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TUVALU

TRAVEL AND ACCOMMODATION GUIDE

Tuvalu comprises a chain, 580 kilometres long, of nine coral islands lying between 5 and 11 degrees south of the equator, just to the west of the International Date Line. Six of the islands are built around lagoons open to the ocean. These islands are: Nanumea Nui, Vaitupu, Nukufetau, Funafuti and Nukulaelae. With the exception of Vaitupu where the sea enters the lagoon at only one point, these six are all atolls consisting of numerous pieces of land linked by a reef and arranged rather like a string of beads.

Soak in the enchanting sounds of the sun-drenched Oceania/Pacific Islands coming to you in 64kbps FM Stereo!

Funafuti lagoon, Tuvalu

Of the other islands, Nanumaga and Niutao have completely landlocked lagoons while Niulakita has no lagoon at all, but only a swamp at its centre. Since it has never had a permanent population Niulakita, the southern most island, was not taken into account in the naming of the Tuvalu group. Tuvalu means "a group of eight".

Beach scene, Funafuti, Tuvalu

Main street, Funafuti, Tuvalu
Photo: Bob Girdo, May 2002

The formation of coral islands was a topic of considerable scientific argument in the 19th century. The question that particularly bothered scientists was this: since corals grow only at shallow depths in the sea (not below 80 metres), how is it that coral rock, formed from their remains, often extends for hundreds of metres beneath the sea?

In 1842 the famous scientist Charles Darwin, who visited the Pacific in 1835-6, put forward the theory that coral islands had been built on slowly subsiding volcanic rocks. As the volcanic foundation sank, it carried the dead coral down to greater depths. Meanwhile, new deposits of coral were being added to the top of the pile, near the surface, so that the upward growth of the coral kept pace with the subsidence. At some later date another volcanic movement occurred, and pushed some of the coral up to form islands. Thus it was, said Darwin that a solid mass of coral rock could be found above the surface of the sea, and extend from there, through the waters in which it had been formed down to depths at which the coral had never lived.

After many years of discussion on the structures of atolls, the Royal Society of London decided to bore down into the coral and obtain a sample of it from far beneath the surface to see if these samples would contain traces of shallow water organisms. In 1896 an expedition was sent to Tuvalu which managed to bore to a depth of 33 metres. In 1897 another party of scientists led by Professor Edgeworth David of the University of Sydney carried the boring to a depth of 200 metres while the following year a third group managed to obtain a sample from a depth of 340 metres. All the samples obtained were found to contain traces of shallow water organisms.

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Mrs. David, the wife of Professor Edgeworth David wrote a popular book describing her experiences in Funafuti.

 I have included a photograph of the Captain Edgeworth David's Party taken in 1897. Mrs. David is on the right of the picture.

 HISTORY

There are three distinct linguistic areas in Tuvalu. The first area contains the islands of Nanumea, Niutao and Nanumaga. The second is the island of Nui where the inhabitants speak a language that is fundamentally derived from I-Kiribati. The third linguistic group comprises the islands of Vaitupu, Nukufetau, Funafuti and Nukulaelae.

According to the evidence of linguists, who can work out how old a language is, and hence for how long people had been speaking it, the language of Tuvalu - and hence the settlement of the country - goes back about 2,000 years. The traditional stories and genealogies, however, mostly go back only about 300 years. It seems, therefore, that the story we have today came to us not from the earlier ancestors but from later arrivals in Tuvalu.

It is generally believed that the earlier ancestors came mostly from Samoa, possibly by way of Tokelau, while others came from Tonga and Uvea (Wallis Island). These settlers were all Polynesians with the exception of Nui where many people are descendants of Micronesians from Kiribati. Today, Tuvaluan and English are both spoken throughout the islands.

               

               

GETTING THERE

From Suva, Air Fiji flies three times weekly to Funafuti (Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Sunday). It is advisable to book in advance. The following are  the contact details for Travel Services, Tour Operators/Travel Agents and National Tourist Office, Funafuti, Tuvalu:

TUVALU TRAVEL SERVICES

Airlines

Air Fiji flies to Funafuti, Tuvalu, three times a week - Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Sunday.

Tour Operators/Travel Agents

Sunrise Shop  +688-206-07
Asivai +688-200-53
Sapea Engineering - Bike And Scooter Hire +688-206-66
Airport Travel Office +688-207-37

National Tourist Office          

Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Commerce
Private Mail Bag
Vaiaku, Funafuti
TUVALU   
Telephone: +688-226-85 (ask for Fakasoa)
Facsimile:   +688-208-29 (ask for Fakasoa)

  

The International Airport is located on Funafuti Island and facilities include a VIP lounge, bank, restaurant, snack bars, bars, chemist, Post Office and shops. There is a regular bus service and taxis are also available. There is a pick-up service to the Vaiaku Lagi Hotel. There is no internal air service.

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Airport shops and facilities, Funafuti, Tuvalu

Funafuti airport, May 2002
Photos: Bob Girdo

Vaiaku Lagi Hotel and jetty, Funafuti, Tuvalu, August, 2000

Entrance to Vaiaku Lagi Hotel, Funafuti, August, 2000

 Entrance to Vaiaku Lagi Hotel

 

Looking out to the Funafuti lagoon, May, 2002
Photos: Bob Girdo

Vaiaku Lagi Hotel overlooking the Funafuti lagoon, 2000

Reception, Vaiaku Lagi Hotel, Funafuti, August, 2000

Left: Vaiaku Lagi Hotel dining room
Right: Vaiaku Lagi Hotel 'maneapa'
(meeting and recreational place) facing Funafuti lagoon, May, 2002
Photos: Bob Girdo

The islands of Tuvalu are served by a passenger and cargo vessel, the M.V. Nivaga II, based at Funafuti, which occasionally calls at Suva, Fiji. Shipping services operate from Fiji, Australia and New Zealand calling at the main port of Funafuti.   

THE SIGHTS

Because of its size and remoteness, Tuvalu is off the beaten track so those who come prefer to organize their own activities and entertainment.

Volleyball game, airstrip, Funafuti, Tuvalu, August, 2000

Funafuti airstrip, Tuvalu, May 2002
Photos: Bob Girdo

Well worth a visit is the Women's Handicraft Centre, also the Philatelic Bureau and the National Library. You can also visit the spot where Professor Edgeworth David drilled below the surface of the Island hundred years ago to prove Charles Darwin's theory on the formation of Coral Atolls.  

Tuvalu Philatelic Bureau building, May 2002
Photos: Bob Girdo

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The most popular spot is the Funafuti lagoon which is about fourteen kilometres wide and some eighteen kilometres long. It is filled with a variety of wonderful multi-coloured tropical fish and is excellent for fishing, swimming and snorkelling.


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Click the above for a detailed map of Tuvalu  

PLACES TO STAY

FUNAFUTI

The Government-owned Vaiaku Lagi Hotel facing the Funafuti lagoon is Tuvalu's only hotel which contains 16 units, sleeps 1,2,3; Room US$ 61 to 102 per unit per night; bar, beach, entertainment, restaurant, facsimile, air-conditioning, ceiling fan, conference room, laundry, telephone, cultural activities, fishing, snorkelling, pool table. The hotel is situated in the centre of the town about 50 metres from the airport. Other activities and excursions to islands in the lagoon can be arranged upon request. There are so many activities that after your hotel stay you may want to consider a house or apartment finder and make one if the islands your permanent residence, especially for your retirement. Obviously their won't be any snow or ski rental type activities on this trip, but island excursions are a great getaway!  
 

Young dancers, Funafuti, Tuvalu

Other places are the Fisherman's Lodge, The Hideaway Guest House, Su's Place Guest House and Filamona's Lodge. A comprehensive list of available accommodation follows:

Left: The Hideaway Guest House, Funafuti, Tuvalu.
Right: Filamona's Lodge, Funafuti, May 2002.
Photos: Bob Girdo.
Bemoski Rooms and Restaurant

Guesthouse

+688 205-64

Coconut Lodge

Guesthouse

+688 209-11

Drum Guesthouse

Guesthouse

+688 209-70

Filamona Lodge

Guesthouse

+688 209-83

Hideaway Guesthouse

Guesthouse

+688 208-35

Island Breeze Guesthouse

Guesthouse

+688 206-06

Island Guesthouse And Restaurant

Guesthouse

+688 204-74

Laisinis Guesthouse

Guesthouse

+688 201-84

Melemele Guesthouse

Guesthouse

+688 204-93

Saumalei Holiday Flats

Rented Flats

+688 201-84

Solomai Guesthouse And Flats

Guesthouse/Flats

+688 208-11

Su's Holiday Flat

Flat

+688 206-12

Su's Place Guest House

Guest House

+688 206-12

Vaiaku Lagi Hotel

Beach Hotel

+688 205-02

VAITUPU

 

The Aliki Guesthouse

Guesthouse

+688 206-06

GETTING AROUND

A number of privately owned boats are for hire. If you feel energetic, Funafuti's main island can be explored by bicycles as well as motorbikes which are available for hire at the Vaiaku Lagi Hotel. Mini buses run regularly around the island and a taxi service is also available.

Tuvalu inter-island ferry, Manufolau, May, 2002

Left: Taxi (one of 4) for hire. Right: Motor bikes for hire. May 2002.
Photos: Bob Girdo.

Sunset on Funafuti lagoon.

Tuvalu Islands and how to get there

FOOD AND ENTERTAINMENT

The Vaiaku Lagi Hotel, Su's Place and the Kai Restaurant at the Filamona Lodge all have licensed bars and dining facilities. A large variety of food is served with emphasis on fish and locally grown produce.

The people of Tuvalu are renowned Polynesian dancers and their own unique dance (fatele) can be enjoyed during festive occasions, or on request at the Vaiaku Lagi Hotel. Below are images of dancers performing during the Tuvalu Independence celebrations at Funafuti, Tuvalu.

For more Tuvalu fatele (dance), Funafuti, Tuvalu

ACTIVITIES AND SHOPPING

There are many water sports and facilities including a multi-purpose court to play tennis, volley ball or basketball. If you enjoy collecting handcrafted souvenirs, be sure to visit the Tuvalu Women's Handicraft Centre located near the Airport and the Funafuti Women's Craft Centre.

For more information contact Tuvalu Tourism, Private Bag, Funafuti, Tuvalu. Telephone: + 688 20184, Facsimile + 688 20829

Excellent Tuvalu handicraft are available from
Tuvalu Women's Craft Centre, Funafuti.
Photos: Bob Girdo, May, 2002

 FUNAFUTI

The capital Funafuti with an estimated population of 4,000 is a low key place. There is a cluster of administrative buildings near the air terminal along with a beautiful Church (The Church of Tuvalu) which has a tall German-style tower.

 

Left: Young ladies on their way to church.  Right: The Church of Tuvalu.

The local village is a ten minute walk to the north with a deep water wharf, a further ten minute walk north of the village. The greatest attraction on Funafuti is the enormous and inviting Funafuti lagoon which is fourteen kilometres wide and about eighteen kilometres long and is excellent for swimming and snorkelling.

There are also fortnightly discos at the Vaiaku Lagi Hotel in addition to traditional island dancing (fatele) for visitors.

A short distance from the Vaiaku Lagi Hotel is the Women's Handicraft Centre where locally crafted goods are for sale. Also worth visiting are the Philatelic Bureau, which provides stamps to collectors all over the world, and the University of the South Pacific Centre, which sells a range of books relating to Tuvalu and the surrounding region. Another point of interest is the spot which made Tuvalu the focus of international scientific attention more than 100 years ago, when an expedition was sent from London and Australia to drill far into the ground to prove Charles Darwin's theory on the formation of coral atolls.

During World War 2, the United States military used it as a base to counter Japanese advances into the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati). The wrecks of several United States landing craft and B-24 bombers can still be seen on the island.

Left: A Liberator burns up after a Japanese attack on Funafuti, about 4 a.m. on the morning after the big American raid on Nauru.
Another destroyed U.S. Liberator is at the left of the picture. Right: The wreck of a Liberator on Funafuti after the Japanese attack.

Left: Wounded Americans are prepared for air evacuation to the nearest hospital. Some of them
were wounded in the U.S. attack on Nauru, others by the Japanese attack on Funafuti.
Right: The rudder of a Liberator shot away in the battle over Nauru.
Other planes had flat tyres, perforated tanks, and punctured hydraulic systems.

 World War 2 wrecks at Funafuti, May, 2002
Photos: Bob Girdo

FUNAFALA

There is a lot to do including observing the unique Tuvaluan culture and lifestyle. It is also possible to charter a boat or travel on the Council's catamaran to Funafala Islet three times a week for a stop of two hours. Funafala Islet at the south end of the Funafuti lagoon is the second most populated islet in the atoll. There are no shops whatsoever in Funafala, so visitors should take their own provisions. Traditional building with thatched roofs can be seen virtually everywhere on the beautiful islet.  

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One of the enchanting coral islets of Funafuti

Funafuti Island has many enchanting islets apart from Funafala. These islets are based on coral outcrops and most can be reached by boat or yachts from Funafuti. They are ideal for scuba diving, snorkelling and simply getting away from it all.

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Click on the map above for a detailed map

VAITUPU

This beautiful island with an estimated population of 1,407 is completely surrounded by a coral reef and has a lagoon in the centre. It is the most westernized island after Funafuti, having hosted European traders and missionaries for more than a century. In the twentieth century, Vaitupu has been notable as the educational centre of Tuvalu. The London Missionary Society (LMS) opened a school there at Motufoua in 1905. In 1979 the Government returned the ownership of the land on which the school was built to those whose forefathers had surrendered it.

Motufoua was not the only school on Vaitupu. In 1923 the Government Primary School was shifted there from Funafuti. The site chosen was called Toamakalili and the school was called Elisefou (New Ellice). Elisefou continued until 1953 when the Government closed it down and shifted the students to King George V School in Kiribati. Tuvalu's first Governor General, Sir Penitala Teo and first Prime Minister, Toalipi Lauti were both pupils at Elisefou.

In 1946 the Vaitupu people purchased Kioa Island in Fiji where a thriving Tuvaluan society exists today. Vaitupu is 135 kilometres north of Funafuti.

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Click on the map above for a detailed map

NUKUFETAU

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.

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. 

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.

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.

Nukufetau.

Click on the map above for a detailed map

NANUMEA

Nanumea Island with an estimated population of 918 is the northernmost of Tuvalu's nine atolls. It is 475 kilometres northwest of Funafuti Island. During the Second World War, Nanumea played a pivotal role in the allied defence of the Pacific. The atoll was large enough to accommodate a bomber base whiile still leaving sufficient area for the local people to remain on their islands. It was in addition, as the northernmost island of the group nearer to Japanese bases in the Gilberts (Kiribati). Tarawa, 840 kilometres from Nanumea, was a significant leap closer for the bombers than the 1,150 kilometres from Funafuti and 1,700 kilometres from Canton Island, Phoenix Group, the only other American base which was even remotely in the vicinity.

It was local identity, Frank Pasefika, who had accompanied the American survey team to Nanumea, who had already warned the people that as Nanumea was the nearest island south of the Gilberts, they should assume that it would soon be made a base. He had advised that they should immediately begin vacating their village and move to the smaller islets. Some had taken this advice.

When the Americans came, the people had accepted the idea that they would be relocated elsewhere on the atoll. Unlike Funafuti, where some villages had stayed until they were bombed, the Nanumeans were all quickly resettled. An advance party of he Seventh Defense Batallion, U.S. Marines, arrived at Nanumea accompanied by Frank Pasefika (grandson of Alfred Restieaux, an English trader) from the Funafuti District Office. Frank Pasefika was to be interpreter and to expedite the relocation of the Nanumea people to the northern islet of Lakena.

Nanumea was the subject of Japanese bombing raid but the people themselves were unharmed as Lakena was not bombed at any time during the hostility. A 2,000 metre bomber strip was constructed on Nanumea and was taking light aircraft and fighter planes in only eight days.

Following the war, the people of Nanumea were relocated back to their home. The airstrip is no longer in use and Nanumea is now reached by private yachts or cargo/passenger boat M.V. Nivaga II from the capital, Funafuti Island. Visitors to Nanumea can witness south-sea island life in its most unspoiled form. There are also war relics, many of which had been put to good use as storage sheds, etc. by the local people.

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Click on the map above for a detailed map

NANUMAGA

Nanumaga Island with an estimated population of 744 is a small island skirted by a lovely coral reef. Nanumaga is such a lovely island. If you plan to visit Nanumaga, read the 19th century book by Louis Becke, who lived in the main village of Tonga for a year. Though it was written 100 years ago, it gives great insight into life on the island. Nanumaga is 425 kilometres   northwest of Funafuti Island.

Nanmaga.

Click on the map above for a detailed map

NIUTAO

Even with only 849 people, Niutao, with its own brand of unspoiled charm and beauty, has the distinction of being the most densely populated island in Tuvalu. Boat captains making the journey there should inquire locally about how best to approach the shore. Niutao is 350 kilometres northwest of Funafuti.

Niutao.

Click on the map above for a more detailed map

NUI

Nui, with an estimated population of 708, forms the only Micronesian community in Polynesian Tuvalu. This was the first island to be seen by Europeans (a Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana and his crew sailed past in 1568). The string of small islands around Nui's lagoon have lovely palm-fringed beaches. Nui is 255 kilometres northwest of Funafuti Island.

Nui

Click on the map above for a detailed map

NUKULAELAE

Easternmost of the Tuvalu islands, Nukulaelae with an estimated population of 410 was the first island to accept Christianity. That conversion happened after a lost Cook Island canoeist washed ashore in 1861. A few years later, less scrupulous visitors (the Peruvian blackbirders) kidnapped many of the islanders by pretending to invite them aboard their three vessels for religious services. They then carrried them off to supposedly work in the Peruvian mines. Only two men who jumped overboard managed to escape. Today, with rising sea levels, Nukulaelae is threatened by salt water seeping to the taro swamps.

Nukulaelae is 105 kilometres northwest of Funafuti.

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NIULAKITA

Niulakita Island with an estimated population of 85 is a solitary coral island less than a mile long. A century ago workers excavated guano (accumulated droppings left by seabirds) for use as fertilizer. Later an Australian company used the island as a coconut plantation, and in 1944 the British government bought the island and gave it to overpopulated Niutao, which relocated a few families there.

Niulakita Island is 270 kilometres south of the capital Funafuti.

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Click on the link above for a detailed map

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Tuvalu 2000: Contemporary Pictures (including Tuvalu 2002 pictures)
Tuvalu Postcards and Picture Galleries
Tuvalu Land Affairs

 
Jane's Oceania Page: Aspects Of Oceania

Kiribati

Solomon Islands

Jane's Oceania Home Page

Pacific Islands Radio Stations

 
(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 30th May 2012)