Category - Kosrae

Kosrae Travel Guide

View of Kosrae Island

Kosrae Travel Guide

Date Visited: February 2017

Introduction

Looking out the window from my usual seat on the United Airlines Island Hopper (32D), I saw a spectacular sight rising up out of the dark blue depths of the Pacific – a magnificent emerald-coloured, volcanic pinnacle. This must be Kosrae (pronounced “Kosh-rye“), the island of the sleeping lady  the most easterly state in the Federated States of Micronesia.

The profile of the main mountain range, which is said to resemble a 'sleeping lady'.

The profile of the main mountain range, which is said to resemble a ‘sleeping lady’.

Remote, raw, spectacular  a lush, green, veritable ‘paradise lost‘. There is no doubting from the moment you set foot on the tarmac at Kosrae International Airport that you have arrived somewhere special.

Despite being a nearly full flight only half a dozen passengers disembarked at Kosrae – clearing immigration and customs took just a few minutes. Outside the airport, there was an air of relaxed calm with a few persons waiting around to collect arriving family members. There was also the representative from my hotel – the Pacific Treelodge Resort, one of just two hotels on the island. It was clear I was the only tourist arriving today. I was later told that the island receives around 300 tourists a year. As is custom when someone arrives on Kosrae, the friendly hotel representative placed a flowery lai on my head, then we set off for the hotel, located on the other side of the island.

All visitors to Kosrae are welcomed with a flowery lai.

All visitors to Kosrae are welcomed with a flowery lai.

The first thing you notice on Kosrae is how quiet it is. With a total population of 6,600, the whole island is one big village with very little traffic. The national speed limit is set at 25 MPH (40 KPH) but locals tend to drive even slower. It’s life in slow motion. And why not? Where are you rushing to? The paved road network runs from the airport (north-west corner of the island) along the east coast, through the tiny state capital of Tofol, to the southern town of Utwe. It’s a leisurely one hour drive. The official currency on Kosrae is the US dollar.

Child on Kosrae.

There is something magical about tiny Kosrae, a magic that comes from the remote, spectacular beauty of the island – a remoteness that ensures you will have the island almost to yourself. A magic that comes from the relaxed, slow pace of life, the warmth and gentleness of the friendly locals, or the small group of resident expats who are building and living their dreams. After five days on Kosrae, the island had worked it’s magic on me and if you ever have the chance to visit you too will no doubt experience the magic that is Kosrae.

Location

Located in the central Pacific region, 600 km north of the equator, Kosrae is the most easterly of the four states which comprise the Federated States of Micronesia.

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Center map
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Kosrae’s land area is 110 square kilometres sustaining 6,600 people. The population has been declining steadily over the years as more people move elsewhere to find work – especially the USA where Micronesians have the right to live and work. Tofol is the state capital. Mt. Finkol is the highest point at 634 metres.

History

Kosrae hasn’t always been so quiet. The ruined city of Lelu was established around 1250 AD, reaching it’s heyday during the 14th and 15th centuries with a population of 1,500 and covered some 27 hectares. The rulers of Lelu conquered and unified the whole of Kosrae. They ran the island under a hierarchical monarchy system similar to Tonga.

The first Europeans to make contact with the island were the Spanish in 1529 who were sailing from Indonesia to their colony of New Spain in present day Central America. At the time the population of Kosrae was estimated at 6,000 persons. The Spanish took nominal control of the island and since that time the island has passed from Spanish control to German to Japanese to US.

Following the end of WWII in 1945 and the defeat of the occupying Japanese, administration over Kosrae passed to the United States, which ruled the island as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

In 1979 Kosrae joined with the states of Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap to form a constitutional government, becoming a sovereign state (Federated States of Micronesia) after independence was attained on November 3, 1986 under a Compact of Free Association with the United States.

For more on the history of Kosrae you can refer to the following Wikipedia page.

Sights

Mangrove walkway at the Pacific Tree-lodge resort.

Mangrove walkway at the Pacific Tree-lodge resort.

The best way to get to know the island is to first book a tour with the local fauna and flora expert – Carlos. I organised the tour through Maria at the Pacific Treelodge Resort.

Carlos is a native of Puerto Rico who came to Kosrae many years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer. He fell in love with the island and its people and has stayed ever since. Carlos’ enthusiasm for Kosrae’s natural attractions is infectious, and it won’t take long before he has roped you into helping him find the elusive small blue-faced parrot finch (after a day spent searching, I still never saw one).

Curious green lizard.

Curious green lizard.

The first stop on our tour was the Wiya Bird Cave, located in Tafunsak (about three miles from the airport). The mouth of the cave has a large opening that goes back about 20 metres and is home to thousands of Island Swiftlet birds who have built their nests on the roof of the cave. There are many nests on the ceiling of the cave and some that have become dislodged sitting on the floor of the cave. As is the custom in Micronesia, there is an entrance fee payable to the family ($2) whom own the land where the cave is located. You must pay before you enter – their house is along the road from the cave entrance.

After the cave Carlos took me down some back roads in search of local wildlife and bird life. Carlos drives a little red Hyundai and it doesn’t take long to realise that this small car seems to possess 4WD capabilities. Carlos loves bouncing along muddy, dirt tracks pointing out fine soaring examples of the native almond tree (used to build the long canoes unique to Kosrae) and other amazing plant life.

Touring Kosrae with Carlos.

Touring Kosrae with Carlos.

After showing me some towering Almond trees, Carlos took me to a place where I could see two of the famed Kosrae canoes. Kosrae canoes are renown in Micronesia as they are much longer than those on other islands since the trees on other islands do not grow as tall and as straight as the Almond tree.

The really long Kosrae canoe.

The really long Kosrae canoe.

After he had driven me the length of the island, I invited Carlos to join me for a late lunch at the restaurant at Kosrae Nautilus Resort (see ‘Eating out’ below for more details), where his wife is one of the cooks. He convinced me to order the deluxe burger, which she prepared. It was amazing.

After lunch, Carlos drop me at the nearby Lelu ruins, the main historical and archaeological site on Kosrae. Similar to Nan Madol on neighbouring Pohnpei, Lelu was once a thriving city. The city is built of blocks of coral and basalt. It consists of housing, royal tombs and sacred spaces. Today it’s completely overgrown and visiting it requires you to have a little bit of an Indiana Jones spirit – at least there are no snakes on the island.

Kosrae (Micronesia) Travel Guide: Over-grown Lelu ruins.

Over-grown Lelu ruins.

Once you find your way into the complex you will find sections of the old stone walls which are still visible but most of the complex has been reclaimed by nature.

Lelu Ruins on Kosrae.

Lelu Ruins on Kosrae.

If you are interested in diving while on the island I would recommend contacting (and diving with) Mark at Dive Kosrae. Mark has been diving on the island for years and is a PADI Dive Instructor who runs Dive Kosrae out of the Pacific Treelodge Resort, of which he is the owner along with wife Maria. Mark took me on two dives at Hiroshi’s Point on the south side of the island. Because of the topography of the island (i.e. underwater drop-offs), dives on Kosrae tend to be drift dives along walls. Everything – from the equipment – to Mark’s guidance and expertise and the fresh tuna steak sandwich for lunch (prepared by Bully’s) was fantastic. It was a great day of diving and, due to the low visitor count on the island, we had the reef to ourselves. There is also a dive operation at the Kosrae Nautilus Resort with a resident Dive Master.

Once I had finished my dives I treated myself to a screen printed “Dive Kosrae” t-shirt from the Green Banana Paper Company. 

"Dive Kosrae" shirt - screen printed at the Green Banana Paper Company

“Dive Kosrae” shirt – screen printed at the Green Banana Paper Company.

During my meander around the island with Carlos, we stopped by the Green Banana Paper Company. This fascinating enterprise was created by Matt Simpson, a young American who originally came to Kosrae as a teaching volunteer. In between teaching and surfing, Matt developed a vision – “to create a company that could help the local community by creating jobs and sustainable products from renewable materials”.

Today, the company produces paper from various local plant fibre (banana, taro and pineapple) and recycled paper. This paper is then turned into an array of beautiful items by the company artisans. In addition to the paper business, Matt has also started a t-shirt screen printing business. The shirt designs are beautiful and unique – a great souvenir of Kosrae. The factory is located on the main road in the village of Finaunpes and is open for free tours during weekdays. There is an onsite gift shop where you can purchase the beautiful handmade products. The following images provide an overview of the paper making process:

The screen printing process:

Accommodation

There are just two accommodation options on the island, (both very good but very different) located a short stroll from each other; the Pacific Treelodge Resort and Kosrae Nautilus Resort (KNR).

I chose to stay at the Pacific Treelodge Resort. The resort is owned and operated by an enthusiastic wife and husband team – Maria (Italian) and Mark (American). Located on the main road on the north-east coast, facing the ocean and surrounded by a mangrove swamp, the resort offers spacious rooms laid out around the edge of the mangrove.

It is also home to the #1 restaurant/ bar on Kosrae – Bully’s Bar  (see the ‘Eating out‘ below for more details). Bully’s is also used as a venue for other activities. On the day I arrived, Maria invited me to join the weekly yoga class on the deck of Bully’s overlooking the mangrove. There is a movie night held once a week at Bully’s – complete with popcorn. Basically everything you need is in one place.

The warm, friendly staff at the resort ensure your stay is a memorable one. In between keeping the place spotlessly clean, they use the flowers from the garden to prepare floral lais for arriving guests, flower arrangements for the rooms and when in the mood will strum the ukulele in Bully’s and sing enchanting local folk songs. It all forms part of the magic of the island.

Mangrove swamp at Pacific Treelodge Resort.

Mangrove swamp at Pacific Treelodge Resort.

Mark and Maria are enthusiastic about everything they do and it shows. Mark operates Dive Kosrae (a “5-star” PADI-rated operation) from the resort. If you are planning on diving while on Kosrae then Mark is your man. Maria is a big fan of the local fauna and flora and was the one who suggested I do a tour with Carlos – one of the highlights of my stay. They are both passionate about recycling and are always finding inventive ways to incorporate locally recycled products into construction materials, which they then use around the resort. In the development pipeline during my visit were building blocks made from PET bottles. These will be used as an ‘anti-termite’ construction material.

Kosrae Nautilus Resort made worldwide headlines  in 2016 when the original Australian owners, who had spent 20 years building up the business, decided to raffle the resort instead of selling it to a rich developer. This created a worldwide frenzy which resulted in the sale of 75,485 tickets at US$49 per ticket in 150 countries.

The lucky winner was Joshua, a 27 year old accountant from Wollongong, Australia. On the evening the owners called Joshua to inform him that he had won a multi-million dollar, 18 room resort, he was at the pub having drinks with some friends. He thought his mates were on the phone playing a joke on him. Little did he realise that at that moment his life was about to change in a monumental way. Joshua had just been handed the keys to a resort which is free of debt, profitable and has more than 20 years remaining on its lease. Joshua first had to look on a map to check where in the world Kosrae was located, then hopped on a plane and the rest is history.

Joshua by the pool at 'his' resort.

Joshua by the pool at ‘his’ resort.

KNR offers an air-conditioned restaurant (important in this part of the world) and the only swimming pool on Kosrae. Surrounding the pool are lush tropical gardens, a vegetable garden (used to supply the restaurant) and eighteen fresh, modern rooms. For those interested in diving, KNR has a dive operation, Nautilus Divers, staffed by a resident Dive Master.

Both hotels can be booked on booking.com

Eating Out

When it comes to produce, Kosrae is blessed in many ways. Because of the rich volcanic soil, the whole island is one big fertile garden. Everywhere you look, you’ll see fruit trees, vegetable gardens and so much more.

A Kosrae Tangerine.

A Kosrae Tangerine.

The ocean waters surrounding the island provide an abundant supply of fish and as such, are favoured fishing grounds for countries such as Japan, Taiwan, Korea and the US. Tuna is king here but you will also find lobster everywhere on the menu. Whilst I was on the island, I enjoyed the freshest of sushi and sashimi at least once a day.

The awesome Sushi Deluxe special at Bully's.

The awesome Sushi Deluxe special at Bully’s.

There are just two restaurants on Kosrae, one at the Kosrae Nautilus Resort and one at the Pacific Treelodge Resort. The most popular of the two is Bully’s Bar. This restaurant/ bar is named after Bully Hayes, a notorious American-born ship’s captain who was variously described as a pirate, cheap swindler, bully, con man, thief and bigamist. Bully Hayes operated in the Pacific in the mid 19th century and always evaded capture. However he was eventually killed by his cook off the coast of Kosrae in 1877.

The tranquil view from the deck of Bully's.

The tranquil view from the deck of Bully’s.

Located on the edge of a lush, green mangrove, Bully’s is part of the Pacific Treelodge Resort. The head chef at Bully’s is a local man who worked for many years in a Japanese restaurant in Waikiki. He returned to Kosrae armed with a whole lot of talent and ideas. His creations are amazing (especially his freshly prepared ‘sushi deluxe’ platter) and the portions very generous. You can be sure that the sushi/ sashimi at Bully’s is prepared using fresh, local tuna, which is something everyone should get to tantalise their tastebuds with at least once in their lifetime. the restaurant can be reached along an elevated pathway, which takes you through the mangrove swamp. The pathway is constructed from concrete slabs, which contain colourful shards of locally recycled glass – another recycling project from Mark and Maria.

Pathway through the mangrove to Bully's Bar.

Pathway through the mangrove to Bully’s Bar.

Located at the front of Kosrae Nautilus Resort and facing the ocean is the one other dining option on Kosrae. Food here is also very good and since there are just two choices on the island there is a good chance you will end up eating here at some stage. Here you have the choice of dining in air-conditioned comfort inside the restaurant or outside by the swimming pool. As with Bully’s, you will dine on the freshest of local seafood. The resort has its own vegetable garden to supply the restaurant with the freshest produce possible.

Visa Requirements

Some nationalities require visas for the Micronesia – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

Getting There

By Air

Kosrae International Airport.

Kosrae International Airport.

Flights to Kosrae arrive at Kosrae International Airport.  The airport is dramatically located on a slice of reclaimed land across a channel from the main island. It’s connected to the mainland by an ornate, marble-balustrade bridge built by the Chinese government as a gift to the people of Kosrae. For more details on Kosrae airport, see my Central Pacific Island Hopping blog.

The following airlines provide connections to/from Kosrae:

  • United Airlines – provides services to Chuuk, Guam, Honolulu, Kwajalein, Majuro, Pohnpei
  • Nauru Airlines – provides services to Pohnpei, Marshall Islands, Tarawa, Nauru, Brisbane and Fiji
UA154 departing from Kosrae.

UA154 departing from Kosrae.

Getting Around

Bus

There are no buses on Kosrae.

Taxi

There are three small taxi companies operating on the island.

Car

Cars can be rented through either of the two hotels or through agents in Tofol. I rented a car through Pacific Treelodge Resort at $30 per day. One day is sufficient to explore the entire island.

Kosrae license plate.

Kosrae license plate.

One quirk on the island is that cars are never re-fueled directly from a petrol bowser, but rather from one gallon containers, which have been filled from the bowser. It was explained that locals don’t trust what they can’t see so they will not use a bowser.

Re-fueling 'Kosrae style'.

Re-fueling ‘Kosrae style’.

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Guam Travel Guide, Chuuk Travel Guide, Pohnpei Travel Guide, Palau Travel Guide, Marshall Islands Travel Guide, Kiribati Travel Guide, Central Pacific Island Hopping

Central Pacific Island Hopping

Island Hopping Route: Source - Great Circle Tracker

Central Pacific Island Hopping

Date of Island Hop: 26th of January 2017 – 3rd of March 2017

Introduction

Taking the United Airlines Island Hopper (UA154) across the central Pacific has long been a dream. I recently got to live the dream when I incorporated UA154 into a longer journey from Los Angeles to Manila. This was a meandering odyssey from one side of the Pacific to the other, one which would take me to eight remote islands.

Along the way, I detoured from United’s network by making a side-trip with Nauru Airlines from Majuro to Kiribati. I’m glad I did – the people of Kiribati are the friendliest people I encountered on my journey. More on them and the atoll when I publish the Kiribati Postcard blog.

This blog provides an overview of air services in this remote region and describes my travel experience. I will publish separate ‘postcard’ blogs from each destination shortly.

Air Services

The following airlines offer services throughout the Central Pacific region:

United Airlines

United offers the most comprehensive network in the region. The Island Hopper (UA154) travels three times a week (Mon/ Wed/ Fri) on a 14-hour milk-run from Honolulu to Guam with 45 minute stops at Majuro, Kwajalein, Kosrae, Pohnpei & Chuuk. The same service operates in the reverse direction from Guam (UA155) also departing on Mon/ Wed/ Fri.

From Guam, United offer connections to other Pacific islands such as the Northern Mariana islands of Rota & Saipan, Yap (FSM), Palau and also Asia (Manila, Hong Kong, Shanghai and various ports in Japan).

United Airlines Micronesia Routes

United Airlines Micronesia Routes.

Nauru Airlines

Nauru Airlines offer a weekly service every Friday (ON33) from Nauru to Pohnpei with stops on Kiribati, Majuro and Kosrae. The return service departs from Pohnpei on Sunday (ON32). From Nauru, you can connect to Brisbane or Fiji.

Nauru Airlines Route Map.

Nauru Airlines Route Map.

Air Niugini

As of December 2016, Air Niugini have commenced a weekly service connecting Port Moresby with Chuuk and Pohnpei every Saturday (PX072). The flight returns to Port Moresby every Sunday, with connections onto Australia and other Pacific islands.

Star Marianas

Star Marianas is a small airline offering a once-daily service between Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands (Rota, Tinian and Saipan). Their fleet consists of 12 single-engine Piper planes. Their office at Guam airport is located inside the freight building between the main terminal and the United ticket office.

Travel Costs

Not cheap!

Apart from swimming or building your own raft, almost the only way between these islands is via the thrice-weekly United Airlines Island hopper service. United operate largely in a monopoly environment and like any monopoly player they can charge what they like. There are no ‘deals’ on airfares in this part of the world. I paid just over US$1500 for a one-way economy class ticket from Honolulu to Manila. Ouch! You can get better pricing if you book a round trip.

Like United, Nauru Airlines operates in a monopoly environment, so there are no deals here. They are the only airline connecting Kiribati with the Marshall Islands with onward service to Kosrae and Pohnpei. The 75-min flight from Majuro to Tarawa cost AUD$385 return.

Air Niugini are currently selling one-way tickets between Chuuk and Pohnpei for US$83. United are quoting $289 for the same flight!

For travel between Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, tiny Star Marianas airline offers much cheaper airfares than United Airlines.

I met few other travellers on these islands – no doubt the high travel costs deter many.

In-Flight Service

United Airlines

United offered a level of in-flight service typical of US carriers – i.e. minimal at best!

Meals

As per the itinerary below, only one meal was served on the 14-hour flight from Honolulu to Guam. On two of the legs I was served a ‘snack’ which consisted of a turkey-loaf sandwich. On the remaining legs, you are offered a small packet of almonds or pretzels.  Non-alcoholic beverages are free, however if you wish to have a beer you will be charged US$7.99. Wine and spirits are available at various (higher) prices.

Meals offered on the 14-hour Island Hopper.

Meals offered on the 14-hour Island Hopper.

The one meal – breakfast  consisted of something that resembled a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin. The over-processed offering was not prepared by United but was supplied by a 3rd party caterer and tasted awful. Best to bring your own food on this flight.

Entertainment

United’s Entertainment system is the old-style centrally controlled system, which is reset at the beginning of each hop. The only chance to watch a complete movie is on the 3-hour flight from Honolulu to Majuro. Since most hops are about one hour you will get to watch only the first hour of the movie of your choice. There are four movie channels to choose from. The flight map channel was never available. I recommend bringing a good book or providing your own entertainment.

Crew

Considering the crew on the island hopper work a straight 14-hour shift (with no crew quarters) they do a remarkable job at maintaining a friendly, professional level of service.

In order to satisfy FAA ‘flying-time’ regulations a 2nd pilot and co-pilot accompany the flight and takeover at some stage. They are seated upfront in seats 1A and 1B. Due to the fact that there are no mechanical services at any of the airports a United mechanic is also included in the crew. He is seated in the first row of economy class in seat 7C. All seats are blocked and marked ‘Crew Use’.

Nauru Airlines

Excellent service from this little-known airline. I would certainly fly with them again. Had I known they connected Majuro to Kosrae and Pohnpei I would have considered using them instead of United. Unfortunately, they only fly once a week. The airlines head office is located on Nauru but their principle place of business is Brisbane. The CEO is an Australian, maintenance is done at their facility at Brisbane airport and many of the crew have Australian accents.

Meals

A hot meal was served on all flights and all drinks were complimentary.

Entertainment

There is no entertainment, best to bring your own.

Crew

Very professional, efficient, Australian trained crew.

Itinerary

Boarding passes from the island hop.

Boarding passes from the island hop.

 

Honolulu – Majuro (Marshall Islands) – Kosrae (FSM) – Pohnpei (FSM) – Chuuk (FSM) – Guam (USA)

Itinerary - Honolulu to Guam on UA154.

Itinerary – Honolulu to Guam on UA154.

Guam – Palau – Manila

Itinerary - Guam to Manila.

Itinerary – Guam to Manila.

 

Majuro – Tarawa (Kiribati) – Majuro

Itinerary - Majuro to Tarawa

Itinerary – Majuro to Tarawa.

 

Island Hops

Hop 1: Honolulu (HNL) – Majuro (MAJ)

Honolulu (USA)

The first thing you notice when you check in for the island hopper is that the preferred item of luggage used by many of the islanders is the durable and robust Coleman cooler box. These are packed with all sorts of food and other goodies and wrapped shut with duct tape.

The most popular form of luggage in the Pacific - the Coleman Cooler Box.

The most popular form of luggage in the Pacific – the Coleman Cooler Box.

After checking in I decided to find some breakfast. Since I’d had an early departure (4:30 am) from my hotel in Waikiki, I was famished. The only dining options open on the air-side were Burger King and Starbucks. I chose Burger King and later, once on the flight, I was happy that I did. Breakfast is the only meal served on the 14-hour flight and breakfast this morning consisted of a cheap imitation McDonald’s’ Egg McMuffin.

Our flight left on time at 07:25 am. I would later learn (while waiting for a delayed UA154) that the flight is often delayed departing HNL due to the late arrival of the incoming aircraft from Guam.

Waiting to depart Honolulu on UA154.

Waiting to depart Honolulu on UA154.

Majuro (Marshall Islands)

During the flight we crossed the International Date Line into Saturday and landed on time at Amata Kabua International Airport on Majuro atoll (capital of the Marshall Islands).

Arrival at Majuro, Marshall Islands.

Arrival at Majuro, Marshall Islands.

With the exception of Honolulu and Guam, all airports on the island hop have small ‘1 gate’ terminals. There are no air bridges, instead United supplies a pedestrian ramp-way at each terminal. There are also no taxi-ways, planes make their turns at the end of the runway, which is no problem as there is almost no traffic.

Terminal at Majuro Airport.

Terminal at Majuro Airport.

Arriving at Majuro: Flight arrived on time at 10:35-amPassengers line up at immigration to hand their arrival form (supplied on the flight) to the friendly immigration officer who normally grants a 30-day stay. Once you have passed immigration, you wait for your bag to be delivered through an opening in the terminal wall. Everything here is done manually so things take time but normally there are few passengers disembarking. Most remain in-transit. Once you have your bag you clear customs and hand in your Customs declaration form, which would have been handed to you on the flight.

There are few hotels on Majuro and most of them provide a shuttle transfer from the airport. If one is not provided, there are many shared taxis, which shuttle along the one, long road on the atoll.  The fare from the airport to downtown is US$4. Fares around town are just 75 cents.

I stayed at the Marshall Islands Resort, which is where most tourists seem to stay.

Marshall Islands passport stamps.

Marshall Islands passport stamps.

Transiting Majuro: Passengers are allowed to de-plane to stretch their legs during the 45-minute stop. They are free to wait inside the small departure lounge where there is a kiosk selling snacks and a nice old Marshallese lady selling local handicrafts. WiFi is available for purchase. If you want a passport stamp as a souvenir of your stopover you can ask immigration. I saw transit passengers getting stamps.

Hop 2: Majuro (MAJ) – Tarawa (TRW) – Majuro (MAJ)

Tarawa (Kiribati)

While I was in this remote part of the world I decided to make a detour from the island hopper route and fly south to another remote atoll nation – Kiribati (pronounced: Kiribass).

Kiribati is one of the least developed nations in the Pacific. Most of its inhabitants live in make-shift constructions on the over-crowded atoll of South Tarawa. This is not a destination for those who dream of holidaying on a Pacific paradise isle. This is a developing nation, where most people live in grinding poverty. The beautiful turquoise waters of the Pacific are used as a toilet by the 50,000 inhabitants and the tiny atoll (100m across in most places) is covered in litter. Things are changing with large investments being made by the Australian & NZ governments in various aid projects, which include the installation of public toilets, sewage treatment plants and rubbish collection.

If you are adventurous I would highly recommend a visit to Kiribati. Without exception the people are very warm and friendly. I spent a week on the atoll and was sad to leave. You will not meet any other tourists here but plenty of aid workers.

Nauru Airlines at Pohnpei airport.

Nauru Airlines at Pohnpei airport.

The island is served by weekly flights from Nauru Airlines and Fiji Airlines. Nauru Airlines flies every Friday from its base on Nauru to Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Kosrae and Pohnpei, returning the same way on Sundays. The airline is a delight to fly with, offering a high level of service. All flights to Kiribati arrive at Bonriki International Airport.

Fiji Airlines offers a weekly connection to their hub at Nadi (Fiji), with onward connections to other South Pacific destinations.

Arriving at Tarawa: Flight arrived on time at 10:05-am. Passengers are processed by the friendly immigration officers, who grant a 30-day stay. Bags are delivered through an opening in the side of the terminal.

Kiribati passport stamps.

Kiribati passport stamps.

Most hotels will provide a shuttle service, but if you need to use public transport there are minibuses which run frequently from the airport along the new (Australian Govt. / Asian Development Bank funded) main road. The currency of Kiribati is the Australian dollar.

Departing Tarawa: There are just three check-in desks at Bonriki Airport; two for domestic flights and one for international flights. Once you have checked in you get your passport stamped at the adjacent immigration desk then wait for security screening to open. There is just one gate which is used by both domestic and international passengers. Security staff only admit one group at a time, usually allowing international passengers into the lounge once their flight is close to arriving. Unlike other airports in the region, there is no terminal fee charged here.

Flight departed on time at 12:00-pm.

Transiting Tarawa: Passengers are not allowed to de-plane.

Hop 3: Majuro (MAJ) – Kwajalein (KAJ) – Kosrae (KSA)

Majuro (Marshall Islands)

After spending an amazing six days on Kiribati I returned to the Marshall Islands for four days to explore Majuro and one of the offshore islands. The Marshallese are much more reserved than the Kiribati folks but still pleasant. More on my experiences there in my Marshall Islands Postcard.

Departing Majuro.

Departing Majuro.

Departing Majuro: The tiny terminal at Amata Kabua International Airport offers a decent cafe (home to the cleanest toilet at the airport), a few gift shops (which open when a flight is due), a small bank branch and a single check-in desk.

The check-in process is like a two-step shuffle, consisting of the following steps:

  • Step 1: Present your documents at the check-in desk. Staff will check you in, tag your bag and hand everything back to you – except your boarding pass.
  • Step 2: Take your tagged bag to the baggage guy who is located to the left of the check-in desk. He will inspect your bag (no x-ray here) and place it on a short conveyor which leads to the baggage cart.
  • Step 3: Pay your US$20 terminal fee at the window marked ‘Terminal Fee’. This is where you will receive your boarding pass – with the terminal fee receipt stapled to it.
  • Step 4: Once you have paid your fee and received your boarding pass you proceed to security screening and then immigration.

If you are hungry at the airport it is best to eat at the cafe in the departure area. Once on the air-side your food option is limited to one small kiosk selling snacks.

Flight departed on time at 11:20-am.

Kwajalein (Marshall Islands)

The first hop on this segment of the Island Hopper is a 45-minute flight from Majuro to Bucholz Army Airfield, which serves the island of Kwajalein . ‘Kwaj’ is a restricted US Army base, built on land the US government has leased from the Republic of the Marshall islands since pre-independence days. The island is home to a small population of US Army personnel and other contractors – all of whom need authorisation from the US Army to be there. The island is home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site.

In addition to army personnel, there are about 14,000 Marshallese residents who live on adjacent Ebeye island.

Arrival at Kwajalein: Only US military personnel, other authorized persons and Marshallese residents of Ebeye are allowed to de-plane here.

Kwajalein transit passengers:  Transit passengers are not allowed to de-plane. No photos are allowed at the airport as it is a US Army base.

UA154 departing from Kwajalein.

UA154 departing from Kwajalein.

Kosrae – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

Soaring up out of nowhere in the middle of the deep blue waters of the Pacific is a lush green, mountainous island known as Kosrae (pronounced ‘ko-shrye’). It is known as the “island of the sleeping lady” due to the profile of the central mountain range, which does look strangely like a sleeping lady. This is the first island of the FSM group you will arrive at if travelling from the east. FSM is an independent nation, consisting of the island states of Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk (formerly Truk) and Yap.

Kosrae is tiny, remote, wild and beautiful. With a population of just 6,600 , the island is well off the tourist radar, receiving 300 tourists a year. When I disembarked I was accompanied by five returning residents. This is a special place and if you ever get the chance to visit you should do so. More to come in my Kosrae Postcard.

Arriving at Kosrae: A dramatically located airport built on reclaimed land across a channel from the island itself. Just a few of us de-planed here. I handed in my immigration form (handed out during the flight) and received a stay corresponding to the number of days I was staying on the island (this is standard practice throughout FSM). Customs were very relaxed – happy to see a tourist.

Note: Each state of FSM takes care of its own immigration formalities. For each state you enter, you will be required to complete the same entry form and will be stamped in/ out at each airport.

There are just two hotels on the island; Kosrae Nautilus Resort and the Pacific Treelodge resort, both of which will collect you from the airport since there is no public transport on the island and very few taxis.

I stayed at the latter and would highly recommend staying there. There are just two restaurants on the island, both located at the two hotels. The restaurant at the Treelodge – Bully’s is the best choice. The setting on the edge of the Mangrove is very special as is the food, which is prepared by a local chef who worked for years in a Japanese restaurant in Honolulu. My favourite dinner was the $10 sushi platter, which included 21 pieces of freshly made sushi with a bottle of beer or a glass of wine. I was sad to leave here.

Kosrae passport stamps.

Kosrae passport stamps.

Transiting Kosrae: Like Majuro –  transit passengers are allowed to de-plane to stretch their legs during the 45-minute stop. They are free to wait inside the small departure lounge where there is a kiosk operated by a nice lady who sells snacks. I especially recommend buying a packet of the local banana chips. They are the best. If you want a passport stamp as a souvenir of your stopover you can ask immigration.

Arriving at Kosrae airport.

Arriving at Kosrae airport.

Hop 4: Kosrae – Pohnpei

Kosrae – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

After five amazing days on Kosrae it was time to take my usual seat (32F) on UA154 for the 1 hour flight to Pohnpei.

UA154 at Kosrae.

UA154 at Kosrae.

Departing Kosrae: Similar check-in process as Majuro:

  • Step 1: Upon entering the airport you present your luggage for manual inspection. There are no x-ray machines here. Once inspected the customs official will place your bag behind the check-in counter.
  • Step 2: Present your documents at the check-in desk. Staff will check you in, tag your bag and hand everything back to you – except your boarding pass.
  • Step 3: Pay your US$20 terminal fee at the window marked ‘Terminal Fee’. This is where you will receive your boarding pass – with the terminal fee receipt stapled to it.
  • Step 4: Once you have paid your fee and received your boarding pass you get your passport stamped at the adjacent immigration desk.
  • Step 5: Proceed through security screening into the departure lounge,
  • Step 6: Buy a packet of local banana chips from the nice lady at the kiosk.

US154 departed on time at 1:47-pm

UA154 departing from Kosrae.

UA154 departing from Kosrae.

Pohnpei – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

An hour after leaving Kosrae we landed on Pohnpei, home to the capital of FSM – the government enclave of Palikir. The landing here takes you over the fringing reef then past the towering Sokeh’s Rock – a huge granite plug, which is the island landmark.

UA154 on approach to Pohnpei.

UA154 on approach to Pohnpei.

Arriving at Pohnpei: UA154 arrived on time at 2:50-pm. I handed my arrival forms to immigration, received my stamp for the number of days corresponding to my stay, passed customs, collected my bag and met my hotel shuttle.

Like Kosrae there is no public transport on Pohnpei – although the island is much larger in terms of area and population (34,000). You either have your own car or you walk. There are some taxis available around the capital – Kolonia. All hotels offer an airport shuttle service. I stayed in downtown Kolonia at 7 Stars Inn, which I would recommend. This is a good option if you want to be able to walk around town. Other hotels are further out of town.

Transiting Pohnpei: Once again, transit passengers are free to de-plane during the 45-minute stop and wait inside the departure lounge, where you’ll find one cafe offering hot food, snacks, beer (cheaper than on the flight), coffee etc.

Hop 5: Pohnpei – Chuuk

Pohnpei – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

After six days on Pohnpei it was time to re-join UA154 for the next leg of the hop – onto the diving paradise of Chuuk. My flight was delayed by 2 hours. This often happens so hotels along the route will always call ahead first to confirm the aircraft arrival time so their guests aren’t keep waiting around at the airport. The next island hopper was delayed by six hours!

Departing Pohnpei: Similar process to Kosrae with a slight variation:

  • Step 1: Present your documents at the check-in desk. Staff will check you in, tag your bag and hand everything back to you – except your boarding pass.
  • Step 3: Pay your US$20 terminal fee to the attendant next to the check-in desk. He will issue you with a receipt and your boarding pass.
  • Step 4: Proceed to immigration to complete formalities.
  • Step 5: Pass through security screening into the departure lounge.

The departure lounge at PNI is the largest in FSM. It offers one TV tuned to CNN, WiFi (paid) and one cafe, which serves a reasonable selection of food and drinks.

UA154 departing Pohnpei.

UA154 departing Pohnpei.

Chuuk – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

As a keen scuba diver, Chuuk (formerly Truk) was one of the key reasons I planned this trip. During WWII, Chuuk was home to the Japanese Pacific Fleet. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, the Americans retaliated by launching Operation Hailstone. The attack took place over two days and involved a combination of airstrikes and submarine/ surface ship attacks. More than 50 major shipwrecks from WWII litter the seabed of the lagoon. Chuuk is considered the No. 1 shipwreck diving destination on the planet and has to be seen to be believed. Incredible diving and lots of beautiful islands to explore in the large lagoon.

Arriving at Chuuk:

Due to its underwater attractions, Chuuk attracts more tourists than anywhere else in Micronesia. Since it’s one stop from Guam most tourists choose to fly directly from there rather than sit on UA154 for 10 hours.

Due to the late arrival of the incoming flight to Pohnpei, we arrived 2 hours late on Chuuk. Again – very few passengers disembarked here, most were travelling onto Guam. Handed in my immigration form (same as the one used for all other FSM states), cleared customs, exited the airport and was surprised to see a hotel shuttle waiting for me. Why surprised? I had booked in L5 Hotel, which is across the road from the airport. It was the shortest shuttle ride ever. When I departed, I told the hotel I would walk to the terminal (2 mins).

You can’t beat L5 for it’s convenient location, the fact that the whole place is newly renovated and that the best restaurant/ cafe on the island is located on the ground floor. The restaurant has been established by a cafe owner from Honolulu. The food is the best on the island and they have the only espresso machine I saw on Chuuk. I did all my diving through The Truk Stop hotel, which I would recommend.

Micronesia passport stamps.

Micronesia passport stamps.

Hop 6: Chuuk – Guam

Chuuk – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

After 6 days of amazing diving on Chuuk, it was time to fly the last hop of the island hopper to Guam.

Departing Chuuk: To my surprise I was informed by my hotel that the flight was actually running ahead of schedule. Luckily, I had a short walk across to the terminal where I checked in. The process here is the same as everywhere else in FSM… Once you pay the $20 terminal fee you get your boarding pass.

On the air-side there is a small kiosk selling snacks. These kiosks always get busy when the transit passengers file in off the incoming flight.

UA154 departing from Chuuk.

UA154 departing from Chuuk.

Guam – USA

After almost a month on remote, tiny Pacific islands I was looking forward to the hustle and bustle of Guam. With its high-rise hotels wrapping around the emerald green waters of Tumon Bay, it’s shopping malls, outlets, American fast food chains, restaurants, bars etc – Guam is a mini version of Hawaii.

Guam is home to the native Chamorro people, a large Filipino population and a sizable US Military population who work at the two large bases (Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base). Added into the mix are 1000’s of Japanese, Korean and Chinese tourists who flock here for short breaks to spend some time shopping and relaxing in the Tumon Bay area. Here you will find all the large hotels but they are not cheap due to the islands popularity. I found a more reasonably priced apartment on booking.com.

The island is large, diverse and offers a wealth of sightseeing. Rental cars are cheap at the airport and essential if you wish to explore beyond the tourist enclave of Tumon Bay. I easily spent six days on the island. If you are in town on a Wednesday evening be sure to join the throngs for the best local BBQ dinner at the Chamorro village in Agana.

 

UA154 arriving at Guam

Arriving at Guam: If you have spent any amount of time on the other islands, the first thing you will notice upon arrival at Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport is how big and busy it is. Lots of gates instead of the usual ‘1’ and lots of aircraft movement instead of one movement every few days. This is a busy airport with most of the flights shuttling tourists from Japan and Korea and now increasingly China. Guam is also a regional hub for United Airlines.

The island Hopper was early into Guam which would have been good news for the Guam-based crew. Arrival procedures here are the same as any other international gateway- but at this airport (unlike all others on UA154) your bag is delivered on a carousel – strange to see one after weeks of receiving my bag through a hole in the terminal wall.

Entry requirements are the same as the US.

In the terminal, there are all the usual US car rental agents. I pre-booked a car with Alamo, which was reasonable at $30 per day. You need a car here unless you are going to spend a short time lazing around the beach. I also needed the car to get to my apartment, which was in the neighbourhood of Sinajana. If you have a craving for anything from your favourite US restaurant chain your appetite will be satisfied on Guam. From Denny’s to Tony Roma’s and many more – they are all here.

Hop 7: Guam – Palau

Guam – USA

After an amazing week on Guam it was time to move onto the next island – Palau.

Guam had been wonderful, providing all the conveniences of the US in the middle of the western Pacific. From wonderful infrastructure, large supermarkets (I self-catered a little) to all the restaurants and shops you would find on the US mainland. Where else can you shop at Macy’s in this part of the world? Although the most popular shop on the island is the ‘Ross – Dress for Less‘ outlet at the Guam Premier Outlet Mall. With opening hours from 6-am to 1-am, seven days a week, there is always a huge line of Asian tourists waiting patiently to pay for their bargains. More on Guam in my Guam Postcard.

Departing Guam: I returned my car to Alamo and proceeded to the United check-in area. The terminal is mostly used by large groups of tourists from Korea, Japan and China, with airlines from these countries providing frequent daily connections.

Exit formalities are the same as the US (i.e. no stamping of passports). There is a small food court on the air-side, which was full of diving groups from Europe waiting for a flight to Chuuk. Most of the shops close early so if you plan to purchase anything do it first. My flight departed on time at 07:55-pm but most of the airport was closed well before this time.

The flight time to Palau was 90 minutes with United providing yet another ‘snack’.

Palau

I had heard many good things about Palau and I wasn’t disappointed. Despite being an expensive destination (it was the most costly destination on this journey) the diving was incredible, the environment is pristine and the local culture is very much alive and completely different to anywhere else in the region. The government has taxes galore, which they charge tourists, including a US$50 departure tax which includes a $30 ‘green fee’. Despite the expense, Palau is definitely worth visiting once in your life.

A Bai (traditional meeting house) on Palau.

A Bai (traditional meeting house) on Palau.

Arriving on Palau: UA157 touched down at a wet Palau International Airport on time at 9:05-pm. Palau airport is larger and more modern than most in the region with air-bridges and at least two gates. The flight was half full so clearing immigration and customs was fast. I was granted a 30-day stay.

Palau passport stamps.

Palau passport stamps.

My hotel did not provide a shuttle service so I asked about car rental at the Alamo counter. They quoted US$70 per day – more than double the cost on Guam. Welcome to Palau! I decided to settle for a taxi but there were none. The kind lady at the Information Desk offered to take me instead for the same price ($25 to downtown Koror). She closed the Information counter and drove me to my hotel.

 

Hop 8: Palau – Manila

Palau

I spent a total of six days on Palau which is enough time to explore this little piece of paradise. During this time, I got to scuba dive with Manta Rays, countless sharks and other amazing marine life, drive a rental car around the main island of Babeldaob and explore the offerings of the main town – Koror. It was now time to wrap up this odyssey by taking my final flight to Manila.

Departing Palau: Due to the constant snaking line of traffic, which crawls along the one-lane main road of Koror, you should allow plenty of time to reach the airport. If you arrive too early you will find the door to the check-in area is locked. Once you have checked-in you go upstairs to pay your $50 departure tax ($20 terminal fee/ $30 green fee) then have your passport stamped and proceed through security screening into the lounge. In the lounge, you’ll find one over-priced Duty Free shop and a small kiosk. If you are hungry it’s best to eat in the one upstairs restaurant before you pass through immigration.

Flight time to Manila is just under 3 hours. United once again provided a ‘snack’. Non-alcoholic drinks are provided free of charge, anything else is available at cost.

Manila – Philippines

Arriving in Manila: Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA)  has been operating over-capacity for years. Whenever I have flown in here I have been delayed while the plane is put into a holding pattern. Tonight, was no exception. After a smooth, on-time flight the captain announced we were in a holding pattern and would be delayed approximately 50-mins. NAIA has just two runways and four terminals with a capacity for 28 million passengers per year. In 2015, almost 37 million passengers passed through the airport.

United arrive at Terminal 1 which is the main international terminal. There are always long lines for immigration here.

After receiving my bag I proceeded outside to take a taxi to downtown. If you will be taking taxis (recommended in this crazy metropolis) it is worth installing the free ‘Grab‘ app on your smartphone before you arrive. This is the most popular ride sharing app in Manila (and other cities in Asia). Unlike Uber it deals with cash payments (useful in a city where a fare can be just $3) so no need to register your credit card. A regular taxi fare to Makati from the concession stand outside Terminal 1 is P650. The same trip on Grab will could less than P300. Always request the driver to use the (faster) Skyway which will cost you an extra P20 for the toll. There are Grab stands outside of each terminal, where a Grab representative will order you a taxi – so if you don’t have the app you can still use the service

Grab Taxi counter in Manila.

Grab Taxi counter in Manila.

From Manila it was onto the next adventure… more on that another time.

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Guam Travel Guide, Chuuk Travel Guide, Pohnpei Travel Guide, Kosrae Travel Guide, Palau Travel Guide, Kiribati Travel Guide, Marshall Islands Travel Guide