Christmas Island (Kiritimati)

18 03 2011

16th March 2011

Situated in the middle of the Central Pacific, the Republic of Kiribati consists of 33 islands, 21 being inhabited  Although during the Second World War, no fighting took place on Christmas Island, up to 2,500 U.S. troops were stationed here at peak times and an airfield was built.  It was here in 1957 that the British Government detonated the first of a series of nuclear tests in the atmosphere about 35 miles south; the US doing further tests in l962, On both occasions 3,000 personnel were stationed on the island.  Extensive tests in the 60s and 70s revealed no abnormal radioactive levels and life for the islanders continued as normal.  However, there is still evidence of the visiting troops in the form of old trucks and rusting piles of hardware!

Today the island is one of the poorest in the world, with a population of around 5,000 living at subsistence level.  So we were all wondering why this island was on our itinerary.  Tenders had to be used.  It was explained from the bridge that because it was low tide, the normally shallow lagoon was dangerously low so only 15 passengers per tender would be allowed on board at the beginning of the operation.  Considering there were probably at least 1,000 passengers who wanted to go ashore, we made sure of early tender tickets and in fact sailed in on the second tender.  Both tenders went aground, and there were great cheers when our (second ) tender became free and landed on Christmas Island first!

We were greeted by a group of men in their best Sunday orange tee-shirts singing local songs with wonderful harmonies.  A few tables were being set up under a metal awning selling basic necklaces and trinkets made from shells. One table also sold postcards and stamps.

There was a board advertising a trip to a bird sanctuary island nearby, it could also include another stop for snorkelling.  Six of us decided to go on the trip and so we set off with an ranger from the bird sanctuary.  The boat was quite small with just a 40hp engine on the back. It took some 30 minutes for us to reach Moto Tapu bird sanctuary, but how it was worth it.  The island was teeming with bird life – boobies, frigate birds, shearwaters, sooty tern and others we do not remember.  It was still in the breeding season and we saw many nests with eggs or young on the ground.  They were very unafraid of us wandering around taking pictures.  We have some wonderful cine shots.

 

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We then all climbed back into the boat and headed off for Cook Island (yes our friend had been here in 1777).  The wind had strengthened and the waves were getting larger, so we headed for a swimming beach instead of the planned coral reef snorkel.  It was wonderful, not another soul around, white sand, azure sea and a backdrop of palm trees.  After 40 minutes or so playing in the sea and collecting shells, it was unfortunately time for us to make our way back to Christmas Island.  Some of the more nervous aboard were I think slightly relieved.

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Because it was so unexpected, we felt that the trip had been one of the highlights of the whole of the cruise so far 

Rather than return immediately to the Aurora, we then had a little walk around the houses and even found an internet cafe and later a bar selling ice cold beers under a palm shelter looking out on the blue sea.

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Returning to Aurora from a most wonderful day, we felt extremely lucky to discover that a mere 700 people had managed to get ashore and we were the only ones to get a boat trip!


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