Kiribati (pronounced kee-ree-bus) is a collection of coral atolls lying just east of the date line and just south of the equator. While Western hands have had their sphere of influence, Kiribati is yet to be overrun by tourists and has managed to maintain traditional aspects of its culture. The result is a unique holiday for those few travellers who head to Kiribati. This is certainly not the place to expect a brilliant package tour: part of the adventure of Kiribati is that you have to get out there and arrange your own activities. But with a wealth of WWII relics dotting the islands and an abundance of aquatic beauty to enjoy, it shouldn't be too hard finding things to do.
The islands that make up Kiribati were inhabited from 3,000 B.C. onwards. The first sighting of Europeans came in the 18th century. From the early 19th century the islands were visited regularly by merchants, whalers and slave traders. The first settlers arrived here in 1837. In 1916 the Gilbert Islands and the Ellice Island became a British protectorate under the name of the crown colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in 1916. Kiritimati was included in the crown colony in 1919 and the Phoenix Islands were added in 1937.
During World War II some of the atolls were occupied by Japan, and in 1943 a bloody battle was fought to liberate Tarawa. A battle that took place near to the former capital of Kiribati: Betio. During the process of gaining independence the Ellice Islands separated in 1975 to form the country of Tuvalu. The Gilbert Islands gained independence on the 12th of July 1979, and named itself Kiribati. In 1999 Kiribati became a member of the United Nations. In the near future Kiribati will be one of the first countries to feel the effects of global warming.
Kiribati consists of 32 atolls and one island scattered over all four hemispheres in an expanse of ocean equivalent in size to the continental United States. The islands lie roughly halfway between Hawaii and Australia in the Micronesian region of the South Pacific. The three main island groupings are the Gilbert Islands, Phoenix Islands, and Line Islands. On 1 January 1995 Kiribati moved the International Date Line to include its easternmost islands and make it the same day throughout the country. Kiribati includes Kiritimati (Christmas Atoll; in the Line Islands), the largest coral atoll (in terms of land area, not dimensions) in the world, and Banaba (Ocean Island), one of the three great phosphate rock islands in the Pacific. Most of the land on these islands is less than two metres above sea level. A 1989 United Nations report identified Kiribati as one of the countries that could completely disappear in the 21st century if steps are not taken to address global climate change. Owing to a population growth rate of more than 2% and the overcrowding around the capital of South Tarawa, a program of migration was begun in 1989 to move nearly 5,000 inhabitants to outlying atolls, mainly in the Line Islands. A program of resettlement to the mostly uninhabited Phoenix Islands was begun in 1995.
Kiribati can be divided into three groups of islands.
The largest of the atolls, and the largest atoll in the world is Kiritimati, also known as Christmas Island. The island is situated in the northern part of the Line Islands. Another island not included in those groups is Banaba, an isolated island between Nauru and the Gilbert Islands.
Abaiang which basically means north land is the most easily accessed of the outer islands. Still, like many island of Kiribati it offers a fantastci remote experience. For example, children shout a mauri to an I-Matang (white person) and women can be seen weaving thatch or salting clams to send to Tarawa. Activities include a bit of hiking or biking towards the Catholic church, which has rainbow-coloured window frames. It is a 15-minute plane ride or a 4-hour boat ride from Tarawa.
Abemama almost became the capital of Kiribati after WWII when the islands were still called the Gilbert Islands. In the end though, Tarawa won out because of the easier access through its surrounding reef. The island has its own royal family and apart from culture, there is nature to explore as well. For example a meeting with a rare species of tiny yellow 'barking' frog, which probably was introduced from Tuvalu to prevent the mosquito population growing to fast. In 1889, famous Robert Louis Stevenson dropped by and the British placed the Kingdom of Abemama under their protection in 1892, and it was declared a Crown Colony in 1911.
Another, Butaritari is one of the Outer Gilbert Islands and is in fact the greenest island of Kiribati. You can see breadfruit, coconut, pandanus and other fruit-bearing trees flourishing on its rich soils. Apart from nature, Butaritari also has something to offer for fans of culture and history: there is a lopsided wreckage of a Japanese seaplane near Butaritari village.
Kiribati is the first country in the world to welcome in the New Year, albeit at the Line Islands, and events go off nationwide. All bars and guesthouses have something going on, along with traditional celebrations at the local maneaba (meeting house).
This is the main event on the Kiribati social calendar, celebrating the day the Gilbert Islands gained independence from Great Britain in July of 1979. Though the holiday officially takes place on July 12, the festivities last for several days, starting around the 9th. South Tarawa sees most of the action, including obligatory canoe races, kite-flying and traditional dance, along with wrestling, rugby and other sports ventures.
August 4 sees the forward-thinking government focus its energy on the Kiribati youth, with the promise of better opportunities through various workshops and programs. Churches and meeting houses see most activity.
Locals attend church followed by much eating, gift-giving and merriment, just like they do back home. In Kiribati, however, there’s also choir singing, dancing, canoe racing, and a myriad of other sports right up until New Year. Locals also go camping in Taiwan Park and visit nearby islands.
A huge event in Kiribati due to its position in the world, this island nation is the first place to countdown the New Year. There are low-key parties on the beaches and in the towns, while all expat bars and guesthouses put on special events.
This is a popular event among expats in South Tarawa, with a monthly competition and weight-ins at Captains Bar in Betio to see the biggest catches.
Kiribati folk music and dance is unique to the region, with chanting accompanied by body percussion and guitar, while dance is typically bird-like with costumed performers. Maneaba have music and dance nightly in-season.
The islands of Kiribati enjoy a pleasantly warm, but humid tropical climate. Daytime temperatures hoover around 30 °C yearround with little variation throughout the year. Nights are still pleasantly warm and generally above 20 °C. The wetter period lasts from December to May and concentrates more on the northern part of the island chain. Trade winds blow from March to October. The most pleasant time, weatherwise, is from May to September. Tropical storms can hit the islands during the wet season, but are rarely a reason not to visit the islands during this time, although the humidity and heath combined with the absence of tradewinds from December to March makes this a slightly less pleasant time to visit.
Kiribati has two international airports, Bonriki International Airport (TRW) on Tarawa and Cassidy International Airport (CXI) on Kiritimati (Christmas Island).
Supply ships might visit Fiji and Tuvalu occasionally. Contact Kiribati Shipping Services Ltd ([email protected]) for prices and information about any planned departures to Tuvalu and Fiji. Otherwise, a yacht is the way to go with the islands of Tarawa, Christmas and Fanning having formal harbors.
Air Kiribati, the national airline provides regular services to most of the major islands from Bonriki International Airport (TRW) on Tarawa. The airline currently operates two aircraft, a CASA C-212-200 and a Harbin Y-12 II 
It is possible to rent a car in Kiribati, providing you are aged over 17 years old and have a valid overseas driving license. Be aware that driving is on the left in Kiribati and the speed limit is 40 km/h in the towns and up to 60 km/h on the highways.
You can try the following rental agencies.
Privately owned buses provide a cheap and efficient way to get from the airport to the main centres on South Tarawa. Flag one down on the main road and get off at any point. Shout out "I-Kai" to let them know you want to get off. If they sound their horn when you are trying to get a ride, it means they are full.
Most of the outer Gilberts are serviced by supply ships from Tarawa every month or two, and ships go occasionally from Tarawa to Christmas Island (Kiritimati), and the Fanning and Washington Islands. There is a regular boat from Tarawa to Abaiang the nearest of the outer Gilbert Islands.
Nationals and citizens of the following countries are exempted from obtaining a visa before entering Kiribati where the intended duration of their stay is 30 days or less: Belize, Federated States of Micronesia, Macao (only in respect of holders of Macao Special Administrative Region Passports), Marshall Islands, Palau, Republic of China (Taiwan), Republic of South Korea.
Nationals and citizens of the following countries specified are exempted from obtaining a visa before entering Kiribati:
Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Cook Islands, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Grenada, Greece, Hong Kong (only in respect of holders of British Nationals Overseas passports and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passports), Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Lesotho, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta,Mauritius, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niue, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Bahamas, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, United Kingdom Overseas Territories of (Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos Islands), United States of America, Vanuatu, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
There are honorary consulates in Rose Bay (near Sydney), NSW, Australia; Honolulu, USA; Suva, Fiji; Hamburg, Germany; Tokyo, Japan; Seoul, Korea; Auckland, New Zealand; and London, United Kingdom. Also, visas may be obtained by writing the Principal Immigration Officer, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, P.O. Box 68, Bairiki, Tarawa, KIRIBATI (Central Pacific). Caution: Do not apply directly to Tarawa within a couple months or so of your departure date, or when you need your passport elsewhere. Usually, it's best to inquire at the nearest consulate abroad. There's no requirement that you be a resident of the same country that the consulate is located in.
See also Money Matters
Kiribati uses the Australian Dollar (AUD). Australian Dollar notes come in $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 and coins come in 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, $1 and $2.
With very high unemployment, it is unlikely that foreigners will be allowed any work unless they have needed skills not otherwise available. Aid agencies are active in Kiribati and undertake a range of volunteer and contracting programs.
English is the official language of Kiribati along with the native I-Kiribati. While English is used heavily in South Tarawa the further away from the capital you go the stronger the I-Kiribati tongue. Most people on Kiritimati Island have some English. Nearly all Kiribatians also speak the local language Gilbertese, derived from the name of the Gilbert Islands named after Thomas Gilbert, the first European to discover the islands.
It is an Austronesian language. The roman alphabet is used, but note that the pronunciation of some letters is not necessarily the same as in English. There is no 's' in Gilbertese. Instead, the combination 'ti' is used. So Kiribati is actually pronounced "Kiribas" and Kiritimati is pronounced "Kirismas" (Christmas Island).
There are several dialects of the language, the two main ones being Northern Gilbertese and Southern Gilbertese. The primary differeces are in pronunciation.
The variety of food on Kiribati is limited. If a shipment of imported food has just come in, buy it now, as it won't last long! The variety and amount is increasing and improving all the time as is the number of supply boats that arrive.
While Western style products will always be slightly limited you will find that the basics are generally available. Fruit and vegetables availability is limited.
The staple diet of the I-Kiribati is fish and rice and this is reflected in many of the eating outlets on Tarawa. It is worthwhile trying the local sashimi which is supplied straight from the ocean to your plate.
Western-style meals are best found at the two hotels: Marys and the Otintaai. There is also a variety of Chinese restaurants.
The range of accommodation in Kiribati varies depending on which part of the country you are in.
The two main hotels on South Tarawa are Marys Motel and the government owned Otintaai Hotel. Both offer motel style accommodation each with a restaurant and air-conditioning. They are located at different ends of South Tarawa and the decision on where to stay is usually made based on your activities while you are in South Tarawa. There are also a variety of other smaller properties scattered throughout South Tarawa. These hotels can get very busy throughout the year so it is advisable to book ahead.
A visit to North Tarawa is the easiest and most convenient way to experience village life in Kiribati. North Tarawa offers a number of guesthouses and traditional style accommodation. Tabon te Keekee is the closest option, offering traditional Kiribati accommodation in an I-Kiribati family environment. Located at Abatao it is only 10-15 minutes north of the airport. Biketawa Islet, run by the Otintaai Hotel, offers traditional kia kia accommodation. Run in a similar fashion to a retreat meals and sleeping equipment can be arranged, along with boat transfers.
A council guesthouse is located at Abaokoro.
The Outer Islands are the essence of Kiribati and not enough people make the time and effort to visit these remote islands. Each has a distinctive culture and story to tell of its history. Each of the outer islands of the Gilbert Group have, at the least, a council guesthouse. Standards vary across the group however they are usual a mix of the local style houses known as Kia Kia’s and an open style guest rooms. Each guesthouse usually has a communal living area where meals are served and the cost is approximately AUD30 per night including 3 meals a day.
The facilities available vary from island to island, however they are located in isolated communities and expectations should be altered accordingly. Electricity will usually be supplied in the evening and throughout the night. Food will mainly be based on the local fare and it is recommended that you take anything additional you may need. It is also recommended that fresh drinking water is taken. Most guesthouses are perfectly located on the beach or causeway and a lovely spot to stay easy for swimming and exploring. These guesthouses are run by the Island Councils and it is one of the very few ways the council earn revenue. Each council will normally have a truck and driver that you will be able to hire to help you discover the island. Alternatively many of the locals will be keen to hire out the motorcycles and scooters to you.
This world renowned bone fishing destination has a variety of fishing lodges, guesthouses, and motels to choose from. Accommodation is usually booked in 7 night packages and each lodge will have the services of a fishing guide to assist you in your expeditions. The lodges are geared around fishermen and schedule meals and activities around your fishing day. Meals are usually included in the price.
The local drink is toddy made from the sap of a coconut tree. This sweet toddy can then be fermented for a couple of days into the alcoholic sour toddy that is favoured by locals. The original sweet toddy can also be cooked into a syrup called Kamaimai. The Kamaimai can then be drizzled on sweet buns or ice cream.
Kava is also easily found throughout Kiribati with a large number of Kava bars appearing throughout Tarawa.
The two main bars in Tarawa are Captains Bar in Betio and the Lagoon Club in Ambo. Friday nights at the Otintaai is dance night. Supply of wine and spirits is limited, however there is a good supply of beer which is always cold.
There is a single night club in Tarawa called the Midtown which is open till late.
Alcohol is not sold on a number of Outer Island in the Gilbert group.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Kiribati. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Kiribati) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Kiribati. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid. Vaccination against hepatitis B is also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
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.
Normal common sense applies when moving around.
Some care should be taken on the roads as the traffic can include pigs, children, dogs and buses all fighting for road space.
See also International Telephone Calls
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