Many people first heard of Tuvalu in 2008, when the 10-square-mile Southwest Pacific island country sent three athletes to the Olympics for the first time. The weightlifter and two sprinters won no medals, but made Tuvalu’s 10,500 residents plenty proud. This constitutional monarchy is composed of nine islands. Tuvalu is known for training excellent merchant seamen at its maritime school. Interestingly enough, the country’s largest source of income springs from its internet suffix .tv: Television companies worldwide pay big money for Tuvalu domain names.
Fifteen hundred miles northeast of New Zealand, Niue is better equipped for tourism than some of these other obscure countries. Niue boasts the world’s largest raised coral atoll and offers diving, snorkeling, caving and fishing. It works the ecotourism angle with more whale and dolphin interaction than shopping. Niue promotes itself as a place with no crowds, crime or traffic lights. The population of 1,500 has a higher per capita standard of living than many other Pacific islands.
If you want to visit these 33 islands strung over a couple thousand miles of the Pacific, you better hurry. Sadly, Kiribati, which includes Christmas Island, will be an early casualty of global warming. Already the population has moved inward as the islands sink. Tarawa, the central atoll, is as densely populated as London. This atoll is responsible for Kiribati’s earlier claim to fame, when soldiers fought a bloody World War II battle over the Tarawa’s airstrip.
Three hundred miles north of Samoa, three atolls compose the country of Tokelau. Each consists of lagoon-encircled islets, which means there’s less than 8 square miles left for the nation’s 1,400 residents to inhabit. Severe tropical storms, climate change and cyclones all threaten the islanders’ safety and livelihoods. Staple crops include taro, breadfruit, papaya and bananas. Tokelau is a good place to see migratory seabirds, rats and lizards.
This wee oval-shaped island sits northeast of Australia and 26 miles south of the equator. Nauru’s 9,000 natives identify with 12 different tribes. About 1,000 non-Nauruans also live there. Nauru’s economy centers around mining and exporting phosphate. If you visit, you can choose to stay in the government hotel or the family-owned hotel. You’ll enjoy the abundance of tropical fruit and flower trees and might want to explore the coral reef that surrounds the island. But beware: Nauru is a modest country, so cover that swimsuit with a sarong.