A pearl of the Pacific, Tuvalu is the experience of a lifetime that few are lucky enough to have. If you are dreaming of visiting the worlds least visited destination (Funafuti, Tuvalu) here are 10 of my favourite memories and moments to inspire your Pacific journeys…
#1. The Beaches – Funafuti Atoll is Tuvalu’s highest populated Atoll, at around 6000 people, has extremely varied geomorphology island-to-island. For a few days, I helped my field mates on their Island of interest; Tepuka. I can’t emphasise enough, the perfection of this island. If I were to go back (and I sincerely hope I do) I would love to spend a whole relaxed day on this small serene island (it is unpopulated so no option to stay there overnight). White sand, lush vegetation and the brightest aqua waters make this island a tropical heaven to fulfil your wildest mermaid dreams. A walk around the island will take around an hour at a normal pace but allow some extra time to check out little critters, inlets, and to rest on bowed palm trunks. You will need to hire a tin motorboat with a driver from the mainland (Fongafale) which will cost around $200AUD for the return trip and petrol. Each way takes approx. one hour across the lagoon but you may see some of Tuvalu’s sea life detailed next…
#2. Pacific marine life – I had one major goal outside of my research in Tuvalu; to see a Parrot fish in the wild. These little guys munch up coral structures and poop out sediment which adds to the sediment budget, in turn playing a part in beach hydrodynamics. I have to admit – I didn’t see one. My supervisor did and was trying to show me the shadow in the waves but alas. The school of dolphins that swam past the reef crest more than made up for it. We also saw reef sharks, sea turtles, and sea cucumbers in the lagoon.
#3. Speaking of the environment the fauna lives in, the coral reefs, active with colour and life were stunning to behold. For a coral geek like me, getting to observe and study this natural oasis was truly breath taking.
#4. Tuvalu is the lowest lying nation in the world and therefore is the most vulnerable to sea level rise. Its highest point is just 4.6m above mean sea level. We were able to observe the king high tide event (highest tide of the year) and seeing the variation on the reef platform put the potential effects of climate change right in front of my face. We had to keep shuffling up the berm to not get caught in the swash. Finding the sweet spot between not getting wet and being far enough from the islands jungle center in which mosquitoes are rampant is a real challenge!
#5. Coconuts. On a particularly sweltering afternoon, we asked our boat drivers (a couple of local blokes) if they would help us find coconuts to drink. They promptly hopped up a coconut tree dropped down a few coconuts and took a machete to them. We had ready to drink coconut water from the source within minutes. Our supervisor tried his hand at hacking away at a coconut for 10 minutes or so , dubbing his technique ‘white man styles’… needless to say – white man styles were not so effective. That night we took our half-drunk coconuts and added a little of the duty free minis we had picked up in Suva and made coconut water cocktails!
#6. Speaking of local delicacies, we were lucky enough to try a few. Fern shoots (do NOT douse these in soy sauce) were a fresh alternative to the standard frozen veggies. We were also surprised with plentiful breadfruit crisps on our last morning – the are kind of like a slightly stale potato chip with a nice spice to it. Neither were too exotic for my fussy palette and both were locally sourced, harvested, and prepared which made them all the more unique and special.
#7. Our dinners in Tuvalu were well-earned. After hot, muggy days walking around the reefs it was lovely to relax at the Vaiaku Lagi restaurant where rice and veggies cost me approx. AUD$5. My friend had bought a bottle of soy sauce at the general store and we went nuts with it (and a second when we finished the first) over the couple of weeks we were there. I had a tub of peanut butter and nut bars stashed in my suitcase as a protein source. We sat on the large open decking out the back of the hotel most nights (the Chinese spot had given some of our party tummy troubles so we avoided that one). These evenings hold my fondest memories of watching the sun set over the lagoon and hearing about the staffs various island escapades. My supervisors PhD supervisor (somewhat of a legend in the coral reef academic world – for that matter, all the staff on the trip were) had studied Tuvalu’s coastline since the 1970’s and one evening he told us this was likely to be his last trip to the island. One memorable tale they told was turning up to one of their sites after a few years and finding wreckage from the Boxing day tsunamis strews across their benchmarks (bolts drilled into the rock to mark the survey sites years apart to track changes in the beach profile).
Photo credit: Paige Sims
#8. The kids on the island were so inquisitive and cheerful. They speak a blend of Pacific languages with a main base of Samoan, so we couldn’t communicate with them well. Their curiosity for our equipment and activities was endearing to the point of occasionally making it difficult to carry out our tasks as they wanted to play with and try out the equipment. Their spirit and playfulness set a contrast to the tech obsessed kids back home. These kids were so excited to have me take a photo of them and then see it immediately on the screen. For a little perspective on Tuvalu’s technology situation, we did manage to find a sweet spot for our $20 500mg wifi on the deck of the Filamona. Facebook and Snapchat worked alright but forget face timing. We met a man from the US who was looking into installing a satellite on Fongafale to allow for 3G connection.
#9. The games that take place on the runway on the 5 days a week that flights don’t occur are an example of making fun with few resources. When we first descended in the airplane, I was convinced we were going to squash some people. They line the runway waving to the incoming and outgoing guests and family. When the runway is closed, they set up volleyball style games where they toss a coconut wrapped in palm leaves back and forth hot-potato style. The runway is just a nice stretch of concrete that they turn into a game field.
#10. A simpler way of life – The could be (and has been) touted for many societies around the world that the lack of technology, infrastructure, and expectation is so relaxing here. The main focuses in this community is family, faith, fishing, and island time. In many ways, an enviable lifestyle that few westerns could comprehend, let alone adapt to there is something special about the atmosphere and landscapes here that need preserving against all kinds of environmental changes including sea level rise, ocean acidification & temperature increase, and human induced pollution.
No one need wonder if Tuvalu Holidays are even possible anymore! With only 1,000 people visiting in 2015 it truly is the worlds least visited destination. If these highlights like these top ten become well known however, maybe that will change! As always please let me know your thoughts and comments below, I’d love to hear from you!
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Olivia Philpott, a young Kiwi who loves all things coastal is convinced she is a mermaid. Having traveled throughout the Pacific, she is just stretching her wings and hopes to tackle Europe, North America and SE Asia next. Follow for guest posts from an admittedly high maintenance traveller who doesn’t take things too seriously! Her travel is inspired primarily by the geography on offer and whether they serve Pina Coladas!