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Of the nine Tuvalu atolls, only Nukufetau with an estimated population of 796 and Funafuti have passages through their coral rings large enough to allow ships and yachts to enter the lagoon. That alone should put Nukufetau on the itinerary of visiting yachtsmen. During World War 2, the United States forces recognized the value of the atoll by building a wharf and an X-shaped airfield on Motulalo Island. Some war wreckages are still scattered around the island.

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Nukufetau photograph
taken 16th January 2000 from Space Shuttle Flight STS99.

The American base on Nukufetau was built to provide an alternative to the other two bases (Nanumea and Funafuti) on Tuvalu to allow for further dispersal of American aircraft as protection against Japanese bombing. A large, long strip of land at Motulalo islet, on the south-eastern side of the atoll, was the only suitable site for the construction of airships. No enemy attacks were ever made against the island and the people were largely undisturbed in their village on Savave islet. 

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Wartime photograph of Nukufetau
with the now-abandoned airfield drawn in.

The lives of the Nukufetau people were significantly less affected by the presence of the Americans on their atoll than those of either Funafuti or Nanumea. Their village on the south-western islet on Savave was untouched and was separated from the American base at Motulalo by eight kilometres of lagoon. In addition, the larger atoll of Nukufetau had a passage allowing landing ships to enter into its lagoon.

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Nukufetau lagoon and beaches

Nukufetau today is little changed from the Nukufetau of yesterday. Like all the islands of Tuvalu, the people are friendly and hospitable and the beautiful Nukufetau lagoon is an ideal stopping-off point for yachts, ships and all forms of leisure craft.  

Nukufetau is 85 kilometres northwest of Funafuti.

(For further information about Nukufetau, please click on Myths and Legends and Tuvaluan Genealogy)


Click on the map above for a detailed map

Click here Jane's Tuvalu Home Page    
Click here Jane's Oceania Home Page  
By Jane Resture
(E-mail: -- Rev. 23rd August 2002)