Today we go off the map once again! We woke up nice and early this morning in Nadi, Fiji at 4:45am.
From there we would make our 07:30am 30-minute flight from Nadi to Suva. There the plan would be to disembark, check-in, stamp out of Fiji, and reboard the same plane for a 2.5 hour flight to Funafuti, Tuvalu. This very flight itinerary (Nadi-Suva-Funafuti) via Fiji Airways is actually one of the only ways into Tuvalu, thus making the country one of the least visited places in the world.
If you never heard of it before, Tuvalu oversees of a series of islands once part of a British colony known as The Gilbert and Elise Islands. However, ethnic differences led the Polynesians of the Elise Islands to vote for separation from the Micronesians of the Gilbert Islands, now known as Kiribati. In turn, the Elise Islands became known as Tuvalu where independence was eventually declared in 1978. Tuvalu also served as a base of operations for the U.S. forces during World War 2 when they took on the Japanese in Kiribati.
When disembarking in Suva, we encountered what perhaps is the world’s smallest baggage claims carousel.
During our 20 minutes at Suva’s airport, which is a far cry from the beautiful airport at Nadi (even though Suva is the capital city), we quickly checked into our flight for Tuvalu, stamped our passports out of Fiji, and boarded the very same aircraft for our 8:30am flight from Suva to Tuvalu. No surprises here.
I totally passed out for the next 3 hours on the flight before waking up at Funafuti International Airport.
As flights come in so infrequently at 3 times a week, they don’t have carousels for their baggage claims and “immigrations” is a simple counter just to the left:
Its capital, Funafuti, boasts a population of 6000 people.
The island’s only hotel is run by the government and was formerly known as the Viaaku Lagi Hotel (now renamed the Funafuti Lagoon Hotel). It conveniently is located only a 50 meter (aka literally across the street from arrivals) walk from the airport.
For those of you who need an idea of what to prepare for there are no ATMs, no credit cards and no currently working WiFi anywhere on the island. If you really need to connect to the internet, you have to either buy a SIM card at the Telekom office across the street from the airport or pay to connect to the nationwide WiFi (Telekom’s TTC Supawifi). However, the latter was not working at the time of posting — we all learned this hard way when we bought and returned our WiFi voucher codes within minutes because we couldn’t log in. Our hotel also lack WiFi.
Therefore the only way I was able to get online was either buying a WiFi hotspot off a Telekom employee for $50 AUD and add data at $20 AUD per 1.5GB, or tethering to someone’s phone with a compatible SIM card (my iPhone was new and not jailbroken, so I was unable to get internet myself).
Thus accepting our fate in that most of us would be truly unplugged for 3 whole days (haven’t had this experience since Cuba, Antarctica, or North Korea!), we sported an early lunch before beginning our adventures, heading out with our local guide for a driving city tour.
We first checked out the only remnant of World War II on the island, which is a burnt out tractor from the United States:
We also walked (or breakdanced) coast to coast within seconds in the narrowest part of Funafuti:
If you have a group, you can link arms to span the width of an entire country!
We drove further north to visit the Tuvalu dumpsite, paid for by the EU.
Then we cam across a fresh shipwreck, abandoned for the past 2 years.
Theres a rope over the side where you can climb up and do some exploration.
Climb to the very top of the satellite tower for some great views!
Because flights come so infrequently at only 3 planes a week, we returned to the airport to walk along an unguarded runway.
And then finally, we walked a few minutes to the southern end of the country, where it felt like I was staring literally at the edge of our planet:
These 180º panoramas looking both away from and towards Funfafuti may do the surreal atmosphere here better justice:
After our 2 hour city tour, we returned to the hotel to freshen up again before crashing a 21st birthday celebration taking place there. The birthday boy looked bored so we did our best to cheer him up. We also got free cake!
Not a lot was happening the next morning, so I wandered around the island for an hour.
And being that it was a Sunday, I stopped by various churches that were holding services.
The airport is completely shuttered on the off days when there are no flights, so I wandered back onto the runway and an otherwise abandoned airport terminal
Like Nauru, there are are a disproportionate number of Chinese restaurants on the island:
And some of us afterwards went in for a dip at the beach next to the hotel while others rented scooters and motorbikes to ride around.
For dinner we coordinated a private dinner with the island’s only coffee shop, with a fantastic feast of raw fish, cooked fish, and chicken prepared by a local native who had spent time in New Zealand and Australia. She became our best friend for the next 2 days.
After breakfast on our 3rd day in Funafuti, some of us headed over to the Philatelic Bureau, famous for where you can buy unique stamps and send people postcards from the edge of the world.
Photos of their stamps are not allowed, but they enforce this rule occasionally.
Afterwards we we rented 2 boats for a bit of island hopping.
We sailed for about 45 minutes before picking this uninhabited one:
So we thus spent a few hours having a whole island paradise to ourselves.
We returned in the afternoon, where a few of us arranged a 3pm meeting with the ambassador to Taiwan . . .
… and others tried to get on the “Wall of Shame” at the only beer garden in town.
Finally for our last official night of the trip, we were once again hosted by the people we had met at the coffee shop yesterday for a nighttime beachside BBQ. Fittingly, this was the best meal of the trip.
And to round off 3 weeks in the remote edge of the globe, we were treated to a wonderful local Tuvaluan dance before we headed to bed.
Tomorrow we catch a 12pm flight back to Fiji, this time to the capital city of Suva, where we’ll finally have our first bonafide connection to the outside world in nearly a week!
After breakfast and our last morning in Tuvalu we walked conveniently across the street 2 minutes over to the airport to check into our 12:20 flight back to Fiji, but this time to the capital city – Suva.
No computers here, but rather tickets are handwritten:
The great thing about the airport in Tuvalu is that after we checked in, we returned back across the street to the hotel and waited to board.
Because the runway is essentially another busy city intersection during most of the week, there’s a siren that alerts to incoming aircraft here!
The views during the 2.5 hour flight from Tuvalu to Fiji are pretty out of this world:
– At time of posting in Funafuti, Tuvalu, it was 82.4 °F – Humidity: 83% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear