Kiribati Commonwealth Walkway

Kiribati / The Pacific

The Kiribati Islands (formerly the Gilbert Islands) are located in the centre of the Pacific Ocean, about 4,000 km southwest of Hawaii.   They were originally named after the British Captain Thomas Gilbert, who sighted the islands in 1788 on his voyage back from delivering convicts to Australia.  The islands were a British Protectorate from 1892, and a British colony from 1916.  The name Kiribati, adopted on 1 January 1977,  is derived from the local pronunciation of “Gilberts”.  Kiribati is made up of thirty-three islands, twenty of which are inhabited.  They are scattered over a vast area of ocean and occupy 810 square kilometres in total.  These islands are divided among three island groups: the Gilbert Islands, and then the Phoenix Islands, and Line Islands (the latter two never permanently settled).  All of the islands are atolls (ring-shaped islands with central lagoons) except for the island of Banaba in the Gilbert Islands which is a raised limestone Island.   When Sir Francis Drake sailed by in the 1580s the islands were nothing more than navigational hazards, but in the 19th-century foreigners came in search of turtle shells, pearl, copra and labour.  Between 1830 and 1870 many men were taken as slaves to work in Peru or New South Wales.   Most of the population of Kiribati is concentrated on the Gilbert Islands, though in 1988 the Government resettled about 5,000 residents on other atolls as the main island was overcrowded.  The majority of the atolls are barely more than six metres above sea level and they are surrounded by barrier reefs creating picturesque lagoons for fishing, snorkelling, scuba diving, swimming and other water sports.  There is a small fishing industry, but Kiribati depends greatly on foreign aid.  The language is Micronesian. The Queen and Prince Philip visited Kiribati in October 1982.  In advance of their visit, a magician called Iosiabata cast spells to stop it raining, and it did indeed stop 10 minutes before the royal party arrived.  The Queen opened a new library in the King George V School. Capital The capital of Kiribati is Tarawa, an atoll on the Gilbert Islands.  It comprises North Tarawa, which has much in common with other, more remote islands of the Gilbert group; and South Tarawa, which is home to over 50,000 residents – half the country’s total population.  The atoll is best known by outsiders as the site of the Battle of Tarawa during World War II.  North Tarawa consists of a string of islets, with the most northern islet being BairikiBairiki today serves as the administrative centre. Fun Facts There are no animals that are native to Kiribati, although early settlers brought dogs and pigs with them. Kiribati was used for nuclear weapon tests by the UK during the late 1950's and by the USA in 1962.  Cultivation of crops on the island nation is very difficult due to poor soil and variation in rainfalls. Therefore, Kiribati relies on its seafood for income.  Finally, the New Year arrives first in Kiribati before any other country in the world.  This is because Kiribati is furthest ahead of Greenwich meantime at GMT+14.

5.4 miles / 8.7 kilometres

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