Nauru: World’s Smallest Country,Once the Richest Country and One Of The Hardest Place to visit

Nauru: World’s Smallest Country,Once the Richest Country and One Of The Hardest Place to visit

The indigenous people of Nauru are believed to be of mixed Polynesian, Melanesian and Micronesian descent, with predominantly Polynesian characteristics. Their native language is Nauruan, though English is used for government and commercial purposes.  

Nauru was originally settled by Micronesian and Polynesian peoples and then annexed and claimed as a colony by the German Empire in the late 19th century. (

The history of human activity in Nauru, an island country in the Pacific Ocean, began roughly 3,000 years ago when 12 Micronesian and Polynesian clans settled the island.

Three thousands years ago, the island started to be colonized with ancestors of contemporaneous Polynesians and Micronesians, crossing the ocean by means of their unstableoriginal inhabitants of Nauru canoes. The island was discovered in 1798 (by chance for the Europeans) by John Fern, British whaler during his trip from New Zealand towards Chinese coasts. He named it as „Pleasant Islands“, according to its attractive countryside and friendly character of aborigines. Nevertheless, the whalers, slave-dealers, wood-cutters and pirates were the only Europeans, visiting the island for the next fifty years. (    

Isolated in the Pacific, the famous small island of Nauru, world’s smallest republic, with population have Nauru 2nd place after Vatican. Its located in Mikronesia pacific region, which is near Australia.

An aerial view of the Nauruan coastline shows the loading of the phosphate into the ship’s hold. The phosphate is mined from the plateau on the upper right of the picture behind the lines of houses. The phosphate was transported to the buildings on the lower right and thence after it is crushed and dried, it was taken by conveyors through the huge cantilevers to the ship, 1960 (  

The most popular forms of fishing paraphernalia used on the island of Nauru are bows and arrows and spears. This catch of brilliantly coloured fish seems to be a satisfactory one. The tree in the background is a banyan. (

The world’s smallest country was once among the world’s richest because  of phosphate resources. But today the Republic of Nauru is struggling, ravaged by the mining industry and tarnished by Australia’s controversial detention centre.

Republic of Nauru. Central Pacific. Nauru is a tiny island (21 square-km). Nauru Phosphate Corporation. A crane at work on Top Side. Mined out coral pinnacles from large deposits easily accessible high-grade phosphates. For millions of years billions of birds nested on Nauru and the excrement or guano ( phosphoric acid and nitrogen) they left behind reacted through leaching with the coral (lime) of the upraised atoll to form a hard, colorless rock averaging 85-88 % pure phosphate of lime. The primary deposits of phosphate are almost mined out, leaving four fifth of the island ressembling a ghostly landscape. The mining has produced dramatic consequences through the destruction of the vegetation and climatic changes. Over-mining has led to an “oven” effect: a bald plateau so hot the updraft disperses clouds and leads to drought. © 1999 Didier Ruef COPYRIGHT:© Didier Ruef SIZE:5316×3529 / 11.0MB    

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Phosphate exports provided the wealth of this small island Republic    

Nauru as one of the hardest place to visit 

Nauru is not the easiest place to visit. Access is subject to the whims of transport, weather and the immigration department. With the closing of the phosphate mine, associated hospitality services such as hotels, restaurants and hire cars – where they exist at all – are minimal. Most visitors are politicians, diplomats or development workers – and during the days of Australia‘s ‘Pacific Solution’ to the arrival of refugees, extraordinary numbers of security guards and other contractors.

Tourists must obtain a $100 visitor visa from a Nauru consulate or embassy but there’s only 10 of these offices in the world.

Once you do score a visa, you get to Nauru by flying to Brisbane, Australia, and hopping a once-weekly Our Airline flight to Nauru, with a layover in the Solomon Islands. From there, you might have to hitchhike to the hotel; there’s no public transportation on the island and gas is crazy expensive, which makes it difficult to find cars for hire.

There was uproar last year when the country upped the visa fee for journalists from $200 to $8000, a hike of nearly 4000 per cent.

Hotels, restaurants and rental cars barely exist, there is no public transport and most visitors are politicians, diplomats or development workers.

Nauru  Independence

Nauru became self-governing in January 1966. On 31 January 1968, following a two-year constitutional convention, Nauru became the world’s smallest independent republic. It was led by founding president Hammer DeRoburt. In 1967, the people of Nauru purchased the assets of the British Phosphate Commissioners, and in June 1970, control passed to the locally owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation. Money gained from the exploitation of phosphate was put into the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust and gave Nauruans the second highest GDP Per Capita (second only to the United Arab Emirates) and one of the highest standards of living in the Third World.

They invested in international funds and properties, which should ensure the future after the phosphates days were numbered. Substantial amounts were also invested in establishing «Air Nauru,» which could have been a modern airline, but was considered to be unreliable when flights were often canceled (often because i.e.  the president’s wife suddenly wanted to go shopping in Australia). In addition, they invested millions of dollars in show at the West End, «Leonardo the Musical».

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Higher per capita income than other Pacific islands

In 1989, Nauru took legal actions against Australia in the International Court of Justice over Australia’s actions during its administration of Nauru. In particular, Nauru made a legal complaint against Australia’s failure to remedy the environmental damage caused by phosphate mining. Certain Phosphate Lands: Nauru v. Australia led to an out-of-court settlement to rehabilitate the mined-out areas of Nauru.

By the close of the twentieth century, the finite phosphate supplies were fast running out. Nauru finally joined the UN in 1999.

Nauru: From the world’s richest to the world’s highest share of diabetes and obesity    

In the 60 – to 80-century the people lived the good life, where all services were free, health, education, dental, transportation and newspapers were free, taxes non-existing, few worked and luxury cars competing on the  few roads  on the small island of 21 sq m and had a decadent lifestyle that would make even Arabs shamed. Though tiny, when it comes to obesity, this island is a giant, ranking as the world’s number one, with an average body weight among residents that appears to be about 100 kilograms. Nauru has the highest number of diabetics in the world  , live 20 years shorter than neighboring countries, has 90% unemployment and about 60% of the houses are dilapidated. An economy characterized by limited natural resources, international funds, insufficient investment in new sectors and an unsustainable public spending.


With over 95% of its population being overweight, the small island nation of Nauru is by far the fattest country on Earth. Its obesity epidemic is primarily attributed to the importation of western fast food that coincided with an increased standard of living in the 20th century due to the global popularity of its phosphate exports. It’s almost non sequitur…almost. ( 

The island’s eating habits changed completely when Nauru’s fate was transformed after a U.K. company began mining phosphates there back to 20th century. They achieved their independence in 1968 and enjoyed an economic boom during the 1970s and 1980s, with state coffers swollen by profits from mining rights. These profits were distributed to Nauru’s citizens, who now owned the island’s land. As a result, per-capita GDP became one of the highest in the world, and the people didn’t need to work anymore.

Before the mining began, a Nauru diet was based on fish caught from the sea, for example, or mangoes and other fruits picked from the forests. “The traditional culture of fishing and garden plots changed significantly due to the import of Western foodstuffs,” claims a study by the Nauru government and the WHO. “Western influences have led to a deterioration in eating habits and exercise patterns over the last 30 years, giving rise to the worst health conditions in the Pacific region.”

After growing accustomed to a lack of exercise and a diet based on imported foodstuffs, the population has struggled to change its lifestyle, despite the return to normal circumstances after Nauru teetered on the edge of bankruptcy in the 1990s as phosphate reserves virtually dried up, while government investments in overseas real estate also suffered huge losses. As of 2005, GDP per capita had dropped to around $2,600 (about 206,000 yen).  As a result, Nauru faces a growing obesity-related health crisis.

A national survey has estimated that out of a population of roughly 10,000 people, around 2,000 have diabetes. The prevalence of the disease remains at record highs, with more than 20 percent of all adults between the ages of 25 and 64 suffering from the illness. According to a 2007 study, the average life expectancy stood at only 49 years for men and 55 for women.

Decades of a decadent lifestyle with an abundance of fast food, smoking and alcohol and lack of physical activity have resulted in that they normally get diabetes in their 20s or 30s, live 20 years shorter than Australia and New Zealand, 90% have not been fixed-paid employment, two out of three can not read or write Nauru fluently and most drop out of school at the age of 16. Unfortunately, the living conditions is in style with the health, and the majority live in dilapidated homes, where approx. 38% do not have a trashcan and 42% not a fridge.

A Nauruan family sits outside their house in the Location Block area   

Common sign on the island, due to lack of maintenance and production stop    

In distress the devil eats flies  

Unfortunately for the nation the easy recoverable phosphate deposits ended one day and from there it went rapidly downhill. To summarize briefly many investments failed and the fund shrunk from 1.3 billion A $ in 1991 to 138 million in 2002 and the country lacks now money to perform basic government functions, i.e. the National Bank is insolvent. Several properties were sold in 2004 to serve the substantial debt, the plane was confiscated by the banks and the musical is still regarded as one of the greatest failures of the London Theater.

One of the many desperate measures to save the economy, was the attempt to create a tax haven, where Nauru sold citizenship and the only requirement to establish a bank was $ 25,000. Nauru quickly became a money laundering haven, but after pressure from FATF (Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering) this ceased in 2003.

Other controversial measures was trading (selling) votes in international bodies for aid and Nauru was for example the 4th country in the world to recognize Abkhazia, a breakaway republic of Georgia, after having received $ 50 million from Russia in 2008/9.

One of the more «sustainable», but controversial measures started in 2001, where they received assistance from Australia to build asylum centers. Nauru has today several barbed wire fenced camps, where Australia stacks their asylum seekers. A hot and inhumane place, which has gotten international criticism. In distress the devil eats  flies and this morally dubious activity is at present Nauru’s main source of income.

Economic conditions restrict locals’ options, asylum seekers are locked up and declared refugees live with uncertainty, threats and abuse    

View Life in Nauru Through Grey: 

How looks life in Nauru
“”We ask Grey, Yu-Xing, Ding, a vet who works in Nauru, for something about the island, life, culture and others. Below you can find interesting answers to maybe some crazy questions,”

Who is Grey?   


Grey is a Taiwanese who worked in Nauru as an alternative military service, or they call it Taiwan Youth Overseas Service. Every man in Taiwan is under the obligation to serve in the army for like 1 year. Because Grey is a vet, which got himself qualified for joining this program. Thus, actually he was assigned to Nauru and work in the Taiwan Technical Mission in Nauru. They are in Nauru to help people develop home gardening and build animal farms to improve their lives. His job is basically taking care of all the animals on the island. Recently he also worked with Secretariat of Pacific Community to train some local officials to become Paravets.

If you have to describe the island of Nauru in a few sentences, how those phrases sounded?
>> It’s hot but with the most comfortable sea breeze. It’s small but with lots of relics to explore. It’s a Pacific island but with the unique Nauruan style. It’s Nauru, the lost Pleasant Island!

What crime, what is the government policy in the country and what are actually the price of food, and souvenirs etc…?
>> (crime part) >>  Basically, I guess the law here is pretty much alike. Stealing or murdering will definitely earn yourself a long stay in the prison. There is no traffic light here, but you have to follow the rules of pedestrian-first and speed limit (40 mph) even without any speed detector on the whole island. Just make sure you don’t pass any police car ahead of you. If you accidentally overtake their car, don’t worry, usually they are pretty nice to foreign visitors.
Recently, I heard they have a very interesting rule about schooling. In order to prevent kids from skipping school for no reason, Nauru government has a new policy. Parents will be received a penalty of 50-300 AUD or a 2-3 days stay in the prison once their children skip school without any notice.

>> (price of food)
Compare with where I am from (Taiwan), I would say the cost of food or beverage here is 2-3 times higher. More than 90% of goods in Nauru were imported from Australia, Fiji, or other Pacific countries. Let’s take Coca-Cola as an example. The common price of a Coca-Cola 330 ml can here is 1 AUD, which in Taiwan is only 50-60 cents. The price of a take-away meal in Chinese restaurants, Nauruan stores, or Philippine shops is about 4-5 AUD. If you want to discover the most surprising price of food, just go check the fresh vegetables in the supermarket.
The best deal you can make here is seafood. Fishermen or women will sell fish, squids, or lobsters on the piers or on the side of road. Only 5 AUD will get you a super fresh, forearm-sized bonito or squid. If you are lucky, you can also get a tuna in a sweet price!

>> (souvenir)
Getting a souvenir here is not a problem. In the biggest supermarket (Capelle) here, you’ll find Nauru T-shirt and beach short. You can also choose a fabric in the store and ask the tailor to create a custom-made shirt or dress. This will only cost you 30-35 AUD to get an Island style outfit for local parties! Although you have to wait 5-7 days to it, I think it’s totally worth it! In the post office, you can find different styles of Nauruan postcards and send it to any part of world by just 1 AUD (including a postcard). They also sell some beautiful stamps on various themes, like frigate birds. There are also 2 gift shops on the island, where you can buy different things printed a Nauru map. If you are looking for some crafts, you probably need a local guide to help you out.

The island is very small. Nevertheless, it is the road network and the cars with the bike. If someone has a car is a luxury, or people here can cope financially that?
>>Yes, of course. During my stay here, I saw a roadster speeding on the road once or twice. I also heard that more and more people bought second hand cars from Japan, like Mitsubishi. Even though it’s a used car, it still looks pretty new comparing with the ancient jeeps here. The most amazing part is while you are wondering why there is a moving mess of broken, rusty, worn metals on the road. It’s actually an old jeep which can even speed up and pass you.


Most people here drive motorbikes or take buses. Nauru got different sizes of buses which can take people to school, work, church, or some special events like bingo or a big party. But usually only local people or foreign employees of Nauru government will get on the bus. If you just travel here for a few days, you may think about renting a motorbike or hitchhike all the way.

The war marked the island, despite the fact that its center was in Europe. What remains of war can be found on the island?
>>The relics of World War II are basically everywhere on the island. Along the coast, you can easily find the pill box every few miles. If you pay more attention to what’s around you while going around the island, you will spot Japanese cannons hidden in the middle of trees or stand straightly right in front of people’s houses. If you head to the Buada district, where is the easiest place you can see the bunker surrounded by pinnacles. There is also an old Japanese prison concealed in the wood on the uphill road to Buada. Few months ago, local people even found some human bones in a cave of Anibare district. You can also discover various sizes of bunkers in different districts, but you probably need the help from a local guide.

What are you doing at the time off (in free time)?
>> This is an interesting question. Believe it or not, on weekdays I just stayed at home after jogging or biking on the airport runway around evening. As for weekend, I will go grocery shopping, hiking and ridge climbing to see the relics, fishing at piers with locals, swimming and sunbathing at the Anibare harbor, sports game (rugby, boxing, racing, tennis, volleyball, rooster fighting..) watching with friends, or just go around the island and expect to see the unexpected surprises. Usually on weekends, there will be some special activities, parties, or games for different reasons or holidays. I tried not to miss any of them cause these special events are the most fun things to kill time here. Recently I decided to go deep into local people’s lives, so I went noddy bird hunting with my local friends and also watch them tame the frigate birds. This is quite an experience.

How people live here, they differ among themselves as the islanders? Refuse foreigners?
>> No! During my 1 year stay in Nauru, I would say people here are pretty nice to foreigners. Just politely ask them if you need any help or guide, or before taking a picture. I think people here are super optimistic and hospitable. You may share your thought, traveling stories or plans  with them, which will easily make them laugh out loud. They may offer you some extra helps or show you around the island.
People here are pretty proud of who they are. I heard Australia used to offer a place for all the Nauruans, but guess what? They choose to stay here. My local friends told me this is their home, they are not going anywhere. Even though there are more and more young people studying or working abroad, they still want to come back to this Pleasant Island one day.

Island is sure very attracts for tourists from around the world. What the different nationalities on the island you have met?
>> I was amazed that there are so many people from different countries living on such a small island. I have met people from Australia, China, Cuba, German, India, Ireland, Kiribati, Fiji, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands and of course Taiwan. From time to time, there were some visitors, journalists, or photographer from America, French, Italy, Japan and South Korea.

If tourists come to the island, what would you recommend to see first and what to avoid?
Well, although you can basically see everything thorough the window, you should definitely avoid going straight into local people’s houses no matter how good friends you guys are. Besides, always follow the principle of pedestrian-first while you are driving a car or a motorbike.

As for the things I will recommend to see in Nauru. Here are 10 things I think you must do except going around the island.

1. Go to the island bingo at Friday night and feel the craziness.

2. Visit the Buada lagoon to capture the primitive Nauru.

3. Explore the relics from World War II to witness the history of Nauru.

4. Take a picture with “the Rock” which is the landmark in Nauru, just like the Eiffel Tower in France according to my Irish friend.

5. Visit the refining factory of phosphate, the broken cantilever and the present phosphate mining area at top site.

6. Join the “Hash” to closely feel the pinnacles. (Hash is a weekly hiking event hosted by Australians every Monday evening.)

7. Go to a rooster fighting game and feel the tension.

8. Fully dressed swimming or snorkeling at Anibare harbor around evening.

9. Go fishing with locals.

10. Enjoy a night at K-bar in Menen hotel or at a local party.

What a life on the island, discotheques, entertainment, or some sporting events. Something is happening there?
>> Yeah! Los of interesting things are going on here. The main entertainment on the island is Bingo! It usually starts at Friday night and Saturday afternoon as well. They will have extra games during holidays like Christmas, New Year, or Father’s Day. You can also go to the K-bar in Menen hotel. Things there will get ugly and fun once it passes midnight, you got to be part of it and feel the passion of Nauruan girls. As for sport event, you can see local people playing volleyball, basketball, tennis and rugby almost every day. The big sport event or competition usually takes place on weekends or special days.

Like during the holidays of Independent Day here, there were a series of games, including cockfighting, fishing, traditional sports, boxing, rugby, volleyball, and even church choir. Well, I think the biggest sport event here is absolutely the Olympic Nauru Day run in the end of June. Tons of people joined the competition and enjoyed the run! While you were running here, you would never feel that close to the equator.

Can you imagine life on the island, or you miss home and want to go back soon?
>> Haha! I still can’t believe I lived here almost 1 year. Life here can be really simple! But it is just so different from Taiwan. I definitely miss Taiwan and can’t wait to go back to see all my family and friends. If I get to choose how long I can stay here, I will say 3 months is totally enough. For people who are looking for a simple life, you will definitely feel home here. (





What are your thoughts?