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Discover the charms of Kiritimati

By DRUE SLATTER Posted 3 Dec 2014

“Fishing. Fishing. Fishing?” is the rhythmic chant that escorts me through the Kiritimati’s Cassidy International Airport. Rarely do tourists visit this exclusive coral atoll for anything else. So its little wonder that immigration officials have the “Purpose of Visit – fishing” routine down pat.

Recalling our descent onto the landing strip, I can see why Kiritimati, also known as ‘Christmas Island’, is a mecca for big game fishermen. The island is surrounded by stunning coral reefs and strong ocean currents that draw up small fish to the surface. In turn, these attract some of the sports main prizes: Salilfish, Tuna and Wahoo.

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The raised coral atoll is situated in the Line Islands as part of the Republic of Kiribati and is famous for its position at the forefront of the time zone, experiencing their sunny days before the rest of the world.

Kiritimati whispers stories of British nuclear tests and promises unmet in the memories of those of old. It also holds its breath as the threat of climate change creeps up the shorelines of the low-lying island. But its people hold no grudge against the outside world as they continue to welcome onto their shores devoted anglers to test their game and bone fishing. The entire island is a wildlife sanctuary, home to many endangered seabirds, but it is the realm of reefs, sand flats and open ocean waters that draw the most praise from travellers and conservationists alike.

Everything I had heard about Kiritimati paled in comparison to the real deal: That first shock of turquoise sparkles like the Garden of Eden for fishermen and divers alike. The sheer brilliance of the lagoons that surround the world’s largest coral atoll stuns me as I arrive at my base for the day, the Ikari House Lodge

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Kiritimati’s residents populate the four villages, intriguingly named Banana (nearest to the airport), Tabwakea, Poland and the main village, Ronton (London). On the way from the airport we had passed communities of low-lying huts surrounded by hammocks and the occasional “kava bar”, mostly deserted in the hush of the early morning. The silence here, as crisp as the sea-air, is only broken by the sound of the sea birds that seem to permanently inhabit the skies.

These images are trumped, however, by what sits at the doorstep of the Ikari House Lodge. Owned and operated by Jacob and Lavinia Teem, Ikari House sits right on the edge of the lagoon with a view that makes the “crystal clear waters and white sandy beaches” cliché, all of a sudden, nouveau. 

I walk into the maneaba that serves as a dining area and am simultaneously walking onto the beach. Reviews of the lodge weren’t kidding when they said that the boat would pick you up right where you had breakfast. A group of seasoned fishermen chat at the dining table (picnic tables in the sand) and are served a champion breakfast of bacon, eggs and sausages by the smiling Tetima.

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Kiritimati island water activities

The guests are happy to testify to Ikari House’s exceptional role in their fishing adventures. Mark, a particularly excited Australian angler, is a returnee to Kiritimati Island and rates the fishing lodge as the best option on the island. We soon set off to experience what Ikari House is most famous for – bonefishing.

For those not as crafty with the rod as I, bonefishing is the term used when fly-fishing in shallow inshore water. The hotel’s name, “Ikari”, directly translates as “bonefish” in Gilbertese, Kiribati’s local language, and the Kiritimati sand flats have a legendary reputation amongst the bonefishing community.

There’s a light shower sprinkling overhead when we jump off the slippery jetty onto the Wai Knot, our noble vessel, and I chuckle to myself over the clever pun. The early rain doesn’t obscure visibility too much as we still manage to spot a manta ray, breaking the surface to see us off on our way to the famous Paris Flat in search of some bonefishing action. After fifteen minutes of windswept hair/raincoat and another 15 of pleasant conversation while we wait for a bite, I feel my first bit of action at the end of the line.

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For those not too keen on spending the entire day on the water, but rather in it, I am told the diving off Kiritimati Island is just as exquisite. Cursing myself quietly for not booking a longer trip to allow for some exploration of the allures of Kiritimati’s deep, I listen to a fellow traveller’s stories of underwater caves and a blossoming marine eco-system that has divers falling prey to its charms.

Kiritimati island land activities

For those feeling slightly waterlogged and looking for a day to spend on solid ground, Kiritimati is the breeding ground for over 18 seabirds and home to some 35 bird species and teeming with opportunities to witness an exclusive feathered fiesta.

The next stop is Motu Tapu Island, where Uriam Anterea, guide from the Kiritimati Island Wildlife and Conservation Unit, will take our wonder with Kiritimati from the seas to the skies.  The Kiribati Islands are host to number of bird species, with sensitive ones restricted to predator-free islands or motu.

Motu Tapu is crawling with birds, literally.  Walking through the dry vegetation, I grow more hesitant with each step as burrows, nests, eggs, baby and juvenile seabirds, and protective mothers are scattered amongst the dry weeds and creepers that crackle beneath our potentially fatal feet.

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Kiritimati’s sea food safari

After six hours in beautiful Micronesia, the pangs of hunger are more than satisfied by a selection of seafood, my feast being crumbed fish (which I’m told by Tetima, is sweetlips) and chips served at the lodge. For those that don’t have time to sit and dine, eagerly rushing from one fishing spot to the next, Kiritimati’s famous “Tuna Jerky” is a salty snack that must be sampled. Sundried strips of yellow-fin tuna, this island delicacy is a bit of an acquired taste, but embodies the taste of the sea and can be seen in the backpacks of every angler, boatman and barefoot child.

Sitting on the beachfront of Ikari House as the boys load my minimal luggage onto the truck, I look back at the past couple of hours I have spent on this untouched atoll and wish I had more time to explore. Cramming a fishing trip, sightseeing and bird-watching into seven hours is no easy feat, but the serenity of this modest island, eagerness of the locals and the promise of an amazing day on the water made it a walk in the park...or in the sand rather.

If you’re looking for an escape from the hordes of tourists that make five-star vacations sometimes stifling, pack a bag and catch the next Fiji Airways flight to Kiritimati Island.

It will surprise you as much as it did me.

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Getting there and away

-    Fly to Kiritimati with Fiji Airways 

Organise your Kiritimati Fishing Adventure Holiday

-    Flights to Kiritimati - Fiji Airways operates flights to Kiritimati once a week.

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