Off the Beaten Track – Kiribati

Kiribati – one of the least visited countries in the world, less than 5,000 tourists a year!!!!  It definitely felt like it as only 8 of us got off the plane and everyone else was an aid worker.

Just to clear up the obvious – it is pronounced Kiribass….  the ‘ti’ is pronounced as ‘ss’, so the Kiritimati part is pronounced almost exactly like Christmas (as that was what it was called when the anglos colonised it).

Kiribati has a land mass of 811 square  kms, spread out over 3.5 million square kms of ocean.  And that land mass is likely to be under water in the next 30 years.  The government apparently have bought some land in Fiji for when that might happen, but no-one wants to go!

So Kiribati is picture perfect, so much so that the Huffington post wrote an article about how beautiful it is.  However, i question whether the reporter has ever been to Tarawa Atoll!  Yes it is beautiful, the lagoon is stunning!  but you can’t swim in it under any circumstances, at least not any where near anyone lives.  Why?  very few people in Tarawa have running water, let alone a flushing toilet, so the lagoon is basically one large, exceptionally pretty, open sewer!  Everyone craps on the beach and then it floats out to sea.  I have never been anywhere so nice and not gone in the water, especially in 35 degree heat with 80% humidity.   Kiribati is really really poor!

I stayed in Tarawa for a 6 days, due entirely to the vagaries of flight timetables.  There just aren’t that many people coming and going to justify much traffic.  The people were lovely, and I met almost every foreigner on the island and probably half the locals, so if you feel like it you could just sit in Bairiki square and chat to the people going by.  If you want some other things to do, here is my list:

Attend all the events associated with domestic violence week

Not kidding!  Kiribati apparently has the highest rates of domestic homicide in the world!  Really!  I met three NZ policeman who visited twice a year to work with the local police and they told me that if you were a Kiribati woman it was a very common way to die.  They also told me under no circumstances to leave the motel after dark.  They were confident I would be fine wandering anywhere during day light, but that the local guys were insensible once drinking, and drinking started promptly at 6.30pm when the sun went down.   Given it was such a big deal there was a four day event at the local police station where local kids sang, weird middle aged guys did karaoke, someone else did a home made rap, and some kids acted out what looked like a play about violence in the home.  I didn’t understand anything that was going on, but there was genuinely nothing else to do, so I hung out and watched.  The highlight was these young boys doing a local dance

Local Dance
Local Dance
Kids doing Gangnam Kiribati style
Kids doing Gangnam Kiribati style
see the guns at betio

Its an easy walk from Bairiki across the causeway to Betio (pronounced Besso).  Betio has some ruined guns and bunkers from WW2 (things were pretty ugly here at that time) and if you look carefully you can find them falling apart on the beaches.  Betio is probably the poorest and most densely populated part of Tarawa, but I felt very safe wandering around.

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go fishing or head out to the Northern atolls

I tried to go fishing or at least head out on a boat to the North island!  Renting a boat was going to cost $300 and as I was by myself it isn’t worth it.  You can also take a ferry, but I took one look at the ferry and didn’t fancy it – a combination of questionable seaworthiness, amazing over-crowding and no shelter from the sun.   I don’t dive, but if you do, I suspect the outer islands would be paradise

Visit parliament

Not really!  but the building was quite interesting

Parliament building
Parliament building
GO running

I ran every day! Option 1 is the causeway, but take care as the drivers don’t give a crap about you, and they have to veer all over the road to avoid the potholes.  I didn’t take it personally as size matters – the trucks pushed the vans off the road, the vans did it to the cars, the cars pushing the motorbikes off the road and everyone trampled over me.  You also suck in a lot of dust on the causeway.

Causeway between Betio and Bairiki
Causeway between Betio and Bairiki


Option 2 is the ‘stadium’, which is a pot holed asphalted track.  I would recommend Option 2 as it is quite entertaining in the late afternoon.  The local guys gather to play football in the middle of the stadium and the women all play a pretty fierce volleyball.  Once night the local running club ran with me (or ran past me), most of them were shoeless, but we managed to get some good sprint intervals in.

The Olympic Stadium of Kiribati
Additional tips
  • Stay at Mary’s, eat at Marys.  If you have a car, stay somewhere else and then eat at Mary’s.  Everyone ate at Mary’s every day, there isn’t really anywhere else between Betio and the airport to go.  They were nice to me and got me fresh fish and steamed veg every days as I couldn’t bear the battery chicken and the fried rice.  Note that the steamed veg consists mostly of cabbage.  On a good day you might get some frozen carrots and corn.   I did try to go to the grocery store to top up on vegetables and fruit, but there wasn’t really anything that wasn’t rotten.  Honest!
  • When you leave, you ‘clear immigration’ and then go outside again to wait.  There is a spectacular banana cake for sale at one of the huts selling coffee across the car park.  Ok, well spectacular might be pushing it a bit far, but I hadn’t had any cake fore weeks.
  • I walked everywhere, clocking up 20-25 k per day.  I tried to rent a bike but no-one had any.  I suspect there is a taxi service.  There were local buses too….
  • For some ideas check out, but don’t expect any of the tourism operators to actually help you.  I tried to book stuff but no-one was interested
  • You can get there with Air Nauru (connecting through to the Marshalls and Pohnpei, from Nauru and Brisbane) and Fiji Airways

Visited November 2015

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