Off the Beaten Track – Nauru

Visiting Nauru was a bit challenging and conflicting.  Challenging as the flight was outrageously priced on the monopoly airline carrier and it took me 47 emails to the consulate in Brisbane to get permission to travel.  Conflicting as I am deeply troubled by the Australian governments approach to ‘outsourcing’ their ‘refugee problem’ to the pacific.   (For those of you who are not familiar with the refugee camps Australia has opened and funded in Nauru, the Guardian has decent coverage of the events and issues

It started off well!  At the check in counter, the conversation went like this….
A: Why are you going to Nauru?
M: I’m a tourist
A: They don’t have tourists, are you one of those crazy people that are trying to visit every country in the world?
M: Yes, how did you know?
A: Well you weirdos trying to tick off all the countries are the only ‘tourists’ who visit Nauru as there is nothing to see!
The old phosphate mine - which created all of the islands historical wealth
The old phosphate mine – which created all of the islands historical wealth

Hmmm, ok.   Went to the boarding gate and was surprised to be surrounded by at least a hundred buff tattooed ozzies and kiwis in shorts and jandals.   I got chatting to a few of them (they were friendly even though burly), and they were all working on Nauru.  It was considered a major hardship assignment (worse than Coober Pedy for those of you who know where that is), and they were all dreading going back.    Curiously, when I boarded, there were only six female passengers on the plane – and we were all seated together in the same row.  I asked the attendant why this was, and apparently they had had a few problems with other passengers being a bit drunk and harassing women on this flight before so they put us together for our safety.  To clarify, it was 7am! and in Australia!  I can’t imagine being worried about serious harassment from an Australian at any hour, let alone 7am on a plane surrounded by people.  And the guys all seemed to be polite!  But I guess there must be some history there…..,   Nothing to report on our flight, though I had braced myself for some entertainment 🙂

Landed in Nauru, and was told by the immigration official that I had to go sort out my visa but the hotel would help.  Of course the hotel shuttle wasn’t there.   O2 didn’t roam in Nauru, but one of the Ozzies called the hotel for me and an hour later Jasmine showed up.   “Sorting the visa out’ required visiting the visa office (a non air-conditioned shipping container) to fill out a form, then going into town to pay a fee at the revenue department and then back to the shipping container.   Two hours later I arrived at the ‘glamourous’ Hotel Menen – the best and most expensive hotel on the Island.  Fortunately I had been warned by my fellow adventurer Evelthon, that the Menen was minging and I wouldn’t want to sleep in the sheets or walk on the floor barefoot.  He was right!  The water didn’t  work half the time (so no toilet flushing or showering!), the hallways smelled like cooked piss, and I got a rash sleeping in the bed (even though I slept in my clothes).

Eroded Phosphate on the beach
Eroded Phosphate on the beach

Fortunately forewarned, I had packed enough food for three days (berries, vegetables, eggs, dehydrated couscous, salami), as had been told the food on the island was dire.   Having seen the cleanliness of the room there was no way I wanted to eat anything out of the kitchen.  Nauru probably doesn’t make it into global stats given the population size of under 10,000 but I would bet that this is the most obese nation in the world (and I have been to Tonga and Texas).  The diet consists of spam, fried chicken and fried rice!   Without a hint of sarcasm, I have never seen motor scooters working so hard to support the weight of the drivers.

the pentecostal church!
the pentecostal church!

I set out to tour the island.  Inspired by a post I read on Gunnar Garfors blog (, I decided to run around the island – it is only 16km to circumnavigate the whole country.  That was a hoot!  I didn’t get to run uninterrupted for long as the locals kept stopping their scooters to ask if I was ok.  “Girl, what you running from????”.   And I wasn’t running that fast in 30 degree heat with 80% humidity.  I don’t think running is much of a local sport.  There isn’t really much to see on the island, but the remnants of the phosphate mine are interesting, and the rock formations from the erosion on the beaches were also pretty cool.

Possibly one of my favourite store names ever
Possibly one of my favourite store names ever
I also managed to chat to a bunch of people on my slow run around the island.  The refugees I met were universally friendly, but desperate to be anywhere else.  They were mostly concerned about the quality of healthcare and education available to their kids locally.  Apparently the refugee camp school had been terrific, but due to funding cuts it was closed, and now their kids had to go to the local school which apparently didn’t have flushing loos.
The locals I met were friendly too, though they hated the refugees and wanted them to leave.  The common concern was that the men were stealing their wives!  I was too polite to ask how they thought Nauru would survive without the Australian aid provided for the camps, as the government had blown the billions of dollars that Nauru once had from phosphate (at one time Nauru had the highest wealth per capita in the world).  Curiously, most of the locals had never left Nauru and had no desire to…… and they thought I was odd to be travelling at all….
And the Australians, well most of them really didn’t wanted to be there either, and I couldn’t blame them.
However, every single person I met was friendly, albeit with very strong and opposing view points.
It was interesting!   Am not sure I would go again, but it was certainly a thought provoking trip.
Additional tips
  • Yes you kind of have to stay at the Menen as there is nowhere else.  You will be ripped off to the tune of AUD 150 per night, and the hotel is always full of aid workers so book ahead
  • Take food with you!!!!  there is a fridge and a kettle in the hotel, so I boiled eggs and steamed veg in the kettle.
  • Transport is non existent but hitching is easy.  I wanted a ride to the airport the day I left and the hotel were faffing about.  So, I asked the first person I saw checking out for a ride and of course he said yes.  (happened to be the pilot for my flight, so I felt like I was in business class getting a free limo to the airport)
  • If you want to go for a swim, pretty much everyone swims at the harbour at Anibare as the beaches are too shallow and rocky.  It is a short walk north of the Menen
Anibare - the best swimming spot
Anibare – the best swimming spot
Visited November 2015