South Pacific’s newest star

By | Travel
Christmas Island, Kiribati. Credit@Warren Jackson via flickr.com

The Pacific island of Kiribati is celebrating a first Commonwealth Games medal after David Katoatau won gold in weightlifting 105kg. Glasgow’s crowd cheered and roared when the national anthem of Kiribati was played during the medal ceremony. Although the 20th Commonwealth Games have now come to an end, the celebration of his gold medal will go long beyond the summer, and in fact will go down in history as it is the country’s first medal, of any colour, in any competition, to ever be won.

The gold medal symbolises great things and both the athlete and the country should be extremely proud. However, as the athlete finally makes his way back to his home country after four years of intense training, he brings two things: a Commonwealth gold medal and opportunity. For Kiribati, a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean, this is the opportunity they have long been waiting for.

Village in the capital, South Tarawa. Credit@Brad Hinton via flickr.com

Village in the capital, South Tarawa. Credit@Brad Hinton via flickr.com

With a population of just over 100,000 people, the isolated islands may be sometimes forgotten. However the gold medal is an opportunity for recognition; for the world to discover and learn about the unique and fascinating islands that many call home. The country- which won independence from the United Kingdom in 1979- is ideal for travellers- those who have a passion for exploring and discovering and who like an adventure off the tourist trail to places where few have been before.

In a nation with the biggest water to land ratio in the world, water is a dominant feature in the lives of the Kiribati people. To a traveller, the ocean provides various leisure activities at their fingertips such as diving, snorkelling and surfing. To a local Kiribati, fishing is their tradition. Home to world class game fishing and having obtained many International Fishing World Records, the waters in Kiribati are open for anglers from across the globe to try their hand.

Local fishing in Kiribati. Credit@AusAID via flickr.com

Local fishing in Kiribati. Credit@AusAID via flickr.com

Kiribati’s 33 islands form an area of only 811 km², although scattered over an area of around 5 million km². There are three main regions that form Kiribati- Gilbert, Line and Phoenix and each of the 33 islands is located in one of these regions. The Gilbert Region is a collection of the westernmost islands, home to the vast majority of Kiribati’s population, including the capital of South Tarawa. The capital is the economic hub of Kiribati, home to the main airport, port and most enterprises and private businesses.

The Line Region is the farthest flung. For tourists looking for a paradise island holiday of white sands and picturesque blue lagoons, Christmas Island (also known as Kiritimati) is the most popular island in the Line Region. The name Kiritimati is a respelling of the English word “Christmas” in Gilbertese- the language spoken in Kiribati.

Today, there are four populated villages on Christmas Island that form just over 5,000 inhabitants- Tabwakea, London, Banana and Poland. Christmas Island is popular for its wildlife, in and out of the water, such as the amphibious coconut crab, the feral cat and the Polynesian rat. Furthermore, with more than 35 species of bird recorded there, it is clear why it was announced a bird sanctuary in 1960.

The stunning lettuce coral near the Phoenix Islands, Kiribati. Credit@Szecska via flickr.com

The stunning lettuce coral near the Phoenix Islands, Kiribati. Credit@Szecska via flickr.com

The Phoenix Islands are completely uninhabited, with the exception of a few families on Kanton. Home to the world’s largest marine protected area, the Phoenix Islands are a great chance to experience the true beauty of Kiribati- free of crowding, traffic congestions, shopping centres, sky scrapers and pollution.

The National Geographic has recently stated that “the Phoenix Islands are the earth’s largest pockets of primal ocean, where underwater havens have remained unspoiled and untouched as long as the ocean can remember”.

The regions that make up the Kiribati islands are each so unique and interesting. What is the same throughout the islands of Kiribati however is the communities that lie within each place. Although the landscape and tranquillity outline Kiribati, it is the people who truly make the islands so special. The return of David Katoatau- South Pacific’s newest star- and his gold medal will only make the people of Kiribati even more proud and humble.

What countries have you discovered through the Commonwealth Games?

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