Do You Do Nauru?

I’m sitting at the Honiara Airport (which amazingly enough has wireless) waiting for my flight on Our Airlines (former Air Nauru).

I’m not going to get a chance to do many posts on Nauru, so I might as well take the opportunity while I can.

Nauru is small. Very small. The country is so small, that the buildings and airport runway clearly show up on a map of the country. It is only one island, not a chain. It has a population of around 12,000. It is an independent country with a seat in the UN General Assembly.

Nauru might just be one of the saddest stories in the Pacific. The island was used for thousands of years as a stopover for birds which migrated in the Pacific. As a result, Nauru, along with several other Pacific islands such as Banabas became what is known as ‘phosphate rocks’.

In other words, they were covered with bird poop.

That bird poop had extremely good quality phosphate. It required very little processing to get it to a useful state. The British and Japanese who both colonized the island at one point or another mined the island. When they got their independence, they kept right on mining.

At one point in the 1980s, they had the highest per capita GDP of any country on Earth.

That is when things started to go downhill…

If you can see on the map, it’s a small place. There isn’t much to mine and when it was gone, it was gone. They invested the money poorly on musicals and buildings. The people of Nauru shifted their diet to junk food and became the most obese people on Earth. The inside of the island became so gutted out from mining, it looks like the moon. (actually, the moon probably looks better).

So in the end, they wound up broke, fat, and what little land they had was scarred.

A few years ago, the one airplane they had in their national airline was repossessed.

They tried their hand at banking and the US Government came down on them for money laundering. They agreed to stop the banking if the US gave them aid. They stopped the banking, but we never gave them anything.

Like many of the really small countries, they have recognized Taiwan over China. China offered them a bunch of money to recognize them, but Taiwan then beat the bid and they shifted back. Taiwan purchased the airplane I’ll be flying in tonight.

About two years ago, they went missing for a while. There was no air flights or radio contact with the island for like two months.

So in a nutshell, that’s Nauru. My original plans had me staying on the island for three days, but they changed flight schedules, so now I’ll only be here for an hour…. in total darkness. The best I can hope for is to get a passport stamp during the layover.

I guess a single post on Nauru is sort of fitting.

3 thoughts on “Do You Do Nauru?”

  1. I took an Air Nauru flight from Guam to Australia in 2000. I think it was a 4hr lay over in Nauru. From the air, it looked like a flat circle of green land. The center of the island was, as you said “gutted”, and remnants of a small mountain(maybe). The runway was very short and we came to a very quick stop. Taxiing into the airport was interesting. We had to cross the islands main highway or road. Then we parked near a two story building which was the Airport/Bank/Post Office/I don’t know what else. There was a set of bleachers near the building in which people can watch the plane come in. Someone was nice enough to give us a quick tour of the island… and boy it was quick. We drive about 15 miles an hour and it took about 15min to drive around the island. It looked like something you would see on discovery channel. The villages were, of course, small and every other village or so there were rugby fields. I was told there was a man that went to the 96 olymplics and got 4th in the weightlifting event. hmmm…let’s see what else can I remember… The people we nice except for their customs/immagration officers. There was a $25 exit tax fee, but at least I got my stamp…lol.

  2. If you want to visit Nauru, you have three choices. One hour, 6 hours, or one week. Literally. There is a single flight that goes from Brisbane to Tarawa and back via Nauru. That is it.

    I got out of the plane and touched the ground and got to wait in the airport lounge. You can only get your passport stamped if you are entering the country.

    Oh, it was also pitch dark when I was there…..

  3. Ever since hearing NPR’s report on Nauru, I have been fascinated by the island’s sad tale. It reminds me of the legacy that Easter Island left behind. I would love to visit there (bizarre, huh?). Were you really only there one hour? Did you at least get to step outside the airport, maybe smell the salt air? Did you manage to get your passport stamped?

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