Country guides Australasia
Known to many under British rule as the Gilbert Islands, Kiribati (pronounced ) seems to be a tiny nation in the central tropical Pacific Ocean, but its 33 atolls, mostly surrounding turquoise lagoons and barely rising above the surrounding ocean, span a whopping 1.4 million square miles (3.5 million sq km). First sighted by British and American ships in the late 18th and early 19th-centuries, the main chain of islands was named the Gilbert Islands in 1820 after a British captain who crossed the archipelago en route to China in 1788.
Only two thirds of the islands are actually inhabited and, interestingly, uninhabited Caroline Island was the first place in the world to usher in the millennium, giving Kiribati much needed publicity and a helping hand onto the world's stage. The increased number of tourists in the past decade is proof of this.
Kiribati's islands offer a multitude of fascinating and exquisite tourist attractions. Christmas Island, located in the southern part of the Line Islands, is a bird-watcher's paradise and is an important breeding habitat for the seabirds that flock there to swoon over the surface tropical fish, squid and tuna. Common sightings include the Wedge-tailed, Christmas, and Audubon's Shearwaters, as well as the Masked, Brown, and Red-footed Boobies. What's more, the clear turquoise waters teem with the unique biodiversity found off the shores of the Kiribati islands, considered to be one of the few genuinely unspoiled and largely unexplored underwater sanctuaries remaining in the world.
Tourists come here to sunbathe on one of the countless sandy white beaches, sip on an exotic cocktail and watch other beach goers partake in volleyball, surfing, kayaking and jet skiing, but there is also so much more to Kiribati. Those who visit this small and interesting country simply love what it has to offer.