Kiritimati (pronounced Kee-Rees-Mass in the local Gilbertese language), also known as Christmas Island is the world’s largest coral atoll. It is located in the South Pacific Ocean in the Line Islands and is a part of the country of Kiribati (pronounced Kee-Ree-Bahs). It lies just west of the International Date Line and is the first inhabited island to celebrate the New Year each year. This brought it some global attention during Y2K.
Christmas Island, not to be (but easily and often is) confused with the Australian Christmas Island, was a strategic island held by the allies during World War II. The Americans and Australians utilized the island so the Japanese could not build a base to intercept the highly trafficked Honolulu to Australia trade and supply route.
Post World War II, both the British and Americans used Kiritimati for nuclear testing-the British in 1958 and the Americans in 1962. The locals were not evacuated during these tests and there have been several claims of illness as a result of the tests over the years with little or no retribution.
Today, Kiritimati is best known for bonefishing, surfing and scuba diving. There are very limited tourist facilities on the island with a few small hotels, even fewer restaurants, just a couple of stores and one dive shop.
There is one road that goes from the airport to the main settlement of London. The International airport is essentially a shack, literally. It has a 6900 foot runway which handles two 737 landings a week. Tuesday night an Air Pacific flight leaves Nadi, Fiji at 11:59pm and arrives the following morning. That same flight continues on to Honolulu. The Air Pacific plane then returns from Honolulu about 3pm the same day en route back to Nadi. So it is possible to take a day trip from Fiji, as I did.
The flights are very expensive for a short trip so booking well ahead can save you a few bucks. You will likely have to book two separate one way flights on the Air Pacific, soon to be Fiji Airways website, as the date changes don’t register well with the computers. Also, if you want to stay a full week, you’ll have to be a serious diver or bonefisherman! I’ll be honest; there isn’t a ton to do aside from simply enjoying being on one of the most remote islands in the world.
For me, the biggest draw was the beaches and amazing water. I love the beach, as anyone who reads my site knows. Kiritimati doesn’t disappoint for beaches. They are white, they are long and they are beautiful.
The water is clear if not completely crystal clear. It is like a bath. The sands are also full of rocks and shells unlike I’ve seen on other beaches. The “fluffy” rocks are light and unique to this Christmas Island.
There are also a ton of crabs on the beaches and all around the island. This is really ironic considering Christmas Island, Australia is world famous for their red crab migration. Kiritimati has a ton of little crabs on the beaches but also many larger crabs digging holes all over the island. You can’t step five feet without stepping on a crab hole!
This leads me to the people of Kiritimati and of Kiribati in general. There may be only 5000 people on the island but they may be the nicest people I have ever encountered. We rode the local busses to and from the airport and people couldn’t have been nicer. People stopped us all over town to just say hello and chat. The immigration woman who stamped us into Kiritimati saw us walking on the streets of London and offered us a tour of the island in her car-we took it!
There were so many other examples as well from the airport people to the lady at the store we bought Cokes from. I loved the people and it was so refreshing to remember that people can really be that sweet and genuine.
This was my second time in Kiribati, the country. A few years ago I was in Tarawa, the capital. Kiritimati has much more character and actually occupies about 70% of the actual landmass of the whole country of Kiribati. Back here now in Fiji, I already miss Kiritimati and will always treasure my brief but rewarding trip to the remote Line Islands.
Kiritimati: the Other Christmas Island
February 14, 2013 by 17 Comments