Nauru is an island nation in the South Pacific that is mostly known to everyone as either a phosphate mine or for its Australian refugee processing centers.
Because getting there is neither easy nor cheap, and there aren’t many points of interest, very few people visit and it could probably lay claim to being the “natural” least visited country in the world if it wasn’t for the ongoing crisis and wars affecting so many nations and making it impossible to visit.
This tiny nation is the smallest country in the world and has many oddities and singularities but if you decide to visit you will find everything you need to know about Nauru here.
Where is Nauru
Nauru is located in the Pacific Ocean about 3 hours flight from Brisbane in Australia and less than 2 hours from Tarawa in Kiribati.
It is also 40km from the Equator and, unlike other Pacific nations, it is made of just one raised island. Geographically and ethnically, Nauru is part of Micronesia but its language is so unique that it is unknown how it was first populated.
History of Nauru
Nauru was first sighted by British ships at the end of the 18th century but the local population remained independent until 1886 when Germany took over.
Rich phosphate reserves were discovered at the end of the 19th century and exploitation started in 1906 by the British-owned Pacific Phosphate Company who had acquired the rights from a German company. This was probably the motivation for Australian troops to invade the island for the British Crown in 1914 when Nauru became part of the Commonwealth.
The island and the reserves were then transferred to a trust managed by Australia, Britain and New Zealand in 1920 who created the British Phosphate Commissioner.
Phosphate mining continued with a brief parenthesis during WWII, when Nauru was invaded by the Japanese forces. The locals were sent to Chuuk, in the Federated States of Micronesia, where many died during the US attack on the Japanese Pacific Fleet which left the largest amount of wrecks in the world in Chuuk Lagoon.
In the years that followed WWII many of the former British colonies gained independence, and Nauru was one of them. In 1968, the country became a sovereign nation and bought the mining rights from Australia.
This brought large wealth to the island as the annual revenues were significant for a country of fewer than 10,000 people, but phosphate reserves were at risk of exhaustion and by the arrival of the new Millennium, they were practically gone.
Nauru sought compensation from Australia in the case Certain phosphate lands of Nauru (Australia vs. Nauru) for the decades of environmental damage and the case was settled outside the International Criminal Court of Justice with Australia agreeing to rehabilitate the damaged areas.
However, if you visit today, you will see the majority of the country’s center covered in mining sores, with potholed roads, mining explosions and continuous lorry traffic.
Seen that phosphate reserves were declining drastically and revenues would soon vanish, Nauru entered into an agreement with Australia to accommodate asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat through three Regional Processing Centers until they could be resettled elsewhere.
The processing centers were first designed for Afghan refugees but the range of nationalities has evolved with the world’s crisis and now also hold Burmese and other Middle Eastern refugees while their asylum requests are being processed.
Nauru does not have any other natural wealth beyond phosphate, now found in deeper layers than before, and fishing rights. The island has minimal to no arable land so agriculture, even for subsistence, is practically nonexistent.
It is a tropical island but you won’t find any tropical fruits bar the occasional banana or papaya tree. There is also no industry or manufacturing and practically no businesses beyond those related to the processing centers and mining.
As of 2018, Australia provides two-thirds of the revenues of the government of Nauru through aid and the fees for the processing centers. Additionally, some of the previous income from mining was invested in a trust fund that generates some returns.
Nauru’s GDP is the second smallest in the world after Tuvalu and stands around a mere $150 million.
Things to do and see in Nauru
Nauru is a tiny tear-shaped island and the phosphate mines cover most of its center, so the majority of the villages and other points of interest are along the coast and interconnected by a ring road that runs around the island and takes about half an hour to cover. That means that anytime you want to get anywhere it will take you a maximum of 15 minutes.
Run around a country
Because of Nauru’s small size and decent road, you can run, or walk, around it. The ring road around the country measures around 16km so it should take you between 2 and 3 hours depending on how fast you can run.
However, beware that this is a tropical country and it is always incredibly hot and very humid, so you should be used to running in these conditions.
Of all the countries I visited in the Pacific (that is all but the Marshall Islands), Nauru felt the hottest by far because of the unbearable humidity, and that is coming from someone who has been living in the tropics for over a decade. Because of this, my friend and I rented a car to get around instead of walking which was our initial idea.
If you decide to run, do so in the early morning or late at night, and be careful of the dogs, Nauru has a problem with aggressive stray dogs. The recommendation from our homestay owner: if a dog barks at you, pick a big rock and threaten to throw it, they usually get scared and leave.
Visit the phosphate mines
As you can imagine, the phosphate mines cover the vast majority of the country and you can’t miss them. As soon as you leave the ring road and cross into the middle of the island, the heavy machinery, their noise and the cantilevers will be everywhere.
There are no tours or visitor centers per se, this is an open working mine, but you won’t be stopped from wandering around and getting closer to the unique interior landscapes that mining has created.
As you drive, see the rock formations at either side of the paths, they are incredible and reminiscent of Favignana Island in Sicily. They would be interesting and fascinating if their origins and impact weren’t so tragic.
Find the Japanese guns and prison
Nauru was occupied by the Japanese forces during WWII and the locals went sent to Chuuk to help in the war. Because the center of Nauru still has some unexplored areas, you can find the remnants of the Japanese guns and a prison for the prisoners of war.
The prison is not very large and has a few diminutive cells that would have held very few prisoners. They have been consumed by the jungle and are now eerie and resembling Angkor Wat. Looking through the moldy walls, I remembered Chuuk’s Japanese command center which looks very similar.
The three command ridge guns are in the middle of the jungle near the prison and at one of the highest points on the island. There is no path to it, you sort of have to simply walk up, at times scrambling on your all fours, until you can come out of the bushes and onto an elevated position.
Finding them is a bit tough because there is no sign and they are a bit hidden, so it is best if you can ask someone local to give you specific directions or even take you there. This is a small place so somebody knows someone who knows someone.
If you prefer to venture on your own and trust your luck, start at the road that goes towards Buada Lagoon. On your left just after the sign that reads Buada Lagoon, there is a small opening right in front of an empty space on the right side of the road where a car can park. If you are driving, leave your car here.
On the floor, you might spot train tracks, these were used to transport phosphate off the mines and onto the cargo ships but now trucks are used instead. Look for a small gap in the jungle and cross through then see if you find a walked path in the jungle, the prison is there, after a few steps.
You should wear long pants and long sleeves if you can (a.k.a. if you are driving and planning to go back into AC immediately after, Nauru is no place for long anything) or douse yourself in mosquito repellent with DEET. I did and I still got bitten.
Take pictures of the cantilevers
There is something dramatic about the mining cantilevers that carry the phosphate out to the ships. They look like magnificent iron mantises from the distance and only when you get closer do you realize they are rusted and seemingly abandoned.
There are a couple of them down at the beach by the AOG Tabernacle that are the easiest and most scenic to photograph.
Check the rock formations on the beach
Nauru does have some nice sandy stretches of beaches but sadly, they are littered with trash, mostly cans and plastic, and are not very inviting.
At the same time, the waves can be really harsh despite the narrow reef surrounding the island. Even if you are only ankle-deep into the water the waves are strong enough to throw you off as they did to me.
The most beautiful rock formations are at either side of Anibare Boat Harbour beach where you can see limestone pinnacles coming out of the sand that are filled with crabs. Try to go at mid-tide because when it is low the water is far away and at high tide, there is barely any sand to walk on.
Swim in the sea
Despite Nauru being an island I was quite surprised to see there are few places to swim. This is because the waves and currents are pretty strong and can swipe you off your feet, literally, even if you are just standing, so swimming requires the right conditions. Don’t be fooled by the clear waters and the inviting beach, the sea is dangerous.
That being said, we were advised the best swimming is at Anibare Boat Harbour where the currents were tamer and at low tide when the sea is calmer.
One of the best things to do in Nauru is go fishing, however, do not expect any ready infrastructure in the country, if you want to go fishing, ask for it in advance so they are ready for you.
Your best bet is to contact Fisherman’s Corner at Chapelle & Partners or your accommodation to inquire. You might have to bring some of the equipment.
Play football with the locals
Everyone in Nauru plays Australian football when the evening comes. During the day it is incredibly hot outside but as soon as the sun goes the temperatures drop significantly and you can play outdoors. You can join the locals if you know how to, or watch them.
There is not much else to do to stay fit, which is why Nauru is one of the most obese countries in the world (often tops the list), so football is a great way to burn some calories that mostly come from processed foods as fresh foods are really hard to get and expensive since it is all imported from Australia.
Diving in Nauru
I will be honest here, I did not see any dive resort and this is probably because there isn’t any. However, I was assured by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and owner of my Airbnb that this was possible if organized in advance.
So you should probably check with your accommodation if you plan to dive and book your flights accordingly. Since most visitors only spend two nights in Nauru, diving is hard with the safety pre and post diving time recommendations so bear that in mind.
See planes land from up close
Nauru is one of the few places where you can get up and close with planes landing, although it is really dangerous to position yourself at the end of the runway, St. Martin style and you should watch from the side instead.
Of course this sounds easier than it is because there are very few planes landing in Nauru so you might have to ask at the airport if they know of any scheduled charter planes because chances are, if you are visiting, you will only stay for a couple of days and will, therefore, come on the only flight in and leave on the only flight out of the country for the duration of your visit.
Bear in mind that many of the flights in and out of Nauru do so in the middle of the night (e.g. the flight coming from Brisbane on a Friday lands at 3am and departs at 5am) so check schedules. At the time of writing, the Wednesday flights from Brisbane land in the early afternoon.
Beware of the dangers of jet blast and stay away from the runway. Police will always close the road to avoid any traffic and people standing too close.
Watch the sunset near the runway
You cannot sit or access the runway in Nauru like you can in Tuvalu, the country receives not only scheduled flights with Nauru Airlines but also a host of other charter flights so there is more traffic than on Tuvalu.
But you can watch the sunset from the small beach and a few picnic tables at the end of the runway, here are some of the most amazing sunsets. Kids come out to play in the water here too and you will see the fishermen bringing in their boats every evening making for scenic shots.
Nauru is a strange place. Barren and dry in the interior where the phosphate mines are, and wild and rocky on the seaside. You might welcome some greenery at Buada Lagoon, inland from Yaren, where there are lush trees and vegetation that make for a welcoming change of scenery.
There is not much to see here but you could stop for a drink (there is a supermarket at the entrance of the circular road around the lagoon) and simply take a break in the shade.
Nauru restaurants and bars
Nauru is remarkably devoid of any actual choice of dining options and aside from a couple of places mentioned below, all you will find are simple eateries serving basic food, mostly Chinese options which prevail in this part of the world.
Below are the best restaurants in Nauru.
The Bay Restaurant
The Bay Restaurant was my favorite place to eat in Nauru, not that there were many, but this was pleasant and actually inviting.
Located on the Ring Road (you can’t miss it if you are driving around), The Bay Restaurant serves an array of dishes (for a change), including fresh fish as well as decent pizza. Trust me, if you are spending a few days in the more remote parts of the Pacific (Micronesia, Kiribati, Tuvalu), a pizza might be a welcoming change from the Chinese chop suey.
The restaurant has an indoor bar section with TVs and an open-air courtyard at the back with trees, chairs and tables that is quite pleasant.
Digicel container cafe
Not really a restaurant, this literal contained cafe serves decent coffee, the only one on Nauru, and nothing more. Located in front of the Post Office makes it a convenient pit stop when you are running errands.
Od-N Aiwo is an old and manky hotel but the restaurant on the ground floor has a long Chinese menu with anything from meats to fish to rice or noodles that will be good for anyone, even vegetarians, as the staff are happy to simply cook whatever you feel like from the ingredient list.
This is also one of the few places where you can try the local dishes: raw tuna marinated in coconut milk, like in French Polynesia. I missed this dish from my time in Tahiti and Bora Bora and was glad I could savor it here.
Jules on the deck
This former restaurant, now just a bar, is the only place to come have a drink with sunset views in Nauru.
It is a simple wooden building with a large outdoor deck and indoor room and a very limited drinks menu but you can have a beer or a glass of wine as the sun sets over the ocean, what more can you ask for?
Capelle and Partners
This place-for-everything is basically where you go in Nauru to get anything.
There is a supermarket which is the largest in the country, a fishing store, a small (and uber-expensive) bakery, a cafeteria serving simple but hot meals (fried chicken, turkey, rice, chips), and a bottle shop with a remarkable, almost suspicious (who buys these expensive premium liquors and spirits?) range of options.
You can stop for a snack, for lunch or to stock up on anything you may need. Though, of course, the availability of items in the supermarket is limited. If there are any foreigners in the country, you are likely going to run into them at Capelle.
Nauru hotels and accommodation options
There are only three official places to stay in Nauru and they are all pretty expensive, and especially poor in the value for money equation, but that’s Nauru overall.
The Menen Hotel
Menen is the largest hotel in Nauru and it is Government-owned. The complex has a small store, a restaurant and a huge amount of almost-always empty rooms in concrete buildings that look like a worker’s camp.
When I visited in search of postcards and souvenirs (only basic kitschy souvenirs are sold, don’t bother) the hotel did not feel inviting at all and it did not feel like the restaurant was atmospheric in any way.
This hotel looks even less inviting than Menen but it’s the only other hotel option on the island. It looks incredibly run down and dirty from outside, with half-finished buildings, mold and falling paint but charges lower rates than Menen.
Od-N-Aiwo is a favorite among backpackers because it is the most affordable option on Nauru but I am not even sure they have hot water.
Ewa Lodge is the best accommodation option on the island, however, it comes with an extremely high price.
You pay about AUD200 for a self-contained room which has hot water and AC and the kitchenette allows you to cook something (if you stay more than two nights you will welcome this).
Also, its location, right above Capelle and managed by the same, is very convenient for renting cars, getting anything sorted, buying food and having access to basic supplies.
Visa and other practical information
Visiting Nauru is relatively simple because the options are very limited. There is only one airline that gets there, only one way to get a visa and very few choices on places to stay.
Here is all you need to know to plan a trip to Nauru.
How to get to Nauru and around
Getting to Nauru is rather complex because the only flights are operated by Nauru Airlines so you can only get there from Brisbane in Australia, Nadi in Fiji, Tarawa in Kiribati, Majuro in the Marshall Islands, Pohnpei in Micronesia (via Tarawa) or Honiara in the Solomon Islands.
As you can see, not only are the options limited but also the connections are to destinations that are in themselves rather remote (with the exception of Brisbane and Nadi) so you do need to plan ahead.
It is also worth noting that all of the flights above are usually operated on the same day. That is, Nauru Airlines has a flight departing Brisbane and going to Nauru, then Tarawa, Majuro, Pohnpei and back ending in Nadi after the Solomon Islands, so don’t expect daily flights.
This is also aggravated by the fact that the airline only has four Boeing 737-300 planes, so if one has a technical issue, an entire route may be canceled leaving many stranded in these various remote places, as it happened to a friend of mine.
To add to this, flights are expensive as a result of the monopoly so you may end up paying quite a lot for what is essentially a short flight (2,5h from Brisbane).
Once you are in Nauru, bear in mind that there is no public transportation per se so you can either walk or drive around. Renting a car, as expected, is quite expensive at around AUD75 a day, and your accommodation can help organize one on the spot.
You won’t be asked to sign any contracts, leave a deposit or even show your driving license. Nauru drives on the left and there are a few informal petrol stations on the island. You will have to return the car with a similar amount of petrol. Don’t be shocked by the prices of fuel, it is very expensive at close to AUD3 for a liter.
Best time to visit
Nauru is hot and humid all year round because of its proximity to the Equator. Maximum temperatures easily reach between 34 and 36 degrees throughout the year, while evenings and the rainy season can see minimum temperatures drop to 24 degrees.
May to November see the drier season with less than half the rainfall of the rest of the months and you should try to visit during this time because when it rains there is even less things to do in Nauru.
However, with global warming and the constant changes in weather patterns, the predictability of temperatures and rainfall in Nauru is becoming less so.
Nauru uses Australian dollars as its main currency and has ATMs that actually work and take international cards so you can easily if expensively, withdraw money locally.
The most convenient ATM is located either at Capelle or by the Post Office. Credit cards are rarely accepted so you will most likely have to use cash.
Visa for Nauru
Getting a visa for Nauru can be a bit of a pain, not because it is hard to get or because you need lots of documentation, but because it is not easy to get a reply.
To get a visa, you need to email a copy of your passport and residency permit (if you live and work in a different country than the one you are from), as well as confirmations for hotel and flight booking.
You may read that other documentation like results of a medical check-up need to be provided, but they are not actually necessary.
You can email all the above documents to Rajeev, the Director of Immigration in Nauru (a Gmail address) and, after review, he will send you instructions to make a wire transfer of AUD50 to a bank account.
Once you send him confirmation of payment, he will send you a letter that states your visa has been granted and which you need to bring to the flight and immigration formalities on arrival.
The process is quite easy and relatively cheap, compared to other visas (India costs USD80 and China a similar amount), but it can sometimes be really hard to get an answer from Rajeev.
I know of many people who got it within a couple of weeks, including the person I went to Nauru with, and several others, including myself, which needed many email reminders over months, for no apparent reason.
Usually, this is just because the person is on leave, out of the office or traveling, or maybe they simply missed the email, so keep sending reminders and you will eventually hear back.
Alternatively, other ways to get help with the visa include asking the airline for help, especially if your passport is not eligible for the visa on arrival with the pre-approval letter. Nauru Airlines can be reached via the general inquiries email and they will help liaise with immigration.
On the flight to Nauru, you will be asked to complete an arrival, customs and immigration form which is to be handed to the immigration office.
What to pack and bring to Nauru
The country’s remoteness means that a lot of the things that you would regularly and easily find in most places may just not be available in Nauru so you should bring everything you need with yourself.
Because this is a tropical holiday with a chance for swimming, diving or lazing by the beach, I would suggest to pack the usual suspects. Plus, not to exacerbate the country’s garbage management efforts, I highly recommend taking your trash with you when you leave.
Here is a list of the things you should take with you to Nauru.
This is a must, the sun is hyper strong in the Pacific and you are right by the Equator so bringing high SPF sunblock and applying it regularly and continuously is a necessity. I always love and use Biore which is non stick
A hat or cap
You really need to protect yourself from the sun, especially at the conservation area, on the boat ride, and while walking around. This is not a place for a pretty Instagram hat but for a practical one with lanyard so it does not fly away on the boat.
This one for women is good, and this one for men. I would usually think that a cap is enough but after severely burning my neck I know that you need to make sure to cover that part too so a wide brim option is best.
Mosquitoes in the Pacific are vicious and ever present. I used three pots of repellent in my ten days and just moderate spraying did not protect me, I had to literally douse myself in repellent.
Nauru is the country I visited with the most mosquitoes. The heat and humidity are the perfect grounds for them to multiply and they are vicious.
You really need a repellent that has DEET in Nauru. OFF is a reliable brand and this one has 25% DEET (I brought it to Nauru). Or if you are really prone to mosquito bites try Coleman which has 40% DEET. Make sure to thoroughly wash hands after applying it, DEET is really toxic and will upset your stomach.
I am practical in this department, just like with the mosquito repellent and hat. You can wear designer glasses to the luxury resort in Taormina, but you need to bring heavy duty sunglasses to Nauru.
Because the sun rays are strong and you need to protect your eyesight from the sun and the wind. I am a big fan of Oakley, they are heavy duty, they last, they are polarised and not too expensive. I have been using them since I was a lifeguard at age 16 and spent 8 hours a day staring at the ocean, sand and sun.
Although I will admit I have bought the same black Oakley sports model for years and love it because it holds my hair when I place them on my head and doesn’t let any sun or sand get into my eyes because it covers them all the way.
Clothes and swimwear
In terms of clothes, I highly recommend shorts and t-shirts and long sleeve cotton or linen shirts which both protect you from the sun and the mosquitoes.
A sarong is useful for many things and you can even use it to protect from the sun or as a beach towel (it is unlikely that your hotel will provide that).
Given how strong the sun is, I strongly suggest bringing a rash vest, I always wear them to protect from the sun when snorkeling so I don’t sunburn without realising it. Make sure it is long sleeved and has SPF protection.
For women, they make some really cute ones these days and I like the ones with a zipper which can be taken on and put back on easily. This flowery one is very cute and ticks all the boxes and this black one is more plain and goes with everything. Or get a super sexy onesie or Billabong’s silver shinny one (beware it does not cover your arms).
Other things to pack
You should bring any medical and personal hygiene products with you because the range of options available is very limited and regularly runs out. Any prescription medication should also be carried with you because it may not be available on the island.
Nauru is a remote destination and there are only basic medical facilities on the island so any serious injuries or medical issues need to be evacuated to Australia, make sure you have the right travel insurance which covers this.
- Check if you need a visa, get help processing it at iVisa.
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