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Nauru is a small island in the South Pacific Ocean south of the Marshall Islands and is the world's third-smallest country — only Monaco and the Vatican City are smaller. An off-the-beaten-track destination if there ever was one, Nauru is also the least visited country in the world. The remoteness, and the fact that much of the island is a charmless open phosphate mine, are two strong reasons for this.
In the local language the island is known as Naoero, though the name is of unknown origin. Nauru is a simplification of the name by British colonisers. The island has also been known by the names Pleasant Island, Island Gambo, Nawodo and Onawero.
Nauru was first settled around 3,000 years ago by twelve Micronesian and Polynesian peoples. Those twelve tribes divided the island into twelve parts; today this is symbolized by the twelve-pointed star in Nauru's national flag (the yellow line represents the Equator and the blue space the Pacific Ocean). The original inhabitants lived on fishing and even turned the lagoon in the middle of the island into a fish farm.
The first European to set foot on the island was the British commander John Fearn in 1798. The natives had a good relationship with the European ships whom they traded with. Occasionally, deserting sailors settled on Nauru. The island was devastated by a civil war between 1878 and 1888, after which it was annexed by the Germans. During the three-decade period as part of the German Pacific Territory, a king was appointed to rule the island, and the first missionaries arrived.
Mining of Nauru's phosphate deposits, which occupied about 90% of the island, began in the early 20th century under a German-British consortium. During World War I, the island was occupied by Australian forces and became a dependent territory. Briefly occupied by Japan during the World War II, Nauru was recovered by Australia afterwards and achieved independence in 1968. In the 1980s, phosphate exports briefly gave Nauruans one of the highest per capita incomes in the Third World. As of 2008, most of Nauru's revenue came from the export of phosphate to Australia, South Korea and New Zealand as well as other countries. The industry is controlled by the Nauru Phosphate Corporation (NPC). It is anticipated that the phosphate reserves will be completely exhausted before 2050. The sale of fishing licences is the other major revenue earner. Countries such as Australia and Taiwan provide substantial development cooperation funding. Despite this, the unemployment rate is currently 90%.
In 2001 the container ship Tampa rescued several hundred asylum seekers from a sinking Indonesian vessel and attempted to deliver them to Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, which is an Australian Federal Territory. In what was labelled The Pacific Solution, the Australian Government established an Off Shore Processing Centre (OPC) on Nauru where these people were housed, pending assessment of their claims to be refugees, in exchange for Australian aid to Nauru. The OPC was closed in early 2008, but was reopened in 2012.
Other than these, also tourism could in the future be an additional source of income for the Nauruans. However, this would require better tourism infrastructure and transportation links.
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A small, flat island almost exactly on the Equator, Nauru is a textbook example of tropical climate. The temperature is constant around the year, with even the record lows and highs per month staying within a couple of degrees. The number of average rainy days varies from 16 in January to 9 in May and June.
Nauru is best avoided during the cyclone/rain season, which is from November to February. Even if you wouldn't encounter a cyclone, the sky is constantly cloudy and torrential rains and thunderstorms are frequent during this time of the year.
There are a few "sandy" beaches but most of the shallow area around the island is coral reefs. Most of the interior of the island is worked-out mining land, which is to be rehabilitated. The only inland body of water is the lagoon.
The Australian offshore detention centre operating on the island means that there will be a lot of Australian government staff staying at the island's two small hotels and filling seats on the flights to and from Nauru (especially the direct flight to and from Brisbane). This, in combination with the visa requirement, means that you probably should plan and book your trip a few months ahead.
All foreign visitors require a valid passport and proof of hotel booking or local sponsor in order to enter Nauru. A free visa on arrival is available to citizens of the Cook Islands, Fiji, Israel, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Taiwan, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Citizens of other countries require an advance visa. There have been rumours on the Internet that you can get in for up to three days without getting a visa, but that is not accurate.
You can apply for a visa from:
- Nauruan visitors office, ☎ .
- The Nauruan Press Office at the United Nations, ☎ .
Alternatively you can send an e-mail to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. It may take a long time for the visa application to be processed, so you should send your application well ahead of your intended trip. A tourist visa reportedly costs AUD 100. If you are a journalist and intend to work on Nauru you will need a journalist visa, costing AUD 200, although if you are going to report about the Australian detention centre on the island you might need to fork out AUD 8000, due to a 2014 decision by the Nauruan government. Applications for journalist visas should be directed to: Joanna Olsson, Director of Government Information Office: email@example.com.
You will be sent a card that you need to fill in and return together with a copy of your passport. The visa fee is paid upon arrival in Nauru. At this time you will have to hand in your passport to the officials to be registered. The passport will be returned to you the next day.
Passengers may bring in to Nauru:
- 400 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 450g of tobacco
- three bottles of spirits
- a small quantity of perfumes for personal use
- a small quantity of audiovisual products
Drugs, explosives, weapons and porn may not be imported.
As of March 2016, the national carrier, Nauru Airlines (formerly known as Our Airline and Air Nauru), flies to Nauru from Brisbane, Nadi and Honiara. Flights are rather irregular, with each destination being served one to three times a week.
The 1 airport is located in the Yaren district in the southwest of the island and is where virtually everyone arrives to and departs from Nauru.
The hotel may or may not send a car to pick you up at the airport; in the worst case you'll have to walk.
Neither of the two ports in Aiwo and Anibare can accommodate passenger traffic or yachts; they are used for export of phosphate or by local fishermen. As the water is shallow near the coast, larger ships must anchor off shore.
Every year, there are on average 200 tourists in Nauru, so it has the honour of being the least touristed country in the world. Crowds aren't a problem at all. There's hardly any public transportation, so your best bet to get around would be in a rented vehicle; car, scooter or bike. Other alternatives are by foot (not very pleasant in the tropical heat and humidity) or hitchhiking, which is quite common on the island.
By public transport
There is a community bus which travels around the island every hour or so during the day. Also, locals sometimes cling to the cars of the goods train between Aiwo and the inland mining area.
Nauru is so small that it takes less than one hour to drive right around it. The 19km Island Ring Road circles the island and is paved — however this is not the case for most of the inland roads. The airport runway cuts across three of the twenty kilometres of road. The only traffic lights on the island are used to stop the traffic and allow the plane to cross the road to the terminal! This is a favourite souvenir snapshot taken by visitors.
Traffic drives on the left and drivers should be on increased lookout for animals and pedestrians while driving on the beltway.
Cars or bicycles can sometimes be rented from Capelle and Partners, the largest local supermarket. Otherwise you can ask at your hotel or just ask a local. Foreigners need an international driver's licence to drive on Nauru. Also, be aware that fuel shortages are not unheard of!
The official languages are Nauruan, a distinct Pacific Island language, as well as English. However, just about half of the island's population is fluent in Nauruan, and English is widely understood, spoken, and used for most government and commercial purposes.
- 1 Anibare Bay, Anibare district (along the Ring Road). Here you'll find Nauru's prettiest beach with fine, white sand and surrounded by palm groves. The bay is deep enough for proper swimming, with cleaner water than on the west coast and on top of that you get to swim among interesting coral pinnacles. Anibare Bay is the closest Nauru gets to most people's impression of a South Pacific island, and popular with locals too. It's also a great place for seeing the sunrise; at 166°E, Nauru is among the first countries in the world to see a new day. The smaller of Nauru's two ports, 2 Anibare Harbour is located at the southern end of the bay. Constructed in the early 2000s with Japanese capital, you can watch local fishermen bring their catch to land here.
- 3 Aiwo Harbour, Aiwo district (along the Ring Road). The larger port, used by major cargo ships for exporting phosphate and importing various goods including food and fuel. It was built in 1904 to accommodate the phosphate industry at the same time as the narrow-gauge railway that leads down to Aiwo from the mining area in the middle of the island. At the end of the railway and across the road from the harbour, there are plants for refining the phosphate before it's loaded onto ships along the two impressive conveyor belts on pylons jutting into the sea (as a curiosity, tubes along these structures are used to offload fuel from tankers). The place isn't as lively as in its 1970's and 1980's heyday, and much of it appears run-down. Still, phosphate mining has defined Nauru for more than a century and together with the mining landscape inland it's perhaps the main attraction of the whole island — especially if you're interested in industrial tourism.
- 4 Government buildings, Yaren district (On the strip between the runway and the coast). Typical of the very smallest countries in the world, Nauru has no "capital city". The government and the president are seated in the Yaren district, near the airport. The parliament house, while definitely not as pompous as many others around the world, is one of the island's major landmarks. You can also go and see a parliamentary meeting, as they are usually open to the public.
- 5 Buada Lagoon, Buada district (To get there, take the road opposite the Od-N-Aiwo hotel, follow it until it branches and then go left. The road will lead you straight there.). The only body of fresh water on the island, is a very picturesque spot in the lower middle of the island. The lagoon is surrounded on all sides by dense palm trees and other vegetation. However, the water is dirty and not suitable for swimming in. Still, a nice photo opportunity, and you can walk all the way around the lagoon, as the sealed road circles it.
- 6 The interior of the island (Topside). The interior of the island is a "moon landscape" as a result of phosphate mining, locals reportedly call the area Topside. This was the source of the wealth of the island, but nowadays much of the phosphate has been dug up (though there is still mining going on but on a much smaller scale). The remaining limestone pinnacles have partially been covered with vegetation, creating an environment you maybe wouldn't expect of a South Sea island. Some find the landscape exotic and cool, while others think it's sad how the environment first has been ruined literally from the bottom up by mining, and then "decorated" with old vehicles and mining equipment laying around and rusting away. Speaking of that, on the Topside you can also find things left behind by the Japanese in WWII such as weapons, a plane wreck and even a small makeshift jail. Finally, the interior of the island also includes the infamous Australian offshore dentention centre, which you may not take photos of.
Nauru is one of the few countries in the world you can walk around the whole perimeters of in a reasonable time. A sealed road goes all the way around the island and drive takes about 25 minutes non-stop. A bicycle ride takes 2-3 hours, and a walk maybe 6 hours. There is lots of nice scenery if not much to do and, going from either hotel, Chappelle & Partner department store right at the top of the island in Ewa district makes for a welcome break at halfway around.
When walking around you may see traces from the Second World War, when Japan occupied the island, including remains of Japanese guns, bunkers and pillboxes. These are to be found mostly along the coastline, but also on 1 Command Ridge, the highest point in Nauru. If you've always wanted to visit a country high point, it's a fairly easy hike up to this point, 65m above sea level. There may also be opportunities for some urban exploring of abandoned phosphate mining and transportation facilities in the middle and the west of the island.
If you're into sports, you can watch the local teams battle it out at an Australian rules football match. The national game is played all through Saturday at the 2 Linkbelt Oval sports field.
In the sea
Many beaches on Nauru are shallow and rocky and not very suitable for swimming. Your best bet would be Anibare Bay (listed in See above) which also is a great place for seeing the fishermen bringing in the day's catch to Anibare Harbour. If you want to try some fishing yourself, there's one company you can consult:
- Equatorial Gamefishing Charters, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Boat charter for big game fishing trips. The company has two boats, equipped with fishing equipment and accommodating five persons each. You can catch fish such as yellow fin tuna, marlin, wahoo and sail fish.
These are the most important festivities during the year:
- Independence Day (31 Jan)
- Easter (late March or early April)
- Constitution Day (17 May)
- Angam, the Day of the Return Home (26 Oct)
- Christmas (25 Dec)
Exchange rates for Australian dollar (A$)
As of January 2017:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
Nauru uses the Australian dollar, denoted by the symbol "$" (ISO code: AUD) as its national currency. Cash transactions are the norm; credit cards are rarely accepted. There are no exchange offices in Nauru and the single bank office, Bank of Nauru is usually closed. However in April 2015 the island's first ATM was opened at the Capelle & Partner. You should probably still bring enough Australian dollars in cash for your stay.
Bargaining or tipping are not done on Nauru.
- 1 Capelle & Partner, Ewa district, ☎ . The only department store and largest business on Nauru island. This is the place to go to for Nauru souvenirs, things you forgot to bring and food, drinks and snacks.
Most food is imported from Australia and arrives by ship or air, usually once every six to eight weeks. You can find western and Asian (primarily Chinese) food. Because of the tropical climate dishes might not be as heavy and hearty as the original versions. As not all ingredients may be available, dishes are often rather simple.
Since Nauru is an island nation, seafood is very popular in its restaurants. Cooked and smoked hams are also very popular, as meat is one of their main dishes.
- 1 Fast food kiosk. At Capelle's supermarket, in the north of the island. Serves western fast food.
- 2 Kasuo. Chinese restaurant near the Aiwo hotel. Serves mostly fish and fried rice and noodles.
In addition to these, you'll also find some small inexpensive "eating places", selling Chinese food.
- 3 Reynaldo's (next to the airport terminal). Reynaldo's is a popular name in the list of restaurants and bars in Nauru. It is a local restaurant that offers authentic Chinese cuisines. Also one of the few places on Nauru serving alcohol.
- 4 The Bay Restaurant (Anibare Bay). Specialising in fish dishes, but has pizza and Indian food. Actually located in Anibare, where the local fishing boats arrive. Popular with visitors and locals alike, review sites rank this as the best restaurant on the island.
- 5 Anibare (at Menen Hotel). Seafood and international.
- 6 Oriental (at Menen Hotel). Different Asian food (Thai, Indian, Chinese).
- 7 Antinas, Yaren district (near the southern end of the runway). Somewhat upscale seafood restaurant, also serving alcohol.
- 1 Reef Bar (at the Menen Hotel). The only public bar in Nauru. If you're staying at the other hotel on the island, Od-N-Aiwo, it's rather inconveniently located as it's about 5.5 km away along the ring road. It serves Australian beers and international spirits. The barroom has a couple of pool tables, satellite TV and recorded music. It's lively at the weekends, as Nauruans are paid on Fridays, and quiet on weeknights. New faces will be enthusiastically welcomed by the locals and the expats will usually have a chat, too. No flip flops/thongs (enclosed sandals are OK) and men must wear a collar.
Other than that, restaurants and shops offer soft drinks and some also have alcoholic beverages.
There are two hotels, the more expensive Menen on the east of the island and the budget Od'n Aiwo to the west. In addition to these, the supermarket has guest rooms in the north of the island.
- 1 Od'n Aiwo Hotel, Aiwo District (On the coastal belt road, to the west side of the island, directly opposite the road inland to Buada), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. The less expensive of the two hotels on Nauru. Popular with backpackers, it has less rooms than Menen but is still the tallest building on the island. The hotel has two restaurants. US$40-80.
- 2 Menen Hotel, Anibare District (On the coastal belt road, to the east side of the island and south of Anibare Bay.), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Menen is Nauru's largest hotel, boasting 119 rooms and conference facilities for up to 200. It possesses two restaurants and the island's only bar. AUD 95-160, suites AUD 255-500.
- 3 Capelle & Partner Ewa Lodge (Capelle & Partner), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. In Ewa, northwestern Nauru. The supermarket complex offers accommodation seven self-catering apartments and five rooms. AUD 95.
Nauru is a peaceful island and all kinds of crime are very rare. In emergency situations you can call either emergency number (117 or 118) or go to the police station which is near the airport.
While earthquakes are not a risk on Nauru itself, it can potentially be struck by tsunamis resulting from earthquakes along the Ring of Fire, which surrounds the Pacific Ocean.
There are no records of a cyclone ever hitting Nauru, and right at the Equator they are rare. Nevertheless, if you visit during height of the wet season, be prepared for heavy rain and thunderstorms.
Swimming and surfing
Like many other Pacific islands, Nauru is surrounded by a shallow reef with cut-outs through the reef providing access for boats and harbours, and there can be strong currents across the shallow water, moving boats in the harbours, and dangerous marine animals on the reef floor. Ask for advice before venturing into the water.
Water supply in Nauru is dependent on rainwater collected into tanks from the roofs of houses and from an aging reverse osmosis desalination plant. You should avoid tap water.
- Emergency: 118 or 117
- Nauru General Hospital: 674- 555-4302
Considering its size and remoteness, Nauru has a decent healthcare system. Aside from the rampant problem of obesity among the population, the infant mortality and life expectation numbers are on par with industrialised nations. There are two hospitals on the island, Nauru General Hospital and RON Hospital, both located in the Denigomodu district in the west of the island. However, if you have contracted anything more serious you may need to get transferred to Australia. Needless to say, it's best to have a good travel insurance when visiting Nauru!
The tropical diseases usually encountered in equatorial countries are less of a risk in Nauru, although it's recommended to get a hepatitis B shot. There is a risk of dengue fever, though, so you should protect yourself from mosquito bites.
If you come from a country where yellow fever is endemic or you've visited such a country in the last six days, you need to have proof of yellow fever vaccination.
Nauru is a Christian country, and Christian values and rules of conduct apply.
- It is illegal to import pornographic material, and the government also blocks access to Internet porn.
- Male LGBT travellers should be aware that male homosexual acts are illegal in Nauru, punishable with 3-14 years in jail (though the law is not always enforced). Open displays of affection between same-sex partners may offend some in Nauru.
- The trafficking of drugs and narcotics of any kind will be punished severely.
- There is one place on the island that you make not take photos of — the Australian "procession centre for illegal immigrants".
There are three newspapers in both Nauruan and English; Nasero Bulletin, Central Star News and Nauru Chronicle. Foreign newspapers are non-existent and information from the rest of the world comes from the Internet and satellite television and radio — in fact there's no local broadcasting.
The mains voltage is 240V/50Hz, and the plugs are Australian style. Brownouts are quite frequent.
There are a couple of post offices on the island from where you can send mail.
- Australian High Commission in the Republic of Nauru, MQ45 & MQ43 - NPC OE - Aiwo District, ☎ , fax: .
- Embassy of the Republic of China (Taiwan), 1st., Civic Center, Aiwo District, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mo-Fr 06-18.
There are public phones and a mobile phone network. Be aware that you may need to buy a SIM card from the local operator Digicel if your home operator doesn't have a roaming contract with Nauru.
CenpacNet inc. is the only Internet provider, and it also owns the national domain .nr. Moreover it operates the only Internet café on Nauru:
- 1 Cenpac's internet café, Civic Centre, Aiwo district (along the Ring Road).
Other than that, hotels offer computers to get online, though you should inform yourself about the rates beforehand!
Virtually everyone comes and goes by the local airline and thus your next destination will be Australia or one of the few small Oceanian islands the local airline flies to. When leaving Nauru, be aware that locally produced goods may be subjected to export duties.