It is no secret that I am a passionate lover of the Pacific islands. I am attracted to the combination of warm sun, fine beaches, remoteness and genuine hospitality of the people.
There are eleven countries and countless islands and states in the expanse of water that extends from Australia and the Far-East to the Americas. Many of the islands are territories belonging to the US, UK, New Zealand and France who never achieved independence.
The area is only known to Japanese, Australian and New Zealand tourists. Airlines like Fiji Airways, JAL, Korean Airways or even Virgin Australia have made inroads into some of the historically remote islands providing an increasing number of flights to Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu or even the Solomon Islands. To the rest of the world, the Pacific is an undiscovered paradise: a far away land that is very hard to reach and of which most known nothing about.
How remote you may wonder?
Out of the twenty five least visited countries in the world, seven are part of the eleven in the Pacific. Lost in the numbers?
The world’s least visited country, Nauru, is part of this group of island-nations. The remaining six least visited countries include Tuvalu, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Micronesia all of which receive less than 45,000 visitors a year. In fact, Nauru only received 160 so, on half of the days, there isn’t a single tourist on the country.
Even if you knew of them and wanted to visit the distance, the Dantesque flights connections and the exorbitant prices would most probably discourage you. I recently spent days, as in, more than just a few hours, trying to solve the rubik cube of the flight connections to visit Nauru, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, all of which are connected from Brisbane with Our Airline, Nauru’s national carrier, and the fare was close to $2,500 for the flights alone. Those who fly really must go and so prices account for no competition.
It is precisely this remoteness that has preserved the old ways of life and that keeps most of these countries detached from tourism.
If nobody else does, should you still visit?
A rotund YES. And here are the five remote countries in the Pacific you probably have never heard of before today.
The least visited country in the world is visited by pretty much nobody. You will need a visa, with an obscure process involving email exchanges with the embassy in Brisbane, or you might get lucky and get the help from Our Airline.
Nauru was previously known for being a refuge camp. It is so small that you can see it all in one day and, as opposed to other Pacific countries,it is made of just one island.
Strangely enough, the national airline is one of the few to connect several of the least visited countries. They link Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Kiribati with Nauru and Australia in a day’s worth of country hopping.
2. Marshall Islands
Made of 24 coral atolls and over 1,000 islands, this is the Maldives of the Pacific but don’t expect any high-end resort.
Originally discovered by my ancestors, the “Spanish Empire”, in the XVI century, the islands changed hands with the Germans, the Japanese and the Americans and today remains an independent country in free association with the US, which means that you can use its hard currency.
Although the country is made of beautiful atolls some of which have appealing names like Bikini Atoll, the US conducted several nuclear tests in the area after World War II which left the islands as “the most contaminated place in the world”, according to the US Nuclear Agency.
Expect lots of WWII ship wrecks for diving and placid white sand beaches. Since there are only 4,600 visitors a year, you are likely going to be one of ten tourists on site during your visit. And they are probably there on business.
I was searching for ways to reach Marshall Islands when the name of an isolated atoll kept coming up as a possible connection with United Airlines. This was Kwajalein atoll, closed off from civilians as it is the site of a US missile testing facility. It seems that the Marshall Islands have found its niche in the form of military experiments.
Kiribati that straddles the Equator and which would be spread over both sides of the Date Line if its pattern had not been indented to ensure all islands were on the same side. The distance between Tarawa, the capital, and Kirimati, also known as Christmas Island, is a seven hour flight making it one of the most dispersed countries in the world.
Most of the population lives in the main island of Tarawa but Christmas Island is well known as the world’s fishing capital and fishing expeditions by the most savvy and experienced hunters to this hyper-remote part of the world are common.
If you want to visit, hurry up. Global warming is a real risk in Kiribati and in 1999 two islands disappeared under water.
4. The Federated States of Micronesia
The Federated States of Micronesia is made of four states: Kosrae, Chuuk, Yap and Pohnpei, and it is not to be confused with Micronesia, the region, which comprises of several other islands, states and territories.
Micronesia is a diver’s paradise. The lagoons in several of the islands were major WWII wreck sites and the remoteness of this part of the world means that you will have the dive sites all to yourself. Chuuk is considered the wreck capital of the world with the large Japanese Fourth Imperial Fleet providing diving opportunities for days.
Like the Marshall Islands, Micronesia was first discovered by Spanish and Portuguese explorers and when Spain lost in the American war the islands were sold to Germany. In the XX century the region was largely under US influence until it achieved independence.
Although the four islands share some common cultural values they are very different. In Yap you will be able to see the famous “stone money”, large stone disks with a hole in the middle ranging in size and value from 4 meters in diameter to 30cm. Diving in Yap and Pohnpei is world-class thanks to lagoon passages with large groups of mantas and reef sharks.
Surfers come to Pohnpei with photography crews to catch and capture the perfect right-hand waves for major surf magazines.
if you are still looking for a reason to visit, this may help. The country has very recently announced plans to legalize marihuana – a measure which will surely boost meagre tourism numbers.
The third least visited country in the world has a population of just over 10,000 inhabitants and a size of 26 sq km, so you could also walk it. The size of the island gave American Forces a minimum reason to build an airport on a modified reef and use it as the air base for the battles of the Pacific during WWII. Thanks to this, the country is connected to Fiji twice weekly. But despite this link, a mere 1,600 tourists came in 2012, 80% of which were businessmen, expats and officials. That is only 350 tourists, or one a day. Could this be you?
Tuvalu is one of many Pacific Islands at high risk of disappearing under the rising Ocean levels. In 2014, a family made headlines for seeking Climate Change refugee status in New Zealand.
Islanders are as self-sufficient as they can utilizing corals as paint, coconut as staple and palm trees for everything else. The isolation from the rest of the world has preserved communal ways of life and pristine corals and reefs. This is the ultimate place to disconnect. There are three hotels, one taxi and pretty much no infrastructure.
All photos taken from Google Earth