Difference between revisions of "Kiribati"
Revision as of 17:12, 6 September 2007
Kiribati ( pronounced Kiri-bass) is an island group in Micronesia straddling the equator and, until 1995, the International Date Line. Kiribati's 33 atolls, with a total area of only 811 km², are scattered over an area of 3.5 million km². Kiribati saw some of the worst fighting of the Pacific theatre during the Second World War, including the infamous Battle of Tarawa.
Kiribati is most emphatically not another Tahiti, Hawaii, etc. where you can go to relax and have nothing to worry about. It has few visitors, and they have to be prepared to "rough it." That said, there aren't many countries where the people are more friendly. South Tarawa is one of the most densely populated, severely poverty-stricken places in the world. Other islands have far fewer people, but getting to them can be difficult, and conditions are even more primitive.
Except for the isolated Banaba (Ocean Island - 6 km², pop.~300), all the main islands are in one of three groups: the Gilbert Islands, the Line Islands, and the Phoenix Islands.
The Gilbert Islands are all in the UTC+12 time zone.
Eight of the eleven Line Islands atolls belong to Kiribati and are in the UTC+14 time zone, the easternmost zone currently in use anywhere in the world, making them the first places on Earth to start each new calendar day. The other three (all uninhabited) are U.S. dependencies.
The Central Line Islands, Southern Line Islands, and the Phoenix Islands are all uninhabited except for Abariringa (Phoenix group, pop.~40 and falling), and also includes two submerged coral reefs - Winslow Reef and Carondelet Reef . The Phoenix Islands are sometimes geographically amalgamated with Baker Island and Howland Island further north, both of which are uninhabited U.S. dependencies.
Kiribati was inhabited for 2000 years prior to European contact. Under British colonial rule, it was known as the Gilbert Islands. Kiribati was granted self-rule by the UK in 1971 and complete independence in 1979. The US relinquished all claims to the sparsely inhabited Phoenix and Line Island groups in a 1979 treaty of friendship with Kiribati. The name "Kiribati" is pronounced "Kiri-bass", which is the closest local equivalent to "Gilberts".
The Phoenix and Line Islands were generally held to be on the east side of the International Date Line and are in different time zones from the Gilbert Islands group, but on 1 January 1995, Kiribati proclaimed that all of its territory was on the same calendar day (skipping 31 December 1994 in those island groups), effectively extending the Date Line further eastward to accommodate this. This makes the Line Islands the farthest "ahead" of any territory on the planet; they were the first to celebrate the coming of the year 2000.
In 1995 Kiribati suspended diplomatic relations with France to protest the latter's decision to resume nuclear testing on Muraroa Atoll. In 1999 the government claimed that two atolls had been lost due to sea level rise and subsequently, in 2002, joined with Tuvalu and the Maldives to take legal action against the US for refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol.
The presence of gun emplacements and ship wrecks from WWII battles makes shipwreck diving a common tourist activity.
Whoever coined the phrase, "It's not the heat, it's the humidity" may have had Kiribati in mind. Actually, the average high temperatures are quite reasonable compared to other well-known places in the tropics (such as Bangkok, Singapore, Manila, etc.). But the humidity more than makes up for this, making it feel very sauna-like. The wet season varies, but is usually December to March, give or take a month.
If through tickets are too expensive, get to Fiji anyway you can and go from there. On the other hand, if you've got thousands to spend and extra time, see how a Round the world fare on OneWorld compares with the fare to Tarawa on Air Pacific, and include this on your itinerary.
Air Pacific  has two weekly non-stop flights (3 hrs) from Nadi, Fiji with connections from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, and the United States including Honolulu (with codeshares on American Airlines, and possibly other ONEWORLD members). If using another airline to get to Fiji, be certain it lands in Nadi and not Suva (unless you're staying a while and can get to other side of the island).
Our Airline  (formerly Air Nauru) offers once a week (around Thursday and Friday) service to Tarawa from neighbouring island countries. Due to airline service cutbacks, the only way of getting there is via Brisbane, Australia with stops in Honiara (Solomon Islands), and Nauru. Flights via the Marshall Islands and Fiji on Our Airline have been suspended. It's unclear whether service to Majuro, Marshall Islands will be restored soon. If you must travel from this direction, try calling their agent in Majuro for updates at (692) 625-6109 or 625-3731.
English is an official language of the islands, and is widely spoken. The native I-Kiribati language may be useful in more remote locations, however.
The variety of food on Kiribati is extremely limited. If a shipment of imported food has just come in, buy it now, as it won't last long!
Accommodations in Kiribati are limited, but there are some basic hotels on South Tarawa. A few have A/C with a generator during blackouts, and the rest have fans. North Tarawa has one guesthouse, and Kiritimati (Christmas Island) also has accommodations for visitors.
With very high unemployment, it is unlikely that foreigners will be allowed any work unless they have needed skills not otherwise available. The U.S. Peace Corps is active in Kiribati, though, and sometimes volunteers with skills are sought.
Kiribati is generally a safe place to travel. However, it may be risky to be outside after dark in Beito or along the beach in South Tarawa, especially for single females. However, virtually all problems are caused by drunk males, not career criminals.
Don't drink the water without boiling or filtering it. The lagoon (especially around Beito) is heavily contaminated. Always ask first before going out in the water at each location on South Tarawa. This is a good idea on other islands too. Get a hepatitis A shot, and be up-to-date on all your other vaccinations, preferably several weeks beforehand. Mosquitos can be bad at times, so use repellent. Be sure to bring your own insect repellent and sunscreen, as these are not available locally. There's no malaria, but dengue fever outbreaks do sometimes occur. The fish caught locally may give you food posioning (ciguatera), so be extra careful. Ciguatera is not preventable by cooking or freezing fish.