9.5 Hours on Christmas Island, Kiribati

Christmas IslandWhile working on the itinerary for our 5 week trip around the Pacific, I wanted to try to get a taste of a bunch of the island nations in the region.

The Pacific has around a dozen UN recognized countries, each made up of many islands.

One place that I hoped to visit was Kiribati. I was able to place an award flight on hold for Kim, Lucas and I (Theo flies as a lap baby) to the capital, Tarawa. The problem was that if we booked the flight, we’d be stuck on Tarawa for 4 days. This would’ve definitely been too much time to commit to an island with not a lot of things to do.

Then I got another idea from a friend.

I was chatting with Stefan of BoardingArea blog Rapid Travel Chai, who gave me an interesting idea. He mentioned a flight to Christmas Island (Kiritimati), one of the North Line Islands of the nation (Kiribati) which could be visited for less than 24 hours. However, there was a catch…

The flight to and from Christmas Island with Fiji Airways is scheduled just one time per week. This presented two potential problems. Would my schedule align with that of the flight schedule and would I be able to book an award flight using AA miles?

It turned out that the schedule did work so I called AA to find out if the flight was available. To my surprise, I was able to book the last available award seat and it was in business class. (Prior to calling, I discussed going on my own for a day to Christmas Island with Kim.) I was happy to spend 30,000 AA miles each way to secure my seat for this little adventure.

There isn’t a whole lot to do on Christmas Island. I had two options (or so I thought). The island is famous for bonefishing and people pay big money to spend a week on the island. So I could try to book a day of bonefishing or take an island tour.

Stefan gave me contacts for both activities and I was leaning towards doing the island tour. In the end there wasn’t much of a decision to make- I never heard back from the lodge which offers bonefishing, so I booked an island tour with Timei Kaitaua.

Christmas IslandAfter arriving at Cassidy International Airport, I made my way inside where I was one of the first on line at immigration. I’m not sure that many others even got off of the plane (the flight continued onto Hawaii). Once I was done, I was asked if I had any checked bags. I didn’t so security then pushed a door open and I was outside the airport! A few people were standing around but I didn’t see anyone holding a sign up with my name on it.

After a few minutes, a man asked where I was going. When I gave the name of my guide, Timei, he found him for me and off we went.

Timei and I discussed a bit more about the day ahead. We’d first drive to one of the furthest spots of the visit.

After around an hour’s drive, we ended up at the highest point on Christmas Island. There wasn’t much to see here but the views were awesome. There was absolutely nobody else around. I was surprised to see some garbage there as well as on the rocky coastline (shown in the photo at the top of the post).

The next stop was an old runway which hasn’t been used in many years.

I don’t remember the exact details (yes, I was exhausted from the short overnight flight), but I believe that Timei said that the airstrip was built by the British after WWII for nuclear tests.
For a runway not used in years, it was actually in pretty good shape besides some weeds. Timei then sped his truck up and down the runway which was fun.

As we left, I spotted a small marker so I asked to stop. The small memorial stated AEON FIELD, Constructed AUG 1958 MAR 1959. I couldn’t make out what the rest of it said.

As we drove, it was hard for me to stay awake. It turns out that Timei has a small guest house/ motel on his property.

We headed over so I could have breakfast, which was delicious and then I relaxed for a bit before our next stops.

Next up, we drove through a couple of villages on the island.

The views by the lagoon were definitely impressive.

The government offices, the Ministry of Line & Phoenix Island, located in the village of London was an interesting stop.

The buildings weren’t much to look at but Timei mentioned how Christmas Island was known for Solar Salt and wanted to get me some to bring home. I went along with it and Timei went looking for the office which had moved.While looking for the Solar Salt Office, I spotted the Kiribati National Tourism Office. I headed inside the small office and was shown a pamphlet about the island. I then chatted with the tourism board official about ways to increase tourism. He mentioned that a flight linking Christmas Island to Tarawa was in the works. (But would that really help?)

I had suggested that such a beautiful island needed more to offer visitors. My take from what I had seen so far was that the island could use a resort with lots of amenities- not the kind of place that I like to stay but one where the fisherman coming to the island could have their family stay while they were out all day. I also felt that a golf course could be a nice addition. Imagine playing a round of golf at such a remote destination! (BTW- No, I don’t play golf…)

Then I went next door to the Solar Salt Office. I’m still not exactly sure what solar salt is but it does come from a quarry on the island. The woman inside mentioned how they just recently started collecting it again.Timei gave me a full bag which was really heavy. I thanked him but told him that I’d just take a small amount back (and hoped that it wouldn’t look like something else to immigration officials in the airports!)

We then drove around a few small villages in the area. It was surprising to see the way people live on the island. Christmas Island may’ve been the hottest place I visited in the Pacific yet many people live in homes made of sheet metal! It’s got to be hot in there. Most of the homes are topped with traditional thatched roofs.

I was once again really impressed with an awesome meal.

Lunch was a very nice spread but the highlight was by far this awesome local lobster. If tourism picks up on Christmas Island, Timei should open a restaurant!

After lunch, I relaxed and enjoyed the views behind Timei’s property.Crystal clear water- my one regret was not going in for a dip.The only sign I saw on the way to the airport was this handmade one. Definitely worthy of a quick photo-op.

Timei hung around while I waited for my ticket. Talk about nice service.

As for the airport, it isn’t much.

Here’s the check-in counter. (To the left is the pre-security waiting area which consists of two benches. There’s no shop or restaurant, in case you were wondering!You gotta love the handwritten boarding pass. The waiting area after passport control was another room with around 6-7 benches. A short walk to the plane and then my time on Christmas Island, Kiribati was over.

Overall, there wasn’t a ton to see on Christmas Island but I enjoyed this little adventure. I really enjoyed learning a bit about the island and chatting with some of the locals.

It would’ve been nice to try out bonefishing, especially since that is what the island is known for but I can’t complain with my time on the island.

The most memorable thing to me were those incredible views.

If you happen to be visiting Christmas Island, Kiribati and need a guide for a day tour, I’d definitely recommend Timei Kaitaua. You can e-mail him at timeitima@gmail.com.

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