Nauru (pronounced Nah-roo) is widely reported to be the least-visited country on earth, with less than 200 tourists a year. It is a country that is known for all of the wrong reasons in Australia and relatively unknown in most of the rest of the world. Nauru is both the smallest independent island nation and the smallest republic on earth at just 21 square kilometres. It has the second smallest population in the world at roughly 11,300 — only the Vatican City has less people. At over 70% of the population, Nauru has the highest obesity rate in the world.¹ It certainly is an intriguing little country.
Nauru’s history is a cautionary tale. The country gained independence in 1968 and by the early eighties it was the world’s richest country per capita. Things have gone downhill a bit (ok, a lot!) since then. Phosphate was Nauru’s main export and the source of their wealth. These days, the phosphate is all but gone, and what the locals call the “topside” — the centre of the island — is all but destroyed. It now consists of jagged rocky pinnacles that make the land useless for farming, or indeed, anything else. 75% of the island is now uninhabitable.² To make matters worse in this riches to rags story, the investments made by the Nauruan government’s Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust failed to live up to expectations. A BBC article published in 2008 had this to say:
A procession of conmen and carpetbaggers persuaded successive governments to invest in a string of bizarre schemes, including a West End musical about the life of Leonardo da Vinci.
Nauru amassed a property portfolio of hotels and office blocks around the world. But corruption and downright incompetence took their toll and by the early part of this century, most of the assets had to be sold off to pay for the country’s mounting debts.
Now all the money is gone.³
At the turn of the century, things had gotten particularly bad for the people of Nauru. They faced an unemployment rate of about 90% and the future was not looking too bright. When the Australian government offered the country a large sum of money to host a refugee detention centre in 2001, there could only be one answer. Desperate times called for desperate measures. And the detention centre, which closed in 2008 but reopened in 2012, has certainly been home to a lot of desperation. One psychologist and traumatologist working in the camps said that he “had never seen more atrocity” than in these detention centres.⁴
It’s not all bad though, some of the coastal areas of Nauru are still beautiful and it’s very easy to avoid the swarms of tourists that cover many parts of the globe. The weather also makes it easy to see why the first European visitor, British whaler John Fearn in 1798, gave it the moniker Pleasant Island. All year round the weather stays roughly between lows of 24 and highs of 31 degrees celsius.
A few facts about Nauru
- Capital: Yaren (de facto)
- Population: 11,300 (UN estimate as of August 2018)
- Currency: Australian dollar
- Official Languages: Nauruan & English
- Time Zone: UTC+12
- Calling Code: +674
- Internet TLD: .nr
- Drives On: Left
- Can Drink Tap Water: No
- Plugs/Sockets: Type I, 240V (Same as Australia & New Zealand)
Nauru Airlines is the only airline that flies to Nauru. They currently have flights that connect Nauru to Brisbane in Australia and Nadi in Fiji. Their island hopper service also connects Nauru to the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Guam. The airlines full schedule and route map can found on their website.
Visas are required for everyone except citizens of the following: Cook Islands, Fiji, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau Papua New Guinea, Russia, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Taiwan, Tonga, Tuvalu, UAE and Vanuatu. It is unclear if Australia and New Zealand passport holders are currently allowed to visit Nauru as tourists. They were banned previously due to the controversy surrounding the Australian refugee detention centres on the island. I couldn’t find any up-to-date information.
Make sure to allow plenty of time before your trip to apply for a visa as the process can take a long time. A one month visa costs A$50.
How much does it cost?
Due to a lack of tourist infrastructure, Nauru can be an expensive place to visit. Nauru Airlines effectively have a monopoly on flights, and there are only a few hotels. The standard of the hotels means that you don’t get much for the high prices either.
- 11 amazing facts about Nauru, the least visited, most obese nation on Earth, The Telegraph, published 31 Jan 2018
- Nauru’s downfall from rich nation to poverty, News.com.au, published 29 Sep 2014
- Nauru seeks to regain lost fortunes, BBC News, published 15 Mar 2008
- ‘I have never seen more atrocity than I have seen in the incarcerated situations of Manus Island and Nauru’ expert says, The Telegraph, published 20 Jun 2016