valid ESTA.
  • Samoa – Tokelau: The New Zealand dependency has no airport but a ferry link every approx. 10 days to Samoa. That would have been indeed possible to organize. I just didn’t want to spend that much time (you’ll probably need a minimum of two weeks).

That said, fishing boats, yachts and cargo boats do cross between many nations. Unfortunately, joining them requires a lot of time and ability to convince them to let you aboard.

So I resorted to fly, which is clearly not my favourite option. Entering a country at the capital’s airport is globally interchangeable: All airport basically look the same and much better than the rest of the country. Much less honest than a land border! Therefore, I will not list each flight as a border crossing, as I did with the land borders. Instead, I plan to portray each of those island nations in a less border-oriented way, starting from next week.

Route PazifikMy Pacific route, by 12/11/2017

Still, there were some entertaining Passport Party moments. Here are the best of them:

The most beautiful passport stamp is without question Palau’s exit stamp. It’s also the most expensive one: Leaving Palau sets you back 50 USD for departure and other taxes.

DSC_1165

The biggest cultural shock was travelling from Australia to the Solomon Islands. The Pacific island nations are generally much poorer than most Europeans imagine, and the Solomon Islands particularly so. The place is not more developed than an average African country, and also feels like that: Malaria, Criminality, deplorable infrastructure… It was a remarkable start into the Pacific adventure.

The most difficult entry: Nauru. Getting the visa took me several weeks, mainly because of one requirement: To get a booking confirmation of a hotel. Nauru’s accommodations neither offer online booking, nor do they answer to e-mails. A phone call revealed that I should have written an e-mail… On top of that, I had to file in a lot of other papers for getting the visa. I will relate in a separate blog entry on this very special “border crossing”.

P1180340 These doors are the Republic of Nauru’s border gate

The remotest international airport was Tuvalu’s Funafuti airport. It sees only three planes per week, all operated by Fiji Airways, coming from Suva Nausori Airport. The Tuvaluan “border” indeed feels like a land border high up in the mountains.

P1190196Immigration control at Funafuti International Airport

The loneliest border crossing was the exit from the Solomon Islands. In the middle of the night, I boarded a plane to Nauru. Along with me were just six other passengers in an empty airport. Just for us, the passport control was opened at that time. After two minutes, everybody was processed, and the two officers went back to sleep.

P1180131Waiting almost alone by night at an international airport – a new experience for me.

The most frequently crossed border was Fiji’s, for the mere reason that this hub is unavoidable in the Southern Pacific.

Practical Information:
Entry requirements: Holders of most “Western” passports can enter Pacific island countries visa-free. There’s one notable exception: Nauru requires a visa, and it’s a hassle to get it.
Transport: The Pacific islands just cry for island hopping. But that’s not very easy: There are almost no international boat connections. Even for inland travel, flights are more common in most countries. Talking of flying: Many of the smaller nations only have flight connections to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, but not between them. Therefore, island hoppers will see a lot of Fiji’s two airports, Nadi and Suva-Nausori.
Accommodation: In Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Palau, tourists prefer resorts – but there are also other options. Nauru and Tuvalu have no resorts and generally few accommodation options – pre-booking is essential. Vanuatu is rather diverse in terms of accommodation. In the Solomon Islands, you’ll find all type of accommodation at double the price (at least!) of Fiji’s.
Food: The food in the Pacific Islands is generally of good quality, but gets boring after a while. Local fare include several raw tuna dishes (e.g. with coconut cream, onions and chili), taro, breadfruit, palusami etc. In Polynesia, pork meat and the use of umu (Tandoori-style ovens) are popular. Depending on the country, local food can be difficult to get, as many restaurants serve mediocre Chinese food or Western dishes. Fiji’s Indian restaurants are delicious.
Money exchange: Generally no problem at the airports, though the exchange rates tend to be bad. Nauru and Tuvalu both use Australian Dollars – don’t rely on ATMs and credit cards there, bring enough of cash.
Communication: My Swiss SIM-card did not work in the following countries: Palau, Solomon Islands, Nauru and Tuvalu. Free and functioning Wifi in Hotels is rare, especially in small countries and non-resort hotels. Local SIM cards are sold (or given for free) at most airports, and it is useful and cheap to buy some data and phone airtime.

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