When I first heard of this country, I had to ask myself where is Kiribati, because I didn ‘t have a clue. I did have a few guesses but none of them correct. Actually, it is a series of atolls (32) and one raised island (Banaba) in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, which does not get many visitors at all. As a country in Micronesia, it was once a territory of the United Kingdom as well as part of the Gilbert Islands.
That being said, this is not your standard vacation spot. When you visit here expect to rough it a bit, but if you are into outdoor activities, you will absolutely love it. One of the favorite activities around there is scuba diving. Let’s review a few facts about this little known area, which is the only country in the world that falls into the four (4) different hemispheres.
A Few Interesting Facts
- It is officially called the Republic of Kiribati
- It is a group of thirty-two (32) atolls and reef islands
- Its population is about one hundred and nineteen thousand four hundred and forty-nine (119,449)
- More than half of the population of the country reside on Tarawa atoll
- It has the world’s largest coral atoll
- It gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1979 and became a sovereign state
- In World War II there were several skirmishes between the Japanese and United States here leaving many relics and historical landmarks
- They have created a special drink from the sap of the coconut tree called karewe
- The capital is South Tarawa
- It has been a member of the United Nations since 1999
- The indigenous language is Gilbertese, while the official language is Kiribati. English is also spoken.
- The currency is the Australian Dollar
- Taneti Maamau is the President of Kiribati
- Twenty-one (21) islands are inhabited in Kiribati
- Temperatures from April to October are around eighty-six (86 F) degrees (30 C). November to March is the rainy season with the amount of rainfall varying between the islands.
- More than eighty (80%) percent of the population is involved in fishing and farming with Seaweed Farming being a significant part of the economy.
- Bonriki International Airport is on Tarawa, while Cassidy International Airport is located on Kiritimati
Some Brief History
Originally inhabited by people from Austronesian heritage, it was then settled by folks from Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa. This integrated features of the Polynesian culture and language with the indigenous people.
Robert Louis Stevenson spent time in Abemama and based his book, “In The South Seas” on this area and on the life of Abemama’s High Chief Tembinok. From the 1830s moving forward there was an influx of Chinese, European, Samoan, as well as people from other areas showing up there. In 1892, they became part of the British protectorate, and then became the crown colony of the Elice and Gilbert Islands in 1916.
During World War II Tarawa Atoll and other of the Gilbert group of islands were occupied by Japan between 1941 and 1943. The Battle of Tarawa in November 1943 resulted in Japan was expelled from the islands by the United States Marines. It was one of the most intense battles in U.S. Marine history.
The country has close relations with Japan, New Zealand, Fiji, and Australia. Diplomatic relations were restored with the Republic of China on September 29, 2019, while terminating relations with Taiwan.
Things to Do Around There
Before we get into a few of the attractions and activities on these islands, lets’ check out this short video so that you have a visual view of this part of the world.
* Lots of History — for you history buffs there is quite a bit to see here, especially if you have an interest in the World War II time period. On Tarawa, where the big battle was fought between the Japanese and U.S. forces, you will find many remnants such as large eight (8) inch anti-ship guns, which were actually built by the British for the Japanese for their war in 1904 against Russia. The Japanese installed them on the beach in 1942 after taking possession of Tarawa. Betio, in South Tarawa, is where the Japanese command bunker is located, and now resides on the grounds of a Mormon church. On the outside of the sports center in Betio, there is a memorial that acknowledges the American soldiers who died in the battle. There is also a memorial to the Japanese soldiers as well.
* Local Cuisine — fish is abundant here in the South Pacific. One of the best spots to find some great places to eat is on Abatao in North Tarawa. You need to take a canoe taxi from North Tarawa over to Abatao. Then you can relax for a while as it takes at least two (2) hours for the food to be prepared. But it is worth the wait. A lot of the dishes are prepared as civiche with the fish being marinated in lime juice and coconut milk. Other dishes include roasted free-range chicken, delicious fresh vegetables locally grown and slow-cooked fish of various varieties. If you are fortunate to hook up with some of the locals, you may get to enjoy the local drink called karewe, which is fermented from the sap of the palm tree. It is actually a palm wine and the national drink. Since this alcoholic drink is not legal to sell, you need to befriend a local in order to get a taste or two. Coffee, tea, and kava are also popular drinks on the islands. Kava is also an alcoholic drink, but since it also has some hallucinating effects, it is suggested that you not overindulge. An ideal place to relax for a cup of coffee and enjoy the views is the Chatterbox Cafe on the Tarawa atoll.
* Shopping and Nightlife — as I mentioned previously, this is more of a laid back place with plenty of stuff to do outdoors or to just relax. But for shopping, check out the Bairiki Shopping Complex. It’s on Tarawa, and is the super mall of these islands. The place to hang for a bit of nightlife and a few drinks is the Fab Ace Bar, which is just in the back of the super mall. Here you can get some good conversation going with the locals and fellow tourists while enjoying the inexpensive beverages. You will find the music blaring, and a few folks dancing away. You can go out onto the terrace and play some pool or get involved in karaoke. Since the terrace faces the home of the President of Kiribati, you may run into him some evening while the is having a beer.
* Friendly People — spend some time getting to know the locals. They are very open and friendly. A good place for this is at a local Manaeba, which is the traditional meeting hall in every community. Here people mingle and meet for neighborhood meetings. It is also used for weddings, birthdays, and funerals. When people from other islands visit, it is set up as a place for folks to crash for the night.
* Visit a Copra Factory — copra is the flesh of the coconut and it is ground up and processed for export. It is the main export industry in Kiribati. The coconut oil is extracted during processing and used for beauty products, while the powder residue is used for animal feed. Many people of the various islands make their living by collecting coconuts and sun drying the flesh to be transported to the processing facility in Betio.
* The Parliament Building — this was constructed on an artificial island in Tarawa. Elected representatives from all over the country’s various islands come here three (3) times per year for governmental meetings. Since the islands are really spread out across the ocean (they cover an area about the size of India), many representatives have to travel a long way for the parliamentary sessions. You can visit the complex when they are not in session. In fact, there is even a bar in the back of the building overlooking the ocean, but it does take quite a bit of persuasion to get the bartender to pour a few cocktails.
* Check Out the Giant Footprints — on Tarawa’s Banraeba Island you will find many densely built traditional homes. On the rocky ocean shore, you will find a number of depressions in the rocks, which as local legend would have it, were made by giant beings. You can even locate the heel and toe marks of their footprints. It’s fun to discuss this local legend with the kids playing in the many rock pools along the sea. They have a wonderful imagination and are not shy about sharing it.
This is a fantastic place to relax among very friendly people who know how to appreciate what they have and live in the present moment. The islands have so much to see and take in including their deep blue waters, white sandy beaches, and plenty of reefs and lagoons for snorkeling and scuba diving.
This is a haven for nature lovers because of the scenery and numerous migratory birds that come here each year to nest and breed. Because of its sea bird migration, most professionals in the bird watching world would most likely know about this place. There are also some native plant and animal species as well, which have gained the attention of many wildlife photographers and animal watchers.
The food is great especially if you enjoy seafood and fresh produce.
As far as accommodations are concerned, you have a few good choices depending on your budget and desired level of comfort. Although there are a few hotels on the small island of Kiritimati, the major hotels in the area are to be found on Tarawa, Abemama, and Christmas Island. These places are comfortable but not the life of luxury by any means, although there are plans to build an upscale hotel on Christmas Island. Here is a website, South Pacific Islands, which will provide you a wealth of information on all aspects of this part of the world. Other options are camping as well as a few bed and breakfast places called rest houses. These are located on several of the islands and are rather inexpensive. Since the cooking facilities are rather limited, if you are going to stay at one of these more inexpensive options, it is best to bring along a good amount of your own supplies and necessary items.
Well, I look forward that some of you may be inspired to check out this part of the world. It is most definitely a reclusive setting with not a lot of tourist activity. Plenty of nature and friendly people provide a relaxing setting to mellow out from the more hectic pace of mainline civilization.
May all your travels be safe, fun, and enjoyable.
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