Kiribati (formerly the Gilbert Islands) can be confusing. It certainly confused me, the fact that I would officially land here three times (same as Nauru) on the one trip, yet only visit it once, i.e. leave the airport and see some of the country. Then the odd spelling, then the multiple capitals, then the currency. We toured a few islands in the Tarawa Atoll, some of which were now joined by funding-built causeways (e.g. Stewart Causeway, Anderson Causeway).
The country looks and seems to be better if you call it Kiribati, it sounds magical, but of course, we must call it Kiribass! The “ti” becomes “ss”, same as in lotion, motion etc. From the air, it’s a thin series of “Atolls” in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and is best reaching from the hub country of Nauru.
What is also confusing is that the capital is known as Tarawa, yet no actual Tarawa city exists. Serio! Tarawa is an atoll and a conglomeration of islands, all thin narrow strips of land looming lowly over the sensational looking ice blue waters of the gorgeous Central Pacific Ocean.
Tarawa is also split into two parts, North Tarawa and South Tarawa and so we visited both parts of the “capital”. However, as a backpacker, blogger and separatist, I just had to visit a “city” that I could class as the real capital. In the end, we saw Bairiki (where we stayed), Betio (which was a big city and had lots of Japanese war history) and Bikenibeu (which houses the country’s main museum and cultural centre). As well as that we also visited North Tarawa, at Buota, where we boarded a boat to New Jerusalem in Abatao Island, which was something akin to a paradise.
We were sleeping for two nights in Mary’s Motel on the edge of Bairiki and so here are the main sights in the settlement of Bairiki, which, for the purposes of my blog and for city backpacking, I’m classing it as the “capital” of Kiribati. Bairiki is one of many settlements in South Tarawa. Its population is 3,524 and it is located not far from Betio along the strip on the Tarawa Atoll…
1.Kiribati National Football Stadium
The National Football Stadium is here in Bairiki. Currently (in 2019) it is under redevelopment with a view to making it a FIFA standard stadium. Kiribati has a national football team that competes in CONIFA tournaments but not yet in the World Cups or Oceania Cups.
On our visit, I was able to stand on the pitch and get into the stadium, however it wasn’t playable. There were no goal nets up, no stand for spectators and there were lots of puddles on the pitch caused largely by poor drainage and torrential rain.
Now for the geek facts – Kiribati have NEVER won an international football match. They lost their first ever match 24-0 to Fiji in the 1970s and as recently as 2011, they lost 17-1 to both Papua New Guinea and Tahiti (yes the same score in both games!). They once drew a match 3-3 with Tuvalu, but they lost 4-2 on penalties. It is their highlight. Check out the Kiribati Football Association and their records here.
The main square in Bairiki is a simple place to hang out. Around it are two roads that meet and there are also ATMs here, as well as a restaurant, the post office, an employment centre and the library. Nearby is also the church, café and shopping mall.
3.Bairiki Post Office
You can buy postcards for $1 Australian Dollar here at Bairiki Post Office and post them to Europe for 40 cents. Worth doing.
The National Library of Kiribati is in Bairiki Square.
5.Dis-used Ferris Wheel
Reminders of my time backpacking in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone returned when I saw a sad and lonely dis-used Ferris Wheel here in Bairiki. Not quite the same impact on me as my emotion drenched whackpacking to Pripyat in 2015.
6.Fab Ace Bar
The pumping nightlife of the capital city is clear for all to see at the Fab Ace Bar. I spotted this place on my daytime walk through the city and at night I headed in with Pier, Rick and Guy from our group. Cheap Chinese beers (Pearl River Traditional) were 7%, there was karaoke on in one room, pool in another room and an empty dance floor in another room. It’s the biggest night out in the city!
7.Coconut Fish at Mary’s Bar
Our hotel was Mary’s Motel and they had an open plan bar (Mary’s Bar) serving good food and drinks. A speciality in Kiribati and Nauru is the Coconut fish. This works quite well as the country’s national food, given that the main food products they have are coconuts (thousands of coconut trees here) and of course fish – fishing is common.
8.Bairiki Catholic Church
Catholicism is the main religion in Kiribati and the country boasts a plethora of well designed and eclectic churches. Bairiki Catholic Church is on the north side of the main square. Regular masses are held here and the church also has bus stops outside it, going in both directions.
9.Bairiki Shopping Mall
With its red exterior and a Boutique Hotel, Bairiki Shopping Mall could be the country’s main shopping area. There are a few shops here, some on the outside facing the car park and some indoor in the alley way, where the Fab Ace Bar is. Most shops sell clothes, drinks and food.
Also in Bairiki, are two other churches, a cafe, another bar and some sports venues. Here are some more photos of my time backpacking in Bairiki, South Tarawa, Kiribati.
I was on the Least Visited Countries Tour with Young Pioneer Tours and our guide was Molly Brown, well recommended. Please note you will need a car to visit all these places – you drive and stop off at various points. Molly is well recommended, please book her here –
P: (686) 73001016
Here are some videos from my time touring Bairiki in Tarawa, Kiribati: