KIRIBATI is a very isolated island nation group of more than 30 islands with at least three in each hemisphere, located in the central tropical Pacific Ocean, dispersed over 3,500,000 km2 (1,351,000 sq miles) around the point where the international date line and the equator cross.
The name Kiribati is pronounced “kee-ree-bus” and was formerly known as the Gilbert Islands. Besides the 16 original Gilbert Islands, Kiribati also includes Banaba (Ocean Island), the eight Phoenix Islands and eight of the eleven Line Islands. All are low atolls enclosing lagoons, rarely more than 12ft (4m) above sea level. The notable exception is Banaba, which is volcanic. Not all islands are inhabited and little grows except coconut palms.
Kiritimati (Christmas) Island is a small tropical Eden far off the beaten track for tourists. Once a place of whalers or coconut oil and copra harvesters, today Christmas Island is a protected wildlife haven. A barrier reef pulses with colourful sea creatures and its bird life draws devoted birdwatchers from around the world. Nature lovers will appreciate the wildlife sanctuary being nurtured here, a home to nearly 20 species of birds and surrounded by water teeming with marine life.
In 1777, the famed explorer Captain Cook named the island after spotting its landmass on Christmas Eve. It is a convenient stopover point for superyachts on passage between Hawaii and French Polynesia. A site of former British nuclear tests, the island was handed over to Kiribati on that country’s independence. The island is a sanctuary to millions of sea birds and access to the breeding areas is prohibited.
Fanning Island (Tabuaerean), only 160 miles farther north, is a typical Pacific island – clean, welcoming and self-sufficient. These Line Islands, together with Washington, belong to Kiribati and their local names have been confused, and are often wrongly depicted in nautical publications. Their correct names are: Kirimati (Christmas), Fanning (Tabuaerean) and Teraina (Washington). Navigational aids are not very reliable and it is reported that most atolls are without lights after midnight.
Most facilities available in Kiribati are concentrated on Tarawa, which comprises several islands around a lagoon. Facilities at the other islands are basic with few imported goods and a limited selection of locally produced fruit and vegetables.