Thursday Day 12 – Fanning Island
Today we visit Fanning Island, originally and officially known as Tabuaeran, which in Polynesian means “hallowed footprint”. If you look at the island from above it does look like a footprint, but the surprising thing is that the island was named long before anyone could see the island from above. It is part of the island nation of Kiribati, which consists of 33 small islands. Fanning Island is an atoll which is defined as “a ring shaped coral islet formation surrounding a central lagoon. Atolls generally form over eons as coral reef builds long the submarine fringe of an eroding volcano base.”
The population of the island is about 2,000 and there is no electricity, plumbing, cars or running water. People live in houses with dirt floors and palm-frond roofs. A supply ship visits every few months and there is very little other contact with the outside world. Cruise ships visit 2 or 3 times a year, which are big events as it is a change from the islanders’ everyday life. It is also a chance for them to sell their crafts, which provides one of the few ways to bring in cash.
Val and I were out on our balcony around 7:30 as we sailed up to the island. Seeing our first South Pacific Island was very exciting. The temperatures were mild with partly cloudy skies and moderate humidity. We opted for breakfast on the balcony again so we could see the island and watch the unloading of the tenders in anticipation of going ashore.
|The first tender makes its way towards the entrance to the lagoon.|
We waited until around 10:00 to make the journey through the “English Channel” and go ashore. The English Channel is a gap in the coral reef which is the only way to enter the lagoon by boat from the ocean. It is called the English Channel because the early English explorers made the breach in the coral reef to allow their ships into the central lagoon. The island itself is just a narrow reef between the ocean and the lagoon, with the highest altitude being less than 200 feet.
Entering the lagoon was like entering another world. The beautiful turquoise-blue water of the lagoon contrasting with the dark blue water of the deeper ocean was amazing. We docked at a rickety pier and were welcomed by islanders singing a welcoming song. There were small tables set-up to display handcrafted items the islanders were selling.
|The one and only dock on the island for the tenders.|
|A local group welcomed us with song.|
The people were very friendly and the children were having a very good time saying hello (“mauri” in their language) as we walked through their village. They were very happy to sell us their wares, and we were happy to buy a few items as souvenirs and to help their economy. To us they seemed content and very proud of their beautiful surroundings. Would they choose leave their island paradise given the means and opportunity? We feel very lucky to have had such a wonderful opportunity to see an authentic South Sea island, and I think the best way to describe our visit is through some of the many pictures we took as we explored the village.
|This ship was anchored in the lagoon and there were people on board working on it, but we don't know what it was for or who it belonged to.|
|Val with a couple of the islanders dressed in traditional costumes. You'd think she was afraid she was going to end up in some native stew since her hair is standing on end, but it was just a windy day.|
|Shaking the coconuts loose.|
|And splitting them open.|
|The Westerdam from the ocean side.|
|This was the school, many from the ship brought donations of school supplies. When the cruise ship appeared the students were given a holiday.|
|Our last view of the village before boarding the tender.|
After several hours of exploring the island we found our way back to the tender dock and reluctantly made our way back to the ship. Once back on the ship the first order of business was to take showers as being out in the humidity had taken its toll on us. After cleaning up, we were off to the Lido for a late lunch. After that we went out on the deck at the bow of the ship to take some more pictures of the island from that perspective, and to look again at the beautiful view of the Island. What was left of the day was spent downloading and looking at the numerous pictures we had taken, and then it was soon time for dinner
|The island and lagoon from the bow of the ship with a local fisherman in the foreground.|
|Another view of the island and lagoon from the bow of the ship. You can see the other side of the island across the lagoon.|
Our visit to Fanning Island was truly a remarkable experience and made us look forward even more to the rest of the trip, though I doubt if we will experience such an authentic glimpse of life in the South Seas as we did today.