All good things must come to an end in Tuvalu! After breakfast we walked 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 walked back across the street to our hotel and waited there before boarding.
Because the runway is essentially another busy city intersection for most of the week, there’s an actual 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:
After landing in Suva, we transferred to Southern Cross Hotel in the city center where we began to say our goodbyes. Those of us left enjoyed our last dinner together upstairs at the local Korean Restaurant.
We had planned to go out for a final hurrah, but after 3 weeks of constant Pacific Island hopping and another monsoon to lead in 2 days, it was time to turn in early for my 10am flight to Auckland. To the next monsoon!
- At time of posting in Suva, Fiji, it was 27 °C -
Humidity: 68% | Wind Speed: 16km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
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 countryone 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 WiFianywhere 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 . . .
Photo Credit: Alistair Riddell
… 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 28 °C -
Humidity: 83% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
After delivering our postcards via the world’s only underwater post office in Vanuatu, we then headed to the airport for the our 2-hour 4:00pm flight to Nadi on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu. There we said our thanks and goodbyes to our guide and now 5-time monsooner, Melissa Weinmann. You were awesome!
This is when things turned into a comedy of errors. First we had an issue with checking-in as we had to rebook nearly everyone’s tickets at the last minute given a miscommunication over whether someone in the group had cancelled a few weeks back. Eventually we got on our flight with not a minute to spare, although a few of us did take a quick peek at the Business Class lounge with our Priority Passes.
On our Fiji Airways flight to Fiji, we were served complementary Fiji Water!
It’s the battle of the local water!
Because of the 2 hour time difference between Vanuatu and Fiji, we arrived in their “evening” at 7pm. Already missing the sunshine of Vanuatu, we were greeted instead by torrential rainstorm in Fiji.
Then another issue occurred with checking into our accommodations; after nearly 20 minutes trying to prevent the group from being scattered about in our lodgings, we finally settled in with drinks and dinner at our hostel.
The next morning after breakfast, we took a city tour of Nadi beginning with the Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple in Nadi — the largest Hindu house of worship in the South Pacific.
After 15 minutes here and a brief, free tour, we made a quick pit stop to buy souvenir’s at Jack’s before driving about 20 minutes over to visit the Nadi Garden of the Sleeping Giant.
It is the former garden of the actor Raymond Burr of Perry Mason and Ironside fame.
We then had a quick lunch at local fast food joint Crest Chicken, we drove 30 minutes through a rainstorm (while playing the music to Indiana Jones in the background) to Natidola Beach where we made ourselves welcome at the number of resorts and beaches in the area.
We finally finished off with a Korean BBQ dinner!
- At time of posting in Nadi, Fiji, it was 29 °C -
Humidity: 62% | Wind Speed: 21km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
I know it’s quite a stretch of a pun, but my blogpost title is meant to be read out loud!
The world's only underwater post office
Let’s begin. After 2 days in The Solomon Islands, we headed boarded a 3:05pm flight out for Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu.
That little island is where we're staying!
From the airport we hailed buses to take us to Mele Road. If you’re curious on how public transportation works here, you’ll need to flag down a bus marked by a red letter “B” on its license plate (it works like glorified hitchhiking) and direct it to where you want to go for a base fare of 150vt.
From Mele Road we took the 5 minute ferry that runs 24/7 to Hideaway Island Resort on Imere Island, the ancestral home of the Mele people.
True paradise — we finally checked into our first beach bungalows of the trip!
Just in time for sunset:
And this is what it looks like when I step outside my bungalow:
After freshening up for an hour and meeting up with my college friend Ana who had arrived here a few hours earlier, my longtime monsooner Melissa Weinmann took over as our local guide in Port Vila. I had promised her 2 years ago I would visit in Vanuatu when she joined the Peace Corps here — Promise has been fulfilled!
At 7pm we headed back to the mainland for our first taste at kava: a local plant in the Pacific ground up into an herbal remedy/drink long used to relieve anxiety and promote sleep. Most would compare it to a depressant drug, so some may not like its effects.
You can find kava at nakamals (or “meeting place”) in Vanuatu, which have sprouted up everywhere in Port Vila and its outskirts. They’re indicated by a single lightbulb in the middle of a dirt road, and these lights turn off when they run out of kava. We accomplished such a feat at a nakamal called “Island Roots” when the 12 of us rocked up all at once for the drink.
FYI, is its recommended that you consume kava in a single shot as it’s not known for the taste and the intended effects are negligible if imbibed slowly. And unlike alcohol, kava causes intense nausea and vomiting if you drink it after eating. So go before dinner, and DON’T mix it with alcohol unless you really want to lose your shit.
You’ll know it works when your tongue goes numb and you feel a little sedated afterwards.
Afterwards Melissa led us to L’Houstalet for dinner, a popular French-Vanuatan restaurant.
The place is famous being one of the only places in the world for serving 2 local fares: the flying fox (aka a giant fruit bat):
…and the coconut crab:
As all the bars in Vanuatu close early on a Tuesday night, not to our surprise, we turned in early.
This is what I woke up to the next morning:
And this was my view for breakfast at the resort:
At around 9:30am we reconvened on the docks where we then returned to the mainland to meet up with Melissa:
We first bought some snacks at a local market before we hiking (1000vt entry fee) up the path for Mele Cascades:
It’s worth the 20 minute hike up for the dip in the waters underneath the cascades:
Afterwards we had hand-pulled, knife-cut noodles for lunch at Kung Fu Noodles in the center of Port-Vila.
Then it was free time as the group explored the center of Port-Vila (also referred to as “town”) and its newly developed boardwalk, home to numerous seaside cafés and handicraft markets:
If you’re in need of fresh produce, stop by arguably the local commercial center of Vanuatu: Mama’s Market at the end of the boardwalk:
Of note while most of us were exploring town, others in our group paid a $500 USD supplement to be picked up earlier in the morning for a day trip to Tanna Volcano. This included a Cessna flight over the volcano, as well as a 4×4 jeep ride through the jungle for a hike up to the mouth itself.
PC: Mikhael Chai
At around 6:30pm we all reconvened back at Hideaway, freshening up once more before heading back out into the suburbs of Port Vila. There were had the rare opportunity to dine with Melissa’s local friend/colleague Madame Caroline and her family at their home outside.
We said hello to their chickens and pigs, admired their gardens, and played with their adorable kids!
Of course before eating anything we first enjoyed some kava at a nakamal down the road:
And then we chowed down on fresh fried fish, curry fish, sausages, and boiled rice back at Madame Caroline’s home:
As their kids approached their bedtimes, we gave our thanks to Madame Caroline and called for a bus to pick us up. We then finished off our night with a few drinks at Club Lit where I finally got to meet (and dance with) some of Melissa’s Peace Corps co-volunteers.
The group was beginning to tire out at this point after a long day so we turned in for more drinks back at Hideaway at midnight.
The next morning we made an obligatory visit to the world’s only underwater post office, located right off the shore of Hideaway Resort.
You don’t need much more than a pair of goggles (or some snorkel gear) to deliver a special $3 AUD waterproof postcard to anyone in the world!
And now we head off for our afternoon flights to Fiji!
- At time of posting in Port Vila, Vanuatu, it was 22 °C -
Humidity: 82% | Wind Speed: 21km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
Finishing up our 3rd day in Kiribati, in the late morning we headed to Tarawa’s Bonriki International Airport to catch our flight out to The Solomokn Islands. Let’s just say the Bonriki International Airport is still a work in progress.
This was the entrance:
Immigrations is a booth 2 steps away from check-in:
There’s not even x-rays for baggage screening…and there’s only one gate:
After a minor scare when one of our travelers lost his passport, only to find it 10 minutes on the floor of the bus before departure, our 11:50am flight first took us back to Nauru for a one hour layover, where we then transferred through security again just to get back on the same aircraft.
Then it was another hour of flying to Honiara, the capital city of the world’s 15th least visited country where Queen Elizabeth II still rules over as a nation part of the British Commonwealth – the Solomon Islands.
Unlike Bonriki International Airport in Kiribati, the Honiara International Airport has a proper terminal:
After we arrived, we headed to our digs at the Honiara Hotel where we freshened up, enjoyed an extravagant buffet dinner with some traditional dancing in the background, and took up their offer for free one hour massages, which was one of the best I ever had.
Of note, I got the honeymoon suite for my room, which is the same bed that Kate Middleton and Prince William slept on when they were here in September 2012:
We woke up early the next morning for breakfast where the hotel’s owner, Sir Thomas Chan, came up and literally read my fortune. Afterwards the group got together and we explored all the monuments to WW2 where the Japanese and Americans fought.
We began with the GuadacanalAmerican Memorial on top of a hill:
We then followed up with Bloody Ridge, the site of Battle of Edson’s Ridge (oralso known as the Battle of the Bloody Ridge, Battle of Raiders Ridge, and Battle of the Ridge).
Here U.S. soldiers repelled an attack by the Japanese forces in September 1942, the second of three separate major Japanese ground offensives during the Guadalcanal Campaign:
From Bloody Ridge, we returned to the airport for the memorial commemorating Henderson Airfield, a historic airstrip in the Pacific Theater of WW2 that was originally a Japanese airbase before being captured by the U.S. Marines. It has since been converted into Honiara International Airport:
There’s a Memorial Park right outside arrivals:
We then headed to the sprawling Honiara Central Market where we bought some local food and souvenirs:
We then drove by Parliament, which looks like a lair for a James Bond villain …
…and then spent half an hour at the National Museum to learn about the basic history of the Solomon Islands. There’s also a more updated exhibit that chronicles the multi-national efforts by RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands)in the early 2000sto peacefully quell the chaotic riots that took place in the Solomon Islands.
We then drove into the outskirts to chow down on street food for lunch:
And to finish off our day, we headed over to Mbonege/Bonegi Beach for some fascinating Japanese WW2 wreck snorkeling and underwater photography:
You don’t have to swim too far here to see the sunken Japanese cargo ship right off the beach. I didn’t even wear any snorkel gear; just a pair of goggles and a GoPro:
- At time of posting in Honaira, The Solomon Islands, it was 31 °C -
Humidity: 77% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
After 6 days in Nauru, the world’s least visited country, we forced ourselves up early at 3:00am for a 5:15am Nauru Airlines flight to currently the world’s 3rd least visited country: Kiribati (pronounced “Kiri-bahs”).
We wanted to head in pretty early as we didn’t want to risk stranding a group of 21 people for another 4-5 days for the next available flight out.
Once arriving at Nauru airport, we checked in and stamped out rather quickly.
We boarded a little later than scheduled at 5:20am.
The flight took approximately a little over one hour, and yet we somehow got a hot breakfast and a few drinks included within that time frame. Not even US airlines can offer that much!
We landed in Bonkiri International Airport at 7am in Tarawa, the capital city of Kiribati. A wall of water greeted us as we disembarked.
The Bonriki International Airport at the time of posting is also undergoing some hardcore renovations. I was surprised they even would keep it open for us.
As the rain cleared we saw that the waters in the lagoon here is almost as blue if not bluer than the waters off in the Caribbean. This is the stuff of brochures.
For those geography and history buffs, Kiribati was formerly the Gilbert and Elise Islands before it gained independence in 1979. Kiribati spans 33 islands, atolls and reefs that stretches east to west over Micronesia and Polynesia, with 40% of the landmass belonging to Kiritimati Island, the largest atoll in the world.
Despite its breadth larger than the surface area of India, most of the country is only a few meters both wide and tall, as Kiribati is one of world’s lowest lying nations. Most of the country faces the dire prospect of sinking into oblivion within the next 50 years.
Kiribati is also the only country in the world that cross all 4 hemispheres, as it traverses BOTH the international date line and the equator. This leads to pretty confusing time zone calculations as being in Kiribati means you could be living both in today and tomorrow.
To explain this, the international date line “east” was expanded in 1995 to accommodate Kiribati’s eastern chain of islands to have UTC+13 and UTC+14, which overlaps the UTC-10 and UTC-11 time zones. That means if you’re in Hawaii, only miles directly north of Kiribati, you are still 25 hours (yes more than a WHOLE DAY) behind Kiribati. That also means that everyday for 2 hours you could be in 3 days at once.
This also means Kiribati is the first country to ring in a new year and first to see the sunrise, hence “Land Of The First Dawn.”
If you’re still confused by this, oh well. So are we.
We got a quick pick-up at the airport and took a half hour’s drive to Mary’s Motel in the Bairiki district where we caught up on sleep for a few hours.
At around 11:30am we re-congregated watching parts of an old documentary film on the battles that took place here during World War II before crossing the bridge west to Betio to explore the island’s actual World War II past, as this was where one of the bloodiest battles occurred.
We stopped on a few beachheads and got to spelunk a number of abandoned war relics, such as coastal defense guns, bunkers and pillboxes, tanks, and shipwrecks.
Care to crawl into an abandoned ammunitions depot? Well here in Betio Island, you can!
Want to climb aboard a sea cannon? You can do that too!
The highlight was a stop at the Red Beach, where a majority of the US Marines and defending Japanese soldiers died. You can find the New Zealand Memorial to U.S. Marines and Navy erected here.
We also stopped by the former Japanese Command Center, which now has been overrun by nature.
The Japanese War Hospital largely has remained intact as it was built in a shape of a cross to prevent wanton bombing.
There’s also a simple US WW2 memorial by a gymnasium:
… as well as a Japanese WW2 memorial a few steps away, which has been locked away behind a series of fences by a local Japanese man to prevent vandalism.
Afterwards we stopped in to peek inside a massive coconut oil plant.
There I happily drenched myself (and my hair) in pure virgin coconut oil.
Afterwards we had dunch and drinks at the Hotel George, where they serve some amazingly fatty sashimi. We just had to cross a decent-sized lake to get there.
The next morning after a late breakfast, we headed in the opposite direction from yesterday to explore the northern part of Tarawa, beginning with another scenic beach. Legend has it that the decent-sized craters on the beach rocks are said to have been made by “giants” long ago.
After a few minutes here we drove towards the photogenic Parliament building, which only opens 4 times a year for all the leaders of the respective islands of Kiribati to congregate.
We then visited a local Taiwanese fishery (where I met a budding young Taiwanese doctor named Jack who was interested in practicing Emergency Medicine), the Taiwanese Embassy, and a bathroom within the embassy compounds strictly forbidding…
"No Smoking & Sex"
We also drove up to the highest point in Kiribati at a whopping 3 meters above sea level. Apparently when explorers first discovered Kiribati one of the hardest words to translate was “mountain,” as the concept of elevated land was completely foreign to the people here.
After another 30 minutes drive to the northern edge of North Tarawa, we hopped off our bus, walked across a small bridge, and hopped on top of a pickup truck for a 5 minute drive to reach this little slice of isolated paradise on the edge of Tabiteuea:
While one of us was able to swim to the other side towards Nabeina island, the rest of us took two trips in a motorized canoe across the channel.
And this is what awaited us: The Tabuki Retreat
At this point hangriness began to hit hard as we hadn’t yet had lunch, so after another 2 hour wait we were finally gifted a well-earned feast consisting of fresh fish, sashimi, chicken, pumpkin, coconut, and breadfruit crisps. It was well worth the journey.
While some of us went in for a dip, the rest of us kicked back with some palm wine (aka a sour toddy, or a Kaokioki) and/or soda, and watched our first proper sunset of the trip.
At around 7pm we backtracked back to Mary’s Motel, finally returning to our lodgings at 9pm. Tomorrow we head for Honiara, The Solomon Islands!
- At time of posting in Tarawa, Kiribati, it was 31 °C -
Humidity: 75% | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: rainy