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Kiribati: Travel and Accommodation Guide

Republic of Kiribati

Travel And Accommodation Guide

Kiribati canoes line the shore of Bairiki,
 South Tarawa lagoon before the start of a race


Towards the end of the 18th century, two British Captains Gilbert and Marshall discovered the central and northern islands of the Gilbert group which they named the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati).

A group further north were named the Marshall Islands. The Gilbert islands straddling the equator are just west of the International Date Line.  

In 1890 Great Britain took control of the nearby Ellice Islands (now Tuvalu) which consisted of 9 islands and in 1892 the Gilbert Islands became a British Protectorate.

The Gilbert Islands, administered with the Ellice Group  formed one of the few remaining British Crown Colonies in the Pacific. Its administration centre was then in Honiara in the British Solomons, but a Resident Commissioner had headquarters on Tarawa. The colony covers almost a million square miles of ocean and includes a few others and clusters of atolls of which Phoenix Atoll, with eight islands is the largest. Perhaps best known is Canton Island, which became an air base during the war, and in the early post-war years a refuelling stop for trans-Pacific air services. With the development of longer-ranging aircraft it has been relegated to the category of emergency airport.

Other islands of some importance was then Ocean Island (Banaba), and now Christmas and Fanning Islands. A consortium representing Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom has worked the valuable phosphate deposits of Ocean for many years. The Japanese occupied it during the Second World War, but it saw no action. Fanning Island, until 1963, contained a repeater station for the trans-Pacific cable service between Canada and Australia. Then a coaxial cable replaced the old link and eliminated the island's function. In war time, the United States and New Zealand forces garrisoned Christmas Island, a neighbour of Fanning in the Line Group, and in post war years both Britain and the United States have conducted nuclear tests there.

Sunset at Bairiki, Tarawa, Kiribati

In 1979 the Gilbert Islands gained independence from Britain and became the Republic of Kiribati.

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Map of Kiribati including Banaba (Ocean Island)

The coconut economy of such coral islands as those of the Kiribati Group is a difficult one, demanding the utmost of the inhabitants. The idyllic life depends, not on the beneficence of Nature, but upon the resources and energies of the people. Here the human has had to develop techniques that permit survival. To grow taro or babai, the starchy root that is his only food crop, he must excavate a pit about twelve yards square and perhaps two yards deep - deep enough, anyway, to reach down to the table of fresh water that collects at sea-level below these porous islands where no fresh water flows.


Two Gilbertese (I-Kiribati) men inspecting the crop
in a taro or babai pit, dug down to sea level
to find moisture in the porous coral island.

He may only do so once every twenty years or so; but the labour is enormous. In the pit the farmer keeps a constant plantation of taro growing replanting the tops as a cutting whenever he harvests the root. He can do this at most seasons, but since the vegetable takes a year to develop, his pit must be large enough to feed his family for that length of time. Other staples are the coconut and, in season, the breadfruit. But the taro pit requires a constant cultivation, the farmer building baskets round each plant to secure the liberal applications of leaf mould without which it could not thrive.

Left: Crayfishing, Kiribati. Right: The Kiribati canoe is claimed to be the fastest in the
Pacific. The asymmetric hull is heeled to raise the outrigger slightly above the water.

The coconut and the pandanus provide house-building materials, the open, airy houses being raised on palm-trunk piles, fastened with coco-fibre rope, and roofed with pandanus. An almost necessary addiction to the family menu is the juice collected from the young flower shoots of the coconut palm.

Bonriki airport, Tarawa, Kiribati

Most of the economy centres on the lagoon and the reef; the men fishing each day from canoes; the women and children walking the reef at each low tide to collect reef animals like the octopus, the clam, and the crab. The other food supply comes from pigs and hens, staples of the economy throughout the Pacific.

But the joy of island life comes most deeply from the well-developed social sense of the islanders, their joy in singing and dancing, and the extrovert happiness with which they share every piece of good fortune that comes their way.

1999 saw the capital Tarawa developed into a first class accommodation destination being serviced by Air Nauru and packages combining Nauru and Kiribati (Tarawa) can be obtained from Australia with departures from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Christmas Island has limited Aloha charter flights/Coral Pacific Airlines from Honolulu only. Visas are required for entry to Kiribati.

Since the end of 2002, Air Kiribati (International) is flying an ATR-72 turboprop aircraft leased from a French-based company. The aircraft is servicing:

Tuesday: Kiribati (Tarawa)-Marshall Islands (Majuro)-Kiribati (Tarawa)-Tuvalu (Funafuti)-Fiji (Nadi/Suva)

Thursday: Fiji (Nadi/Suva)-Tuvalu (Funafuti)-Kiribati (Tarawa)- Marshall Is. (Majuro)-Kiribati (Tarawa)

For further information, please contact Air Kiribati (ATR) in Tarawa, Telephone: 0011-686-28081

South Tarawa, Kiribati

If combining Tarawa with Nauru, accommodation in Nauru is at the Menen Hotel. Prices are in Australian dollars and valid from 14th October 1996. Tarawa may be combined with Pohnpei, Guam and the other islands of Micronesia.

Tanea and Buota, Tarawa, Kiribati.

Kiribati packages include economy airfares, accommodation, continental breakfasts in Tarawa and airport transfers. Departures from Melbourne on Friday evening, or Brisbane early Saturday morning. Kiribati may be combined with Nauru. Prices on request.  

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Accommodation in Tarawa is at the Otintaai Hotel which is available to satisfy every requirement from the most luxurious to accommodation that will allow the visitor to experience the traditional lifestyle.

The Otintaai Hotel offers 40 air-conditioned rooms with private facilities.

Rooms have fan, refrigerator, tea/coffee facilities and balcony overlooking the lagoon. Each room also is equipped with International Direct Dial (IDD) telephone. Visitors staying at the Otintaai Hotel can be picked up from the airport and deposited at the airport when they depart. Rental cars are also available for sightseeing and shopping. Telephone: +686 28084; Facsimile: +686 28045

The Otintaai Hotel, Bikenibeu,Tarawa

Aerial photograph of Christmas Island taken from the NASA space shuttle

Captain Cook Hotel, Christmas Island (Animation)

Beach scene, Captain Cook Hotel

Cassidy airport, Christmas Island (Animation)

Aerial view of Christmas (Kiritimati) Island

For further information about the Republic of Kiribati, please contact the following e-mail addresses:
For Christmas and Fanning Islands, the rest of the Line Islands and the Phoenix Group, please contact:
Kiraren T Tebetanga
Tourism Development Officer
Tourism Office
Ministry of Communication, Transport and Tourism Development
Ronton, Kiritimati

The Tarawa Hotel is located at Ambo on South Tarawa and offers six rooms with private cooking facilities, two toilets, two showers, two kitchens, two lounges and refrigerators. It is situated close to the main road, handy to public transport and is opposite the famous Ambo Lagoon Club. Telephone: +686 21445


Mary's Motel stands near the Nippon Causeway at Bairiki. Mary's Motel provides eight accommodation rooms, style accommodation, fully air conditioned with fridge and especially a tea/coffee-making facilities. Also there is a nice restaurant for people who want to experience the very best of island cuisine. They serve excellent International, Chinese, Japanese and local dishes. There is also a licensed bar where one can unwind after a busy day of sightseeing and shopping. Telephone: +686 21164/21362  

The Betio Motel welcomes visitors to enjoy the comfort of its air-conditioned dining room. There is a delicious international and local menu available. The Betio Motel is also equipped with a satellite television service. Visitors are always welcome at the Betio Motel. Telephone: +686 26361; Facsimile: +686 26048

The Lagoon Breeze Motel is situated about half way between the airport and Bairiki. The Motel has a very nice park and is close to the lagoon. It has eight rooms with fans. Other facilities are shared kitchen and office service with Internet.

The Sweet Coconut Motel is located near the ocean side at Tebunia on South Tarawa, about fifteen minutes drive from the airport. Facilities include three double rooms and two single rooms with private cooking facilities, shower and shared toilet. Telephone: +686 21487

Bikenibeu, Tarawa, Kiribati

Buariki Hideaway Guest House at Buariki is the ideal choice for someone wanting to see traditional lifestyles in Kiribati but does not have time to go to the outer islands. The resort has four small double guest houses and one large guesthouse with kitchen, toilet and shower. Activities offered are snorkelling, fun water sports, exploring and village tours. Telephone: +686 26695 E-mail

Mauri Paradise is a resort situated at Buariki village in North Tarawa just a few yards from the edge of a very pleasant lagoon. There is no electricity on this part of the island. Facilities include one diving boat, a set of scuba diving equipment and traditional sleeping accommodation. Besides the dive tours, the resort also offers traditional activities such as fishing. The resort is about one-and-half hours by boat from the main towns of South Tarawa. Telephone/Facsimile +686 21646


There are no facilities for camping. Picnic sites are however available at off-lying islets in Tarawa and the outer islands. Visitors are advised to take their litter with them when they leave. The land is privately owned on the outer islands.


Matarena offers a fully licensed restaurant. It is situated in the capital Bairiki and offers European and Chinese-style cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is also an adjoining public bar and general store.

The Royal Bar is situated near the centre of Betio islet. It is fully air-conditioned and cold beer and soft drink are always available. The bar opens every evening from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and later at weekends. It is the favourite haunt of many expatriates and is the weigh-station for the Betio Game Fishing Club.

Ambo Lagoon Club is situated on the lagoon side and incorporates a variety of entertainment. These include a swimming pool, volley ball, a safe swimming lagoon and a dart facility. There is also a large Maneaba (meeting house) incorporating a bar which is ideal for that special party. Everybody is always welcome at the Ambo Lagoon Club.

Ambo lagoon club, South Tarawa

The Night Spot is one of Kiribati dancing places. A visitor is always welcome at the night spot where you can enjoy yourself dancing and drinking with many young pretty girls and for the ladies meeting handsome young and more mature men!! The Night Spot is open every day of the week, so a visitor is always welcome to join in the fun.


One Stop is a small supermarket situated in the Government's centre of Bairiki, Tarawa. It has a wide range of fresh, frozen and dried goods and open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fresh fruit, vegetables, cheeses and yoghurts are imported weekly by plane from Australia. All staff are English-speaking and are famous for their friendly service.

Fern is one of the supermarkets in Tarawa. It sells fresh vegetables, chicken, meat pies, cloth and everything that a visitor needs to buy including a selected range of wine. Visitors are always welcome at the Fern store which opens seven days a week.


Sailing and other water sports, fishing, soccer, cricket, squash and tennis are the popular sports and now there is a diving club in Betio as well as a diving resort in North Tarawa. Bottle and weight belts are supplied, but divers should bring their own regulators, masks and fins. Advance booking is essential because the amount of rental equipment is limited. To prevent coral cuts, sandshoes should be worn when walking on the reef.

A favourite swimming area in Tarawa is on both sides of the Dai Nippon Causeway around the area close to the channel or off the small islets of North Tarawa. There is a 36 Norman Cross trimaran with sail and auxiliary power available for charter by the day or for longer periods. It is fully equipped with all safety equipment and has a professional skipper. Its day capacity is up to 17 persons and overnight is eight. Advance booking is essential at Facsimile: +686 28539.

Sightseeing is popular, in particular the wide variety of World War 2 relics still evident on Betio islet. If the visitor is lucky enough, he may be at Tarawa on the night of a flying-fish drive, when islanders paddle their outriggers or boats to stations at spaced intervals around the lagoon. Each canoe carries a torch of burning coconut stems, and the whole lagoon seems dotted with lights, each flame expanding and contracting with movement, and in its spasmodic glow lighting the beautiful brown skins of the fishermen. The flying fish break the surface and fly toward the lights, only to strike the nets and drop into the hull of the canoes. Fish that are not immediately eaten are sun-dried, and used as reserve food.

For the above, the Gilbert Islander has to be ever on the alert. The rainfall of his island may vary between fifteen inches or a hundred and thirty from year to year; crops can fail, and starvation reach uncomfortably close. But his Micronesian heritage stands him in good stead; he can survive happily, and raise his laughing children where humans from more fortunate places would perish from want. For him life is relaxing; but relaxation is an attitude of mind, and a communal one.


Handicraft centres and shops are located on South Tarawa and provide a variety of local handicraft for sale to visitors. These include shark tooth swords, local fans, mats, trays and wooden spears. Contact the Itoiningaina Handicraft Centre, Teaoraereke, Tarawa, Telephone: +686 21038, the RAK Handicraft Centre, Tangintebu, Telephone: +686 21132 and the AMAK Handicraft Centre, Bikenibeu, Telephone: +686 28517.

For more information on the Gilbert Islands (Republic of Kiribati) please contact: The Kiribati Visitors Bureau, P.O. 510, Betio, Tarawa, Republic of Kiribati; Telephone: +686 26158/26157; Facsimile: +686 26233

Kiribati Mwaie (Dancing)

Animation: Dancing

Annual singing and dancing competition on Bairiki, South Tarawa


The relics of World War 2 seem strangely inappropriate - the concrete pillboxes, the rusting landing craft, the shattered guns, all the futile imprints of an alien war.

Betio islet, South Tarawa

The people of Tarawa, Kiribati, are more conscious today of that war than the people of any other Pacific Island with the Solomon Islands, and Guadalcanal especially running a close second. Much of this is due to the fact that the leftover junk of the war was something that could be promoted as a visitor attraction. But this attitude was something that was pressed upon them, either by the need for tourism to booster a fragile economy as in Tarawa, or by growing pressure of visitors who were finding their way there to see their old battle haunts and so refreshed local interest, as in Guadalcanal. If the old marines were returning, usually with their wives, children, grand children and even great grand children, why not make it easier for them to relive the old days?

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