Country guides Australasia
Halfway between Hawaii and Australia, atop nine reef islands, lies the remote Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu. Large lagoons and coral reefs dominate the palm-fringed islands, creating dramatic and unusual landscapes.
Tuvalu's atolls were formed when coral rings grew around sinking volcanic islands. The coral continued to grow upward while the central islands eventually disappeared leaving lagoons in their stead. The nine islands are spread over 420 miles (676km) of ocean, but together comprise only 10 square miles (26km) of land to explore.
The tiny island is a dream destination for those in search of an unspoilt beach paradise where luxury resorts and tourist hordes are unheard of. However, the remote landscape comes at a price, as the lack of tourist infrastructure means visitors are usually left to their own devices for beach activities and water-sports.
The capital, Funafuti, offers simple accommodation in a few hotels that sometimes host feasts and dances. Unfortunately, tourism is growing at about the pace of the coral and neither is enough to keep the island afloat.
As rising sea levels threaten a number of low lying countries, Tuvalu's three islands and six atolls are expected to be some of the first landmasses to take the plunge. The country's leaders are trying to find high and dry quarters for Tuvalu's 11,000-odd people in New Zealand and Australia. The country has no fresh water, few natural resources, and poor soil for agriculture that is being further degraded by salt water seeping through porous coral ground.
Yet despite the island's woes, the few hardy tourists that make the voyage still find a pleasant, hospitable country with a unique atoll geography. And for the competitive off-the-beaten track traveller, a visit to a country that may soon be submerged has obvious appeal.
Funafuti is connected to Fiji by flights, although the remoteness of the islands means that flights don't come cheap. Some of the outer islands can be reached by ship or boat from Funafuti, but getting around the archipelago can be challenging. Those willing to embrace the challenges Tuvalu has to offer will be rewarded with a traditional island experience surrounded by hundreds of miles of sparklingly blue ocean.