Abgelegen | Remote Insel | Island Reportage

Island #16: Kiribati – probably the best country in Oceania

Kiribati is very remote, very exotic, very authentic. It is difficult to get there, difficult to travel inside the country, but most rewarding.
Ripaberiki Kiribati
Capital: Bairiki (Tarawa Atoll)
Inhabitants: ca. 120.000
Area: 811 km2 (cf. Canton of Neuchâtel 802 km2)
Inhabited islands: 32 atolls with several islands each + 1 isolated island
Languages: i-Kiribati
Around the island: 32 km (from Betio to the end of the road in North Tarawa)

 

Tarawa

The Passport Party

Kiribati is an amazingly exotic destination, but the the border control did not live up to this. Bonriki International Airport is a neat, new and tiny airport. We stepped out of our Air Nauru flight, and a mere 5 minutes later we were already stamped in. All friendly, unbureaucratic and well-organized. Upon departure, I asked for a passport stamp for my diary, and the border guard was happy to do me that favour.

P1050590Bonriki International Airport

What makes Kiribati unique

  • Kiribati is the only country located in all four hemispheres. Kiribati is huge. The distance from the easternmost to the westernmost island equals the distance between East Coast and West Coast USA. Just that there is a lot of water in between. And only tiny pieces of land.
  • When stepping into a shop, it is quite common to find the seller sleeping behind the desk.
  • You can see so much traditional architecture This is so different to most other Oceanian countries, which just copy/paste the shabby concrete bungalow style of poorer U.S. neighbourhoods. All villages have maneabas – traditional gathering places of the village population, where special behavior rules apply.
  • People also wear traditional clothes called lavalava.
  • I-Kiribati ladies mostly spend their afternoons lying on concrete blockswhich are positioned in most courtyards – and even at the airport! The idea is probably to be close to the cool concrete during the heat of the day.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0903. Tabontebike, the main port of Abaiang Atoll

My best experience

…was travelling to Abaiang, an outer island of Kiribati. Everything was just great and so impressive there – the shabby plane which brought us there, the equally shabby airstrip, the extremely welcoming and helpful people, the random sights and encounters, and indeed the perfect beach which is just used as a departure point for the ferries to other islands and all cargo traffic. I will write a separate entry on Abaiang.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0866.

My worst experience

…was getting from Bairiki, the capital, to Bonriki International Airport. There are minibuses, covering different routes on irregular intervals. Surprisingly for a third world country, they just take as many passengers as they have seats. And by the time they pass Bairiki, they are all full. To make the quest for transportation even more challenging, taxis do not exist in Kiribati. In the end, we managed to squeeze into a Nawerewere-bound minibus and covered the remaining 3 kilometres to the airport by foot.

So we made it to the airport – and the inland flight to Abaiang Atoll was impressive:

National symbols

Kiribati
Passport
stamp of Kiribati

P1060103The parliament of Kiribati

P1060304Flag pole in front of the sports complex of Betio

Did you know that…

…Kiribati is pronounced ‘Kiribass’ [for Americans: KEE-ree-buzz]?

…the highest point of Tarawa Atoll is 3 m above sea level?

…Tarawa Atoll is the world’s most densely populated place, even denser than Hongkong (and a bit less than Ebeye Island in the Marshall Islands)?

…South Tarawa is known as Oceania’s Gomorrah among seamen?

…the lagoon of Tarawa is one of the most polluted places in the Pacific Ocean? People are advised not to eat the reef fish here.

P1060228 Me on the highest mountain of Tarawa Atoll

Practical Information:
International transport: Bonriki International Airport has two weekly connections to Nauru and Majuro (Marshall Islands) by Air Nauru and one weekly flight to Honiara (Solomon Islands). Flights to Tuvalu are on and off.
Inland transport: Minibuses travel between Buada, Bonriki International Airport and all villages of South Tarawa, but don’t take passengers when all seats are occupied. There are no taxis, but some hotels provide airport transfers. Air Kiribati has regular flights to all atolls of the Gilberts chain, but not further afield. To reach Kiritimati Island, you need to travel via Fiji. On some outer atolls, trucks provide a rudimentary form of public transport.
Accommodation: Most hotels in South Tarawa are in Betio, the biggest town. Otiintai Hotel has a great location in Bikenibeu. On outer atolls, there are usually community accommodations, plus three more tourist-oriented hotels on Abaiang Atoll.
Food: Not a reason to come to Kiribati. In South Tarawa, most restaurants serve basic Cantonese food. Supermarkets have a rather limited and random range of non-perishable goods. On the outer atolls, there are no restaurants at all. The best food I had was at Terau Beach Bungalow on Abaiang Atoll – freshly caught bonefish.
P1050862Fresh Bonefish at Terau Beach Bungalow
Money: Kiribati uses the Australian Dollar, theoretically with local Kiribati Dollar coins -but I never saw any of them. . There are a couple of ANZ bank ATMs, but I wouldn’t take the risk and bring enough cash. Some hotels in Betio accept cards.
Communication: No roaming for most foreign SIM cards here, but local SIM cards are sold at the airport and provide surprisingly reliable data even on outer atolls. Do not expect Wifi anywhere except for better hotels in Betio.

 

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