Exploring the South Pacific was like putting together a very difficult jigsaw puzzle. Fitting as many countries into our 4 month itinerary without wasting any additional fuel was the key. Nauru is the world’s smallest independent republic, so it had to be visited! Since flights are extremely limited in this part of the world everything had to flow according to plan. But as plans go, getting to Nauru was going to be a lot more difficult than we ever imagined.
Our flight from Solomon Islands was going to take us to Nauru in a month. From Nauru we were scheduled to fly to Kiribati. And then the changes and cancellations started rolling in from Nauru Airlines (NA). First, our outgoing flight was moved up leaving us with only 23 hours in the tiny nation. Then our incoming flight got cancelled all together.
Rob hopped on the phone with NA. As we found out the airline only has a few employees and Summer was our go to person. She said that as long as Rob figured out an alternative route she would try to make it work. “…and you do have a visa?…” said Summer. Visa? Rob looked at me with a stern facial expression. Visas are my department in this partnership. I had read that if you are staying for less than 3 days a visa was not required. Boy oh boy was I ever wrong.
Rob put together a few flight options for Summer to review knowing that we would have to “eat” quite a bit of the additional flight expenses. He sent the email. A week rolled by with no response. Another email was sent followed by another.
Simultaneously I was having my own fun with Nauru Immigration. The Director of Nauru Immigration is not the easiest person to reach yet everything tourist visa related flows through him. Mr. Rajeev as I had come to call him has two email addresses. One is an official government one (which immediately bounced) and the second is a gmail account which oddly is the only one that worked. There is no formal process listed on the Nauru Visa Requirements page. Just a line about emailing Mr. Rajeev.
To my surprise Mr. Rajeev responded the same day with the following requirements:
- Filled visa application form (attached)
- Copy of passport biopage
- Travel tickets/Itinerary towards & return from Nauru. Also provide copies of itinerary/ticket if you are visiting other pacific Islands/countries apart from Nauru
- Hotel booking confirmation
- Document to prove your current employment/occupation
Once we receive the above mentioned documents, we will review the documents and provide an invoice for visa fee payments (AUD 50 for one month single entry visa). The bank details for internet money transfer will be available in the invoice. The processing time after receiving complete documents/information is around 1 week.
Ok, I thought…this is not so hard. Yet, I could not send the flight information until that part was sorted with Summer. Argh! Another email sent to Summer. Apologies all around some flights are chosen from Rob’s recommendation and we are half way there. Or are we?
I sent the information to Mr. Rajeev proud of my quick self redemption with the visa blunder and all. My glee was short lived as this is when the silence fell and fell hard. Our flight to Nauru was in 3 weeks so I was not that concerned. One week went by and then another. In desperation I started looking at Mr. Rajeev’s LinkedIn page to see if through some miracle I could get to him via another route.
During my research I had discovered some depressing facts about Nauru. The most important one being that it is Australia’s dumping ground for their refugees and asylum seekers. And two, if you are a journalist of any kind, you will not be admitted entry into Nauru. Did Mr. Rajeev find out about our little blog? Were we going to be turned away?
At this point we were in Kiribati and 5 days from our flight to Nauru. I had spoken to a few journalists there who laughed at my optimism for receiving the Nauru visa. As an aside they told me that a journalist must send $12K to Mr. Rajeev to be considered for entry but is ultimately always denied. I could not confirm these details as none of this is listed on the Nauru Immigration web page.
At this point my pleas to Mr. Rajeev’s gmail inbox had intensified. 5 days before take off. Finally, the email came. We were approved but had to jump through one more hoop. The final one. We had to wire Australian dollars to a specified account.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Paypal sends money all day long. But this isn’t Paypal. There are electronic fund transfers which are pretty easy. But this isn’t it. This is an old school cash transfer. In desperation we emailed our money manager to help. He had to purchase Australian dollars on the open market and then wire the funds bank to bank. The process would take 5 days as we were going through a weekend and North America was a day behind. After my 49th correspondence with Mr. Rajeev we finally received the visas via email. Just 12 hours before our flight.
So, was getting to Nauru worth it you ask? Rob and I walked around the smallest independent nation of the world in 3.5 hours. All 19.5 km of it. All in all getting to Nauru was more exciting than being there. The place is pretty uneventful with the exception of Anibare Bay. Limestone rises out of the ocean forming interesting shapes. But that is certainly not worth the effort. If you want clean white sandy beaches in the South Pacific I would enthusiastically recommend New Caledonia over depressing Nauru.
Nauru is a country that has gone through quite a bit in the last 70 years (since it’s independence in 1968). At that time Nauru possessed the highest GDP per capita in the world due to its discovery of rich phosphate deposits. They over mined their riches and became one of the poorest countries.
In order to support themselves Nauru has now become Australia’s detention center arm. The money and support flows in but at what cost? Emotionally this must weigh heavily on the population. Our conversations with some of the locals felt more like confessions than just friendly banter. They are sad, but don’t know a way out of the situation. Certainly a difficult place to be.
Have you been to Nauru? Was your experience as interesting as ours? Would love to swap stories.