Coming from: Henderson International Airport, Honiara, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands
Going to: Republic of Nauru Airport, Yaren, Nauru
Documents required: Passport, visa letter for Nauru
Waiting time: 2 min (Solomon Islands), 10 min (Nauru)
The Republic of Nauru is the least visited country in the world. For some reason: It is a very remote island in the Pacific, eight times smaller than even Liechtenstein. Getting to Nauru is expensive and the flight schedules are inconvenient. The few hotels are shabby and very expensive. And it is the only country of Oceania which requires a visa – a particularly tough one to get.
A decade ago, I read the Wikipedia article about Nauru. The plot was: After independence, Nauru had briefly become the richest country in the world – exporting phosphate, the petrified bird shit of millions of years. They spent the wealth carelessly, financing amongst other a failing Broadway musical and buying a skyscraper in Brisbane. One day, all the phosphate was gone, and so was Nauru’s wealth. Since then, the country constantly tries to find a new source of income. Last deal: Housing Australia’s asylum seekers.
So I obviously wanted to see the place, but it was quite a distance to that tiny piece of land, coming from Switzerland. This Passport Party trip finally brought me into the area and I seized the opportunity to make it to Nauru.
Nauru did not disappoint me: Industrial decay (cantilevers) at Aiwo’s beach
Getting the visa
Approximately one month before I intended to travel, I looked into the visa issue. What I found online was discouraging, to put it mildly. One traveller described how he had begun the procedure one year before travelling there! Among the red tape required figured an x-ray of the chest and a police certificate of the criminal record. Furthermore, contacting Nauru’s hotels would be quite impossible – the booking confirmation was a further visa requirement.
I decided to give it a go nevertheless, and contacted the Nauruan immigration officer. Friendly Mr. Rajeev sent me the requirements. Luckily, he did not expect me to provide the mentioned medical and police certificates, which would have been the major hassle. But he wanted my air tickets, a detailed itinerary of my intended trip through Oceania, a proof of employment, and obviously: The hotel booking. It all seemed quite possible!
As it turned out, the hotel booking was the real hassle. Nauru has only four accommodations, and they all have one thing in common: They cannot be booked online, and they do not answer to e-mails. I was in Indonesia at the time and calling from Indonesia into Nauru was not possible, at least not with my SIM card. After several e-mails, more and more begging the hotel staff to pleeease answer, I finally gave up and asked my brother back home to call. Hotel Menen’s receptionist told him via phone to make the booking via e-mail…
After a week of perseverance and persuasion, the booking confirmation finally turned up. All the other bureaucratic demands were just formalities. I filed in my application. A couple of days later I was told to pay 50 AUD into an account of “Bendigo & Adelaide Bank Ltd.”, a small Australian bank. Luckily, I was in Darwin at that time, and I found a branch of that bank.
As a result, I got the letter above. It entitled me to board a plane to Nauru (which was not checked, though).
Flying into Nauru
The only way into Nauru is Nauru Airlines. No other airline flies into Nauru, and there are no passenger ships neither. Nauru Airlines has two Boeing jets and a rather peculiar flight schedule, with two full days without any flights. This stems from the fact that the airline also covers the flights between Australia and Norfolk Island, on behalf of the latter’s government.
Thanks to that schedule, it was 11 pm when I arrived to the airport of Honiara in the Solomon Islands. Honiara is not a particularly safe place after dark, and not only the city was empty when I took the taxi out to the airport – also the airport was. Entering the sparsely lit hall in total silence felt more like in a horror movie than like check-in for an international flight. After a few steps, however, I could make out a person napping behind one of the counters. I woke him up and was relieved to find that my flight was actually on schedule. Check-in was done in no time. It did not surprise me that the boarding pass was hand-written.
Waiting in an empty airport: Honiara’s international terminal
I sat down on a bench and found that there were two more persons: A security guard, and a fellow passenger. He was watching a movie on his laptop and turned out to be a “country collector”: Nauru would be his country No. 190. By 11 November he would be done with the whole world, as the youngest person ever, he bragged. That’s the kind of people you meet on such a flight, I suppose. During the waiting time, five more passengers arrived. They had been on a conference in Papua New Guinea and were on their long way home to Nauru, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, or the Federated States of Micronesia, respectively. Nauru Airlines has a flight connection to these places, so Nauru even serves as a hub! Somebody turned on the radio, which played that kind of music Swiss radios play in the early morning (Kuschelrock, that is). The airport appeared a tad more pleasant.
Half an hour past midnight, both the plane (coming from Brisbane) and two immigration officers appeared. Their counter was open for just five minutes; it took no more time to process the little group of passengers. They asked me if I had arrived by Discovery, a cruise ship – Swiss passport holders usually did so, as I was told. Well, my entry stamp proved else. After waiting very shortly at the “gate”, we were allowed to wander across the tarmac to the plane. It was quite empty and I was even allowed to occupy one of the comfortable seats next to the emergency exit. Nevertheless, I got no sleep: The flight was simply too short (1 h 20 min) and too cold. At 3:30 am, we touched down at the Republic of Nauru airport.
The entrance gate into Nauru (I took the photo the next day)
The first of Nauru’s peculiarities happened even before I stepped out of the airplane. Nauru’s main road runs between the runway and the airport terminal. That road had to be blocked to enable our plane to taxi to the terminal – which in the dark of the night looked like a big garage.
We stepped through a sliding door with the faded script “Republic of Nauru”. Behind of it was the border control, located in a long hallway. Once I reached its end, things went quite quickly: The very young officer gave my visa letter a quick glance and then put the page-filling Nauruan visa stamp into my passport. He added a red “entry made” and the actual entry stamp, and I was in – in the world’s least visited country!
Visa (right) and entry stamp (left) of the Republic of Nauru