My secret marvel KIRITIMATI
‘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.