North Tarawa - Gilbert Islands group (Kiribati)
July 12-16th, 2015
North Tarawa atoll, far away from the hustle of Kiribati's capital, boasts beautiful tropical landscapes dominated by immense beaches, turquoise blue lagoons, lush vegetation and small traditional villages where to learn more about Kiribati's culture.
Where to stay in North Tarawa?
If you are looking for a good place to stay in Tarawa, offering a beautiful beach and a good base for excursions among the atoll, the lodge Tabon Te Kee Kee
may be a good choice. This structure provides bungalows built in Gilbertese style, including over-water bungalows.
The southernmost islets of North Tarawa, have vast expanses of sand that reveal only at low tide. Near the shore, a young mangrove slowly try to take root.
An endless beach of North Tarawa, near the village of Abatao and around Tabon Te Kee Kee lodge. In low tide, visitors can walk on the sand for kilometers, just keep an eye open on the clock, to return before the high tide comes.
During low tide, the locals go to the beach to gather shellfish or fish remained trapped in the pools.
Within the dry tidal zone there are lots of crabs who take refuge in the sand (left), while others prefer to hide under a thin layer of water (pictured right).
Photos of North Tarawa
. The beach is bordered by a dense vegetation consisting mainly of mangroves, an important shrub that prevents erosion and that has adapted to live in very salty environments.
What are all those red dots on the beach?
They are thousands and thousands of crabs having a big purple claw. They are pretty shy and while you walk on the sand, you will see a sort of "wave" created by crabs going quickly in the sand, making the beach "animated".
The village of Abatao, in North Tarawa, is separated from the rest of the atoll by a channel between two islands. During low tide people can reach the town on foot, with the water reaching just the knees.
During high tide instead, the landscape changes completely: the channel is completely flooded and travel between the islands is guaranteed by a canoe service.
Some photos showing the difference between high tide (top left photo), medium tide (top right photo) and low tide (bottom left photo).
The transformation of the lagoon with various tidal phases. At high tide is the best time to swim, while in low tide visitors can make long walks on the endless beach.
The opposite side of the atoll, facing the open sea, sees a vast tidal area without sand, where there are many creatures such as anemones, sea cucumbers, corals and starfish, living under a thin layer of water. The reef just off the island would be a very inviting place to snorkel or dive, but unfortunately there are no docks or boats making such kind of trip safe.
On the island there are no roads, but narrow paths that sometimes end in crumbling walkways which lead to the next island.
When visiting a remote village in Kiribati, it is customary to bring something as a gift (usually cigarettes --- Kiribati is one of the world's countries with the highest rate of tobacco use) which is sometimes placed under the shell of a giant clam, working like a kind of sanctuary.
An interesting industrial activities in Kiribati, pretty unique, is the production of clams exported around the world to meet the demand of the aquarium enthusiasts. This company has many large tanks filled with sea water, where colorful clams are grown before delivered to customers.
How to build a house in Kiribati?
The houses in Kiribati are simple structures, built entirely with locally sourced materials. As in Kiribati it's never cold, no complicated insulation is required for buildings, but many houses consist in just a raised floor protected by a roof, without real walls.
One of the most important building materials in Kiribati is the Pandanus tree, a species that grows abundantly on the islands and that can reach 20 meters in height. Of the Pandanus tree, almost everything is utilized: the robust trunks for supporting the structure of the house and the twisted leaves to manufacture waterproof roofs, mats and sometimes walls. The adventitious roots (bottom-left photo) are instead used in medicine, while the fruits (bottom-right photo) are edible.
The trunks of Pandanus, used for the basement and supporting structure, are assembled together using large wooden nails, yet coming from Pandanus tree (pictured right).
Manufacturing the roof is a long and complex process: substantially, dried leaves are twisted around palm leaf ribs, adding more and more layers, until obtaining a robust and waterproof structure. A good roof lasts 7-10 years and then it must be renewed.
The coconut palm is another important tree for the inhabitants of Kiribati, as every part is used except the trunk, which is spongy and too weak. The fiber contained in the mesocarp of the coconut, is used to make very robust and durable ropes, which are used also to tie together different elements of the house's structure.
Instead, here is how the ribs of palm leaves are used. Once dried and tied closely together, they will constitute a robust floor for the house, which will last many years. In most cases, the floor is covered by a mat made of twisted Pandanus tree's leaves.
Using locally sourced materials for any other type of construction or artifact: in this photo, a fish trap build with branches of a shrub.
The palm trees are also important as a source of food: in addition to copra (dried "flesh" of the coconut) the juice coming out from a cut along the ribs of the leaves, is boiled and used as a kind of maple syrup.
A Gilbertese woman and her dog.
The Kiribati villages are almost always found along the banks of the lagoons, very close to beautiful beaches.
A group of huts that serve as school structure, where each hut is a classroom.