KIRIBATI (INCLUDING CHRISTMAS ISLAND AND MILLENIUM ISLAND)
Kiribati is an island nation that straddles the equator over a vast expanse of 1,351,000 square miles of South Pacific Ocean.
Kiribati comprises, from west to east, of one island and 32 atolls which form three separate island groups - the Gilbert Islands, the Phoenix Islands, and the Line Islands. One of the Line Islands, Kiritimati (or Christmas Island), is the world's largest atoll.
The island groups of Kiribati are widely spread - the Line Islands are 3,300km east of the Gilberts - and only 20 of the islands are inhabited. 90% of the population live on the Gilbert Islands and the capital town of Tarawa is densely overcrowded in places.
The atolls are surrounded by extensive reefs and are all low lying, not more than a few metres above sea level. Rising sea levels due to global warning threaten the future of these islands with two uninhabited islands having already disappeared underwater in the last ten years. The only island, Banaba, is a raised coral island once mined for phosphates.
Now officially the easternmost country in the world, it was the first country to enter the new millenium. This was marked by the renaming of Caroline Island to Millenium Island.
Lying as they do on the equator, the islands have the typical tropical temperature range of 23ºC to 33°C which is constant throughout the year. Cooling sea breezes help reduce the high humidity. The islands north of the equator have a rainy period from June to November, whilst rainfall on the southern islands is heaviest from November to April. Typhoons can occur mostly between the months of November and March and there are occasional tornadoes.
How to get there
There are two international airports in the Republic of Kiribati, Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands and Christmas Island Airport.
Air Nauru runs a weekly service from Brisbane via Honiara in the Solomon Islands and Nauru to Tarawa on the Gilbert Islands.
There are weekly flights to Christmas Island from Honolulu (Hawaii) and Fiji and also chartered holiday flights from the the USA. Flights from Hawaii take around three hours.
Air Kiribati, the national airline,
connects Tarawa with most of the populated atolls in the Gilberts. There are no direct flights to the Line Islands from the Gilberts however unless you travel via Hawaii, the Fijis or the Marshall Islands.
Boats and ferries also operate between the islands.
Where to stay
Kiribati is not a standard tourist destination so there are no big resorts or laid on entertainment. There are a few hotels on the larger islands and guest houses on some of the other islands.
Most of the hotels offer restaurants which feature local seafood.
What to see
With less than 5,000 visitors a year, tourism is a relatively small but important part of the local economy. Since the phosphate supplies ran out, the economy has been struggling and tourist dollars are a welcome source of revenue.
Ecotourism is popular especially on Christmas Island where the many lakes and ponds attract huge colonies of birds. Ornithology trips with studies of the local birdlife are available.
Another main attraction is game fishing with excellent facilities including boats that can be chartered and even a hotel which caters for those of an angling bent. A license is not necessary.
World War Two relics are to be found all over the islands, but especially so on Betio where the Battle of Tarawa took place in 1943 with the loss of over 1,000 lives.
Throughout Kiribati you will find superb white sandy beaches and crystal clear lagoons ideal for swimming and snorkelling. Tarawa Lagoon however is heavily polluted, with open pit dumping and lagoon latrines. The extent of the pollution is such that even nearby ground water supplies are at risk of contamination.
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