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Holiday Guides for Oceania - Kiribati

Kiribati Holiday

KIribati has little tourist infrastructure but its glistening white sands are enough to lure in any traveller with a taste for the unknown.

The Republic of Kiribati is a collection of tropical coral islands with a rich culture, fabulous marine life and idyllic palm-lined beaches.

The tiny island nation comprises 33 coral atolls in the central tropical Pacific Ocean, of which 21 are inhabited. Kiribati is situated around halfway between Hawaii and Australia and consists of the isolated island of Banaba, the Gilbert Islands, the Phoenix Islands and the Line Islands.

The islands are some of the most remote in the world and with a population of just over 105,000, they are the perfect location for those seeking a relaxing break.

Originally inhabited by a Micronesian people speaking a single Oceanic language for around 2,000 years, Tongans and Fijians invaded the islands in the 14th century and Spanish explorers arrived in 1606. More and more Europeans settled in the islands over the following centuries, with British and US whalers using them as a base.

The islands suffered at the hands of slave ships and missionaries attempted to convert the islanders from the 1850s, banning native dances and other traditions. Kiribati still remains deeply religious, though the islanders' version of Christianity is mixed with indigenous practices and beliefs.

Proclaimed a British protectorate in 1892 and known as the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, Kiribati was under British rule until 1971, when it was granted self-rule, gaining complete independence in 1979. The tiny Phoenix and Line Island groups were handed to Kiribati by the US in 1979 under a treaty of friendship.

The sparsely populated islands are scattered across around 3.5 million sq km (1.34 million sq miles) and one of the islands was renamed Millennium Island in a bid to boost tourism ahead of the year 2000. Kiribati is a member of the United Nations and is working hard to raise its profile on the world stage and attract visitors.

Threatened by climate change and rising sea levels, Kiribati has already lost two uninhabited coral reefs, Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea, and is a keen supporter of ecological treaties and eco-tourism initiatives.

The capital Tarawa is a group of islands surrounded by a coral atoll and features Kiribati's international airport. The islands are considerably more crowded than the rest of Kiribati and feature most of the central administrative buildings.

Kiritimati, or Christmas Island, in the Line Islands, is the world's largest atoll, with over 100 lakes and ponds in its interior and a dizzying array of bird life. The attractive main settlements of London and Banana are worth a visit and the island covers half the total land mass of Kiribati.

There are very few hotels and guest houses in Kiribati and most visitors to the islands arrange their holidays with a travel company. Tourism is still in its infancy and much of the available accommodation is basic and traditional. However, the white sandy beaches and clear, blue lagoon waters are attracting more visitors, particularly divers and those looking for somewhere off the beaten track.

Local restaurants tend to focus on seafood, with exotic local dishes on the menu. South Tarawa has some taxis and bus services, while boats, ferries and scheduled flights are available to many of the outer islands.

Kiribati is warm year round, with a pleasant tropical climate, sea breezes, trade winds and high humidity. Diving, fishing, nature treks, cycling and watersports are all popular with visitors, while music, singing and dancing play an important role in the lives of the Gilbertese.

English is widely spoken amongst the islanders, in addition to the native Micronesian language. The villages of the more remote island are less used to foreign travellers and are worth visiting to see local crafts kept alive and an older way of life adhered to.