Abgelegen | Remote Insel | Island

Island #3: Nauru – unique and absurd

Nauru is a fantastic destination. Almost undiscovered, it offers plenty of unique or even absurd features. But don’t plan too much time: The island is tiny, and in a week you can easily visit each house.
Repubrikin Naoero
Capital: No official capital, government institutions in Yaren District
Inhabitants: 11.000
Area: 21 km2
Inhabited islands: 1
Languages: Nauruan and English
Around the island: 18 km (Island Ring Road)


Nauru map

The Passport Party

See separate article “Border #48 Nauru: The impossible destination.”

What makes Nauru unique

  • Immediately after independence, phosphate mining briefly made Nauru the world’s richest nation. The government decided to spend the wealth on a skyscraper in Brisbane, a failing Broadway musical, or an over-dimensioned airline – to give just some examples of its investment folly. Predictably, the phosphate deposit was exhausted in the 1990s, and soon Nauru became very poor. Nowadays, major income generators are the recognition of disputed states (such as Abkhazia or South Ossetia) and the accommodation of Australian asylum seekers.
  • The centre of the island is called Topside, and that’s Oceania’s only desert. The years of phosphate extraction have left a crude landscape of rock pinnacles and some rudimentary vegetation – it looks absolutely not tropical.
  • Nauru is the only Oceanian country that requires a visa. And that visa is a hassle to get. Among others, you need a hotel booking confirmation. But the hotels neither offer online booking nor do they react on reservation applications via e-mail. Read the whole story here.
  • Nauru has no soccer league or national team. Once there was a soccer league comprising six teams, mainly made up of workers from Kiribati and Tuvalu. Nauru does have an Australian rules football team and “stadium”. That ground is a lunar landscape covered in phosphate dust, with no infrastructure whatsoever (such as stands or scoreboard). It is just a gravel field. Due to the lack of grass, games are rough and not much loved by guest sides from other countries. The Nauruan team prides itself with the slogan “the hard men of football”.
  • Nauru is the smallest country in the world with an own airline and the smallest republic in the world. The airline even established Nauru as a minor hub: For passengers travelling between Melanesia/Fiji and Micronesia, there are no other links (except for detours involving places like Seoul).

P1180389Topside: Not what you’d expect in the Pacific Ocean.

My best experience

…was exploring Nauru’s phosphate sites. I just love industrial ruins, and Nauru offers plenty of them for such a small place. And best of all: None are fenced off; I was free to stroll around everywhere. When I entered the very core, the Phosphate Treatment Centre, I passed by a guard in a hut. He was almost asleep and did not show any reaction – probably because the locals also pass by all the time. The Centre was impressive with huge machinery, piles of phosphate dust and parts of the plant still seeming to be operated. But also the cantilevers at the coast made a great sight (especially at sunset), and the semi-ghost town where the Tuvaluan and i-Kiribati workers once lived was eerily remarkable. And the best place to spot street art in Nauru, besides.

P1180454.JPGInside the Phosphate Treatment Centre

P1180531Cantilevers in the late afternoon

My worst experience

…was arriving to the big Friday night concert at the Reef Bar and being too tired to attend it. I had been very active on my first day in Nauru: After just four hours of sleep (I had arrived overnight from the Solomon Islands), I took a bike and crisscrossed the island. When I made it back to Meneñ Hotel, I was utterly tired – tribute to the eventful day and the rather sleepless night. From my hotel room, I saw a concert unfold which made locals and expats rave. Meneñ’s Reef Bar is practically the only place to go out on the island! I would have loved to join, but I was not fit for it. Sadly, I produced my earplugs (as the music was loud in my room, too) and fell asleep.

National symbols

DSC_1484 anonymEntry stamps and visa of Nauru

P1180174Coat of arms of Nauru

P1180181Assembly hall of Nauru’s parliament with 19 seats

Did you know that…

…Nauru is eight times smaller than the Principality of Liechtenstein and counts as many inhabitants as the two villages of Rebstein and Balgach taken together?

…Nauru is the least visited country of the world (yes, even after Afghanistan and Somalia)? Only 160 tourists make it to Nauru every year.

…most tourists who do visit Nauru are those who try to visit all countries of the world? There seems to be no other reason to travel there.

…Australia conducts its asylum procedures in Nauru? Persons recognized as refugees according to the Geneva Convention are nevertheless not granted entry into Australia – they linger in Nauru.

P1180672The only truly inaccessible place in Nauru: Australia’s asylum detention centre

…because of that, there is a sizeable community of about 500 Iranians in Nauru?

…Nauru has the most diverse cuisine in the Pacific? Thanks to stranded migrants, you can get excellent Iranian, Somali or Pakistani dishes, beside the classics such as Chinese. Just the local cuisine is endangered: During the fat years after independence, most locals had hired cooks from abroad, and the own cooking tradition was forgotten.

…although most food products are shipped in all the long way from Australia, they are sold at cheaper prices than in Australia itself?

…Nauru’s main road is blocked when airplanes land? For taxiing to the terminal building, they have to cross that road.

P1180719Waiting cars on the Island Ring Road between the airport terminal and the runway (shot out of an Air Nauru plane)

Practical Information:
See separate blog entry and post on sightseeing in Nauru.

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