My se­cret marvel KIRITIMATI

Lonely Planet (UK) - - Secret Marvels - By Vir­ginia Jeal­ous Fiji Air­ways (fi­ji­air­ flies to Kiritimati from Nadi in Fiji, and Honolulu in Hawaii.

‘If you never thought you’d visit Lon­don, Paris, Poland and the won­der­fully named Ba­nana on the same day, think again’

If you like to be in the right place at the right time, why not spend Christ­mas on Christ­mas Is­land? There’s his­tor­i­cal prece­dent: Cap­tain Cook stopped here and named it on 24 De­cem­ber 1777. Kiritimati is pro­nounced ‘Kris­mas’ – ‘ti’ sounds like ‘s’ in the lan­guage of the multi-is­land nation of Kiri­bati, which, yes, is pro­nounced ‘Kiribas’. Just above the equa­tor in the Pa­cific Ocean, and re­mote from pretty much ev­ery­where else, Kiritimati is the world’s big­gest co­ral atoll. Theme a visit around bril­liant place names, birds and bone­fish and you can’t go wrong. If you never thought you’d visit Lon­don, Paris, Poland and the won­der­fully named Ba­nana on the same day, think again: th­ese are the names of the is­land’s four early set­tle­ments. Though on a very dif­fer­ent scale to its name­sake, Lon­don is (of course) the cap­i­tal of this for­mer Bri­tish colony. Paris is (of course) across the chan­nel. Its once-thriv­ing co­conut plan­ta­tion, and that at nearby Poland, were re­spec­tively named by a home­sick French­man with as­pi­ra­tions to grandeur, and his Pol­ish me­chanic. The jour­ney by boat across the chan­nel is an ad­ven­ture in it­self, start­ing with find­ing a lo­cal boat owner will­ing to make the trip; there is no pub­lic water trans­port. And Ba­nana? The site of the first ba­nana gar­dens is still a size­able vil­lage, and minibuses head­ing to and from Lon­don of­fer a good op­por­tu­nity to chat with lo­cals. Se­abirds, how­ever, form the is­land’s big­gest pop­u­la­tion. If you’re used to look­ing up when bird­watch­ing, here’s a tip. On Kiritimati, look down: the lack of tall veg­e­ta­tion means that birds such as boo­bies and terns breed on the ground. To­wards the south­east end of the Bay of Wrecks – no prizes for guess­ing how that name came about – the road runs along­side a vast, noisy, smelly and com­pletely fan­tas­tic breed­ing colony of sooty terns. In the salt-blasted shrubs, look out for bokikokiko, the small and lively Line Is­lands war­bler; it’s a big tick on the must-see list for se­ri­ous bird­ers. East of the is­land’s main la­goon are pools fa­mous for fly-fish­ing for bone­fish. If you like the idea, hire a lo­cal guide. If it’s too rough for a boat ride or you don’t want to wade in the water, you can cast a line from the back of a pick-up truck. Don’t even think about do­ing this alone, though – it’s ex­tremely easy to get lost and sun-crazed in the is­land’s in­te­rior, and go­ing Christ­mas crack­ers is a sure way to ruin a mar­vel­lous ad­ven­ture.

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