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Published: December 28th 2015
Like a needle in a haystack, a speck of land appears in the Pacific. As it lands on the runway, the 30 seat plane pulled up to the international airport, with the appropriate code FUN. As I waited to disembark, there was a noticeable sense of cheer outside. Walking towards to the shack like airport and through immigration I was told the twice weekly airline landing was the nations highlight. The airport was Funafuti's version of Downtown. Just a few minutes after, I have my bag and walk the 100 meters to Vaiaku Lagi, my hotel for the next five nights.
Funafuti is the largest atoll in the tiny South Pacific Island nation, Tuvalu. Approximately half way between Australia and Hawaii, it boasts the worlds fourth smallest area and third smallest population, of around 11,000 people. Made up of three small islands and six atolls which combine to a total area of less than 10 square miles, it is so remote, I was one of only 360 tourists to visit the country the entire year.
Tuvalu is everything of a South Pacific paradise you could imagine. Whilst long, white sandy
beaches are few and far between on the main island, there are beautiful isolated beaches on the islets which enclose the stunning Funafuti Lagoon. Much of the activity however is isolated to the main island, a tiny sliver of land – 12 kilometers long, and no longer than 400 meters at its widest point. Despite being classed as overpopulated, its compact size makes everything easily accessible by motorbike, of which there are hundreds that the locals like to get around on.
Devoid of any of the mod-cons one might find in some five star Fijian resorts, Tuvalu is not the place to be pampered. After biking the length of the island and back, I took a swim in the open lagoon and headed to the bar. I was quickly greeted by Eddie, a local Navy man, who invited me to his house to play billiards with his friends. Houses are small, functional rather flashy. Most houses have a stone grave in the front yard, where loved ones are put to rest, rather than in a cemetery.
Tuvalu has been visited by some famous people. As a member of the Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth II visited
the county and more recently, Price William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Perhaps more significantly was a visit by Charles Darwin in the late 1800's during his investigation into coral reefs. It is considered one of the most significant investigations in the formation of coral reefs atolls to this day. Oddly, the sight of the drilling, Darwins Drill,
is hidden beyond some shrub unsigned near a school. It makes for quite an adventure trying to find the hole.
I met the Minister for Tourism out on Friday night at Lucky Set, a small nightclub open on weekends. I quizzed him about the lack of fanfare about the hole. After all, there is a Stamp Collecting store and meteorological bureau, but there isn't much to specifically do as a tourist in this country. I was told it was part of the plan to lure people in, like a hidden treasure.
Tuvalu is becoming on the international radar, but unfortunately it is not always for the right reasons. In the age of global warming, Tuvalu, with its low elevation is highly susceptible to rising waters with some experts warning the nation
is on course to completely disappear. The few locals I spoke to about the rising tides seemed to dismiss the issue. Nonetheless, there have been talks with New Zealand to provide refuge for the nation should it succumb to the rising waters.
As the poster child of global warming there is international pressure to reverse the effects of global change and the Prime Minister of Tuvalu has recently confirmed that the country believes the country inhabitability remains. It would be a shame for this great place to change.
From the airport welcome, where the runway is used to play sports during the week, the locals at the nightclub who were all out to look after me and played western music for me and to the people who welcomed me into their restaurants, homes and boats it is the people here which make the country worthwhile.
And whilst there are no world class beaches, a garbage disposal problem and a fairly ordinary choice of food, when you find a little place, anywhere on the coastline, you have it all to yourself, and as you look to the sunsetting over the
Pacific, you realise this is truly an undiscovered island gem.
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