Nauru - The world's 3rd smallest country

Beach in Anibare with Pinnacle

Excited to visit here with questions in my head like: How poor has a country to be when it is necessary to rent out big parts of the country as refugee camps? How remote has a country to be when it is necessary to import substantial food and stuff directly from the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Taiwan?

For a period of twenty years, Nauru was one of the richest countries in the world and after that, until today, one of the poorest.

Map of Oceania
Where is Nauru?

Nauru is far away from everything

The whole country is only one island with 6km x 4km and in the middle of the ocean of Oceania.

Its the 3rd smallest country on the planet. Only Monaco and Vatican City are smaller.

13'000 people are living there and among them about 1'000 refugees. Not necessary to mention that they don't get along with each other too well.


May 13 – Arriving in tiny Nauru

My flight with Nauru Airline this morning started from Micronesia’s Pohnpei via the Marshall Islands and via Kiribati, whereas at each landing passengers left the plane and new ones entered. Flying towards the third smallest country in the world made me exciting as it is said to be the least visited country in the world. Somehow this fact is fascinating but the same time a little bit creepy as hell.

The whole country Nauru
Nauru is one island with 21km2

After an hour flight from Kiribati, there was suddenly just a small piece of island visible from the plane and the closer we flew, the island still remained small :). Even seconds before touching the ground it was still possible to see over the whole island and therefore also the whole country of Nauru. There are only a few flights per week and all operated by Nauru Airlines.

When I wanted to leave the plane the flight attendant stopped me:

“Sir, we are in Nauru, you’re sure this is your final destination, can I see your boarding pass, please?"

There were a few people who left the plane with me, the only one who stepped on the visitor's lane in the immigration office, was me. The other 7 waited at the resident's lane.
Small but efficient

Immigration was easier and faster than I expected. One minute after handing her over the visa, the officer already stamped the passport.
Arrived almost on time

Every time a plane arrives, the traffic lights turn red on the street and people have to wait until the plane has landed so they can pass through the landing slope. From the plane window it's nice to see people waving to the plane :)
Streets closed when plane arrives

Getting to Nauru is a lot of effort

I started to prepare for this trip almost a year ago. How to fly here, which route, visa stuff, accommodation?

The biggest problem was the accommodation, which was necessary when applying for a visa in advance. To make a reservation is even a challenge. The few hotels had email addresses on their websites which didn’t work, and the ones which worked, I didn’t get a reply for weeks.

Same with phone numbers, and the ones I was able to reach by calling them via Skype from back home weren’t really helpful. All the hotels were fully booked already months ago and some under renovation. Due to the refugee camp and the phosphate mining, all the foreign workers from abroad are occupying the hotels and therefore no hotel had a room for me.

The only option I found left was the only accommodation in Nauru on Airbnb and it was a house of some Nauruan local family. They gave me the whole house for my stay and moved to their second house. Prices for accommodation steep when considering the quality offered. The house I stayed in was AUD 110 per day, which was on the level of the most basic hotel rooms in Nauru. I knew I couldn’t expect luxury here but at least I had an air-condition and free wifi, which is indeed a real luxury in Nauru.

Map of Nauru
Some ideas placed on a map

My first impression of Nauru

It looks a bit like a place that is shown in documentaries of villages or cities which have faced a detonation of a nuclear bomb 50 years ago.
No one is in hurry

People live in houses, which once many years back, probably were nice buildings. But now, everything is broken a bit, dirty and dusty and rusty.
Once rich but now poor

If there would no people walking around it indeed looks like a contaminated area. However, even with all the run down and broken stuff, the atmosphere, the weather, ocean and these islands people are turning the whole place into one of the most interesting and curiosity triggering place I've ever been to.
Lots of motorized vehicles in Nauru

Lot of things are broken

Would be a nice house if finnished

Today afternoon I immediately went for a first walk towards the shore. And soon the first pinnacles appeared. I thought they were only on a mall specific area, but they are indeed splattered all over the east coast of Nauru. The biggest is in Anibare and it took me almost two hours for the two kilometers as the scenery was so nice and unique, that I wasn’t able to put the camera away and continue to walk.

Nauru BBQ Grill with a nice view on the ocean.
Comes with a nice view on the ocean

Japanese Bunker
From the second world war

Pinnacles all over the west coast of Nauru

Sharp pinnacles can rip everything appart

The Chinese "supermarket-gang" rules them all

In the whole country is one "bigger" supermarket and one "not-so-big" supermarket.

And then there is a fish market in Anibare.
Not much fish today

The rest are all Chinese shops which all sell the same for the almost same price - which is not low at all. For example, a small can of tuna from the Solomon Islands, which is the cheapest can of tuna, is 2.5 AUD. Toast is 2.8 AUD.
Chinese presence in Nauru

May 14th – With the motorbike around the country

The owner of the Airbnb house offered me to use the bicycle for a small amount and also gave me the motorbike to use for a trip around the island. They probably felt bad to send me on my way with a bicycle, as they are used to go everywhere by car or motorbike.

Riding along the coast of Anibare

Also, I noticed there aren’t many bicycles at all. Everybody has a motorbike or car. Barely anybody in Nauru walks here a few hundred meters and for them, it may seem insane to them to drive the 20km around the island with a bicycle.

With a motorbike, it would easily be possible to drive around the whole country in 30 minutes. But that wasn't my intention :)

The scenery is wonderful and every kilometer was a full of unique views, houses and broken old cars.
Once intended to accomodate many more cars

Nauru was once rich

North of Anibare district are the biggest Pinnacles
Not recommended to swim between these pinnacles
Once the tide is gone, its an opportuntiy to catch shells
On low tide in Nauru, its visible how sharp this shore is

Great to make photos

Probably drags home his lunch

Also in Nauru there is problem with plastic pollution

In 20 years I'll go back and see if it has outgrown the pinnacle

in 2018 was birthday of 50 years of nauru country

Compared to a motorbike it is huge

Aggressive dogs !!

Dogs are a real danger here. I heard from different locals that there is basically no crime in Nauru. However, the biggest criminals were probably the dogs. Not sure if it is just me whom they attack as they are not used to see slim white people walking on the street or if they are in general evil creatures.

Aggressive and ready to bite

They're dangerous, they literally run after me while I was walking yesterday along the coast road or even on the bicycle. When I was walking I gladly was able to shy them away while pretending to throw something at them. When I was on the bicycle, however, they run after me and I had to trample faster to escape them. Scaring them away didn’t work and they assembled into a group of dogs where all of them running after my legs on the bike, barking and showing their terrific teeth. I was glad a car passed me and honked which scared them finally away, cause otherwise… the bike wasn’t fast enough…! For the further trips I took with the bicycle I prepared a stick, with which I could snap them off.

Obesity is king in Nauru

With every kilometer also it seemed people are getting bigger and bigger, whereas their motorbikes looked smaller and smaller. All over the country, many big, obese (hey, I'm not saying fat!) people are walking around.
Like many other island nations, Nauru has problem with obesity

I knew beforehand Nauru has a problem with obesity, but I didn’t expect it to be so dramatic. It's like a country where its possible to enjoy an afternoon on obese-people-watching..haha. The problem is the lack of healthy low-fat food on the island. All the affordable food in the supermarket is high on fat and cholesterin and if there is healthier food in the store, it's expensive as they have to import everything.
They like to ride motorbike

Not lots of sports they do it seems

It's not that they don’t seem to avoid sports at all. They have several open-air gyms as I saw, but I think bodybuilding is probably not the best sport to get rid of the calories they take to them all day.
Blue yellow flag

There is almost no one visible doing some jogging or riding a bicycle or just simple long distance walking, and if there is, its usually a foreign worker or a refugee (yes, refugees are the people whom I've seen being active in sports like swimming or running along the beach).
The most people participating in Sports are refugees
In Anibare is a swimming area that has lifeguards

I noticed however that many, really many houses have big trampolines in the front yard. Haha. But maybe in Australia it was too much effort to recycle trampolines because of the material it is made of and so they decided to send a big ship full of trampolines to Nauru for disposal :)
Many of them. Almost in front of every house

All along the whole coast of the island is just one broad main road which is well maintained and it's actually very busy with many vessels on it, for such a small country. But when everybody prefers to take the motorized option for buying bread on the other side of the street, it's no big wonder :)

The devil used phosphate to trick Nauruans

Back in 1980 there was this was a multi-billion phosphate industry going on here, but as Nauru grabbed out everything available, the resources became exhausted by end of last century and the whole country broke financially apart. And they made very poor investment choices - for example: buying a musical which no one wanted to see.
Up in the command ridge

Those years back then were the golden years where every Nauruan was rich and when Cadillac where driving round and round around the island. Nowadays the phosphate complex is still used but with a little amount of Phosphate produced and exported.
20 years ago almost every Nauruan had a Cadillac

Phosphate is made of bird shit (no joke)

The reason why Nauru is (or was) so rich on phosphate were the birds. Thousands of years ago Nauru was a resting place for birds which traveled the south pacific. They came to Nauru take a shit and that shit turned over the hundreds and thousands of years into the stone which is now used as phosphate.

Taking a look at the phosphate complex

On the left side of the country is the phosphate complex where they transfer the substance onto the ships.They prepare phosphate to load on ship

When I stopped at the complex, I asked some employers there if I can go up to the end of the tower. Based on the questions they asked me I believe they assumed I'm some kind of journalist even I told them Im a tourist. The boss in charge escorted me up the narrow pathway to the end of the construct, which is high above the shore and gives a great view from above down into the very steep reef of Nauru. There is no shallow shore, after a few meters from the shore it goes immediately down several hundred meters into the ocean.

The workers explained what they are doing and how it works and that they are currently testing the machines, as the next week a ship comes to transport the phosphate to Australia. So they tested the lift with leftover phosphate and dumped it into the reef :). It looked as it is the sanitary solution of Nauru as the leftover phosphate looks like tons of shit that gets dumped into the reef :).
Build up on the nice steep reef

They told me, of course, that it doesn’t harm the reef or the fishes in there and that they have done it for many many years. Well, maybe they are right as I'm not an expert to put in question that the substance used for fertilizer does no harm to fish and corals.
They say its not harming for fish and coral

Continue on finding the Nauru detention center

As I read a lot in the news about the refugee situation between Australia and Nauru, I was excited to try if I can see the refugee camp where all the action happens which is mentioned in the news :).

On the way to the camps there is also the Buada Lagoon with drinking water and the whole mining, which I wanted to take a look on as well.

Big family of pigs

Huge parts of Nauru are only for mining

When I entered refugee camp in google maps it showed me the direction, but there was no refugee camp. In real the refugee camp is somewhere in the middle of the island, far away from everything else, in the middle and between tons of pinnacles, rocks and dust.

The detention centers are basically in the middle of a mining zone.

The way there is a dirt road, there are no busses and no street signs as it is a mining area and its all like a maze as many different streets lead to somewhere in the mining area.

I had no idea where to drive and after a while of confused driving around, suddenly I saw a person with a motorbike appearing from far. I politely waved him to stop and it turned out he was a refugee from Iran. He introduces himself as

“Sorry I'm not Nauruan, I'm a refugee from Iran”

I asked him if its possible to take a look at the camp and he answered:

“Of course, your welcome see where we are kept for many many years yet, follow me please”
Following a refugee to the detenditon center

I followed the refugee and the detention center is actually really far away from everything!!!

No wonder these refugees are ranting about their situation here in Nauru and kept as half prisoners.

When they want to go to the beach or to a shop they have to wait until a refugee bus is coming, as walking in the heat, dust and humidity for many many kilometers is not a legit option.
Having a look how they live

There are three camps on Nauru and this was the “luxury camp” the other ones are high security accessed and made of tents only.

As he is kept since five years on Nauru, he is allowed to live in the luxury refugee camp, which consists of apartments made of a container, which are arranged like a small village, whereas the whole village is surrounded by a 3-meter high fence and a door in the front. I didn’t ask, but I assume that door gets closed by a specific time of the day and everybody has to be back in the camp.

My first impression was that it looks actually better than I expected to see.

I expected to see camps without a fan or air-condition, but here they had at least fans, air-condition and even satellite TV. However, its probably not a cool situation for them, being imprisoned on an island for many years and no end in sight.Accomodation isnt that bad in camp 3

On the other side, from Australian-mainland-point-of-view, they have done clever move. They didn’t want refugees flooding Australia, so they accepted refugees and helped them, but put them somewhere far away from where they don’t have to interfere with them ..haha!

Australia simply pays Nauru to rent the space for the camps and Nauru of course, thankfully takes the cash! Its all about the money...

May 15th – Around the Airport and AIWO district

Today I covered the remaining places along the low parts of Nauru, along all the way to the airport.

I took it easy.

It’s nice to ride bicycle as there is always some mild wind and the bike smoothly runs over the concrete road.
Around the airport
Right next to the airport
They have nice cars

There are no architectural masterpieces.

But, it’s the whole scenery of Nauru which is NICE! , yes, even when run down and when it looks like a post-nuclear-bomb-testing-zone, I enjoyed watching the obese people on their motorbikes, the friendly people with smiling faces, waving and greeting me, the slow-paced lifestyle and laziness which is anchored in their culture.Has one medium sized supermarket

They enjoy sitting and sleeping and being lazy as hell.

But, I think when living in such a small country with no way out, its necessary to become like this, spending all day being slow and watching onto the great blue ocean.

This an many other things which I don’t know right now how to describe in words, made my visit in Nauru a wonderful pleasured stay.Lazy but friendly people
Nauru beach view

Ramping-Up for Tonga

Tomorrow my trip continues with Nauru Airlines towards a stop-over in Brisbane, a stop-over in Auckland and hopefully in 48 hours I will arrive in Tonga.


  1. Thank you for the information. It was really interesting.

  2. Well written! Very informative and gives a good picture of the country. What camera do you use? Your pictures are amazing!

    1. Thanks but its not the camera, its the country that is easy to take pictures from :)

  3. I would not have pinned Nauru to be a place where people are increasingly obese. I mean, the place seems to just scream adventure and labor. If I lived there, I think I would make a point to explore as much as I could. My cousin and his two close friends are going to Nauru. One does traveling style documentaries so I was just reading different people’s experiences there. I am going to definitely warn them about the dogs before they go. Beautiful shots btw.

    1. The dogs are indeed not a joke there, be warned! :)