It is an independent island nation in the West-Central Pacific Ocean and was formerly part of the British Commonwealth.
It is situated about halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Comprised of nine (9) small coral islands, it is a great destination for those who are into snorkeling and diving.
Where Is Tuvalu? — Let’s Start with Some Basic Facts
Tuvalu is an archipelago made up of nine (9) individual islands, six (6) are atolls (Funafuti, Vaitupu, Nui, Nukufetau, Nanumea, and Nukulaelae) and three (3) are reef islands (Niulakita, Niutao, and Nanumanga). Atolls are comprised of several islets so the total is actually one hundred and twenty-four (124) islets and islands.
- The official languages are Tuvaluan and English
- The population of Tuvalu is approximately 11,192
- The capital is Funafuti in the village of Vaiaku
- Formerly called the Ellice Islands
- Temperatures range from from 80 to 85 °F (27 to 29 °C) with high humidity
- The Tuvaluan language is closely related to Samoan
- Due to porous soil, agriculture is limited so there is dependence on imported food and fishing
- The government is a parliamentary democracy (no political parties as the Prime Minister is chosen by and from the Legislature)
- The majority of people on the islands are members of the Church of Tuvalu which is the former Ellice Islands Protestant Church
- Funafuti has one third (1/3) of the entire population of the islands
- Ten (10%) of the population live overseas either working on merchant ships, gathering additional education, or working in the Nauru phosphate industry
- The country uses Australian currency but also issues its own coinage
Where Is Tuvalu? — A Bit of History
Originally inhabited by Polynesians, the first settlers arrived in the fourteenth (14th) century from Samoa. Others followed from the Cook Islands, Tonga, and the Gilbert Islands.
The first European contact occurred in 1568 by the Spanish. In the 1820s traders and whalers arrived making it more well-known. By 1900 Protestant Christianity was established. During World War II the United States had troops on Nukufetau, Funafuti, and Nanumea.
It was part of the British Commonwealth from 1892 to 1976. Officially Tuvalu became an independent nation on October 1, 1978. Then on September 5, 2000, it became a member of the United Nations.
Today the majority of the workers are sustenance farmers. Members of their families who work overseas help with the maintenance of the households. Most of the food, manufactured goods, and fuel is imported. Community-based cooperatives are the main retailers.
Airlines are tied in with Fiji and Kiribati, and seaplanes are the primary means of interisland travel. On Funafuti motorcycles are primarily used as there are very few cars.
The main medical facility is in Funafuti, while the other islands have clinics with trained medical staff.
There is a strong traditional base to the lifestyle here as is reflected in their customs, music, and dance. They have been Westernized to an extent, but there is a strong sense of community. Soccer, cricket, and volleyball are the primary sports.
Most of the locals live in villages of a few hundred people. You will find them gardening as well as fishing from their handmade canoes.
Other than a small news sheet there is no formal newspaper and there are few Western amenities. Few motion pictures are shown, satellite TV is available by subscription, and they have one (1) radio station.
What to Do in Tuvalu?
After all that preliminary info on this area, you may be wondering what there is to do other than hang out and relax. Well, let’s explore that a bit. Here’s a short video to give you some idea about the area and its people.
- Activities on the Runway at the Airport — Since the runway is only used for flights on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, this unfenced airstrip in Funafuti is available the rest of the time as a public park and for sporting events. Most of the action takes place late afternoon because of the heat and humidity the remainder of the day. It’s a great place to meet the locals, take a pleasant walk, or play volleyball, soccer or touch football. Just hanging out is a pleasant experience with the cool ocean breeze this time of day. The Tuvalu House is right close by which is the residence of the Prime Minister, who is most open to an occasional visit and chat.
- Spend time in an Eco-Lodge — If you are looking for a back-to-nature experience, the Afelita Island Resort on Mulitefala Island [it takes ten (10) minutes by boat from the northern tip of the main island] is the place to be.. The resort opened in 2013 and is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the natural environment, or you can choose from several activities such as Kayaking, fishing, weaving lessons, or some beach combing.
- Shopping for Stamps — You can find sheets of beautiful and rare stamps that are issued for special occasions at the Tuvalu Post. Many of these are collectors’ items since you can find stamps depicting Charles and Diana’s royal wedding as well as those commemorating the one hundred and fiftieth (150th) anniversary of the American Civil War. All items are for sale.
- Motorbike around the Island — One of the fun things to do is to rent a motorbike, which costs about ten ($10) dollars per day, and rides around the main island. It’s a long thin island so you ride about six (6) miles or ten (10) kilometers in one direction, and then turn around and head back to the other end. Once you get to know a few locals they will probably invite you to jump on the back of their bike for a free unscheduled tour. It’s a great way to see the area and get acquainted with the Tuvaluan lifestyle and culture.
- Check out the other Islands — There are twenty (20) smaller islands in the Funafuti atoll. There is a protected lagoon and the Funafuti Conservation Area was established in 1999. It’s about a thirty (30) minute boat ride from the main island. Largely uninhabited, these islands are home to seabirds and endangered sea turtles. There are also plenty of coral, tropical fish, and manta rays. It’s a great day trip to take a picnic lunch and walk around these islands and even do a little snorkeling.
- The Tuvalu Marine Training Institute — The institute is located on Amatuku Island right next to the Afelita Island Resort. It is easy to schedule a visit to the institute at the resort. Each year about one hundred and twenty (120) merchant seamen are trained here so they can work on international cargo ships. A large part of the revenue of Tuvalu comes from family members working overseas as marine engineers, cooks, and seamen. On the grounds of the institute is the country’s oldest building, which is a coral hut constructed in 1904 by the London Missionary Society.
- David’s Drill — One of the landmarks in Tuvalu is basically just a hole in the ground in Funafuti. An Australian professor from the University of Sydney, Edgeworth David, along with members of the Royal Society of London, drilled a hole one thousand one hundred and fifteen (1,115) feet (340 meters) in order to test the theory of Charles Darwin in coral atoll formation. This took place somewhere between 1896 and 1898. Although the results were inconclusive, the theory was later given credence in the 1950s when a hole was drilled four thousand two hundred and sixty-five (2,265) feet (1300 meters) in the Marshall Islands.
- Church and a Picnic — A fun activity on Sundays is going to Church. As you make friends among the locals, they will most likely invite you to Church on Sundays since Christianity is a big part of their lives. They will probably even transport you over there on the back of their motorbike. After the service, you will be invited to lunch which is called “tonai”, where you will have the opportunity to taste many of the local favorite dishes such as breadfruit loaf, “coconut apple”, and fresh fish.
- A little bit of Culture — Although located in Micronesia, the majority of Tuvaluans are Polynesian except on the island of Tui. Each area has its own distinctive songs such as “fatele” or dancing song. Practically every night you will find people gathered to dance either in their homes or at local venues around the island called “maneapa”; the runway near the airport terminal is one location, as well as at the family-owned guesthouse, Hotel Filamona.
- Just Relax a Bit — This is one of the most popular activities on the island. These folks really know how to take it easy and relax. Instead of a “siesta”, they take what is called a “Pacific exercise”. You just stretch out on a mat or a fishing net hammock under a tree (be selective and don’t pick one with falling coconuts). This usually takes place right after lunch when it is too hot to be overly active. It will revive you and get you ready for some late afternoon activities, and dancing into the night.
Where Is Tuvalu? — Why Visit?
If the above info didn’t excite you enough to check out this tiny island in the South Pacific, here are a few other reasons people show up there. Even though it is the least visited country in the entire world (based on airline data), about five hundred (500) travelers find their way to Tuvalu each year.
Overall, other than relaxing and taking in the sights there is not a lot to do. There are no movie theaters, golf courses, or shopping malls. A lot of stuff takes place late afternoon and into the evening because of the heat and humidity.
What you have here is an opportunity to relax and learn a new culture where family and religion are of major importance. It’s an area with much less commercialization than other parts of the world. If you are looking for five-star resorts and all the best amenities, this is not for you.
On the other hand, if you enjoy being in a more remote part of the world where you have to rough it a bit and hang out and learn a new culture, this may be what you are looking for. Either way, I now know where Tuvalu is, and so do you.
Enjoy your many excursions around the world,
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