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Micronesia suffers a wholly undeserved image problem: to the rest of the world it simply doesn’t exist.   Scattered across the north-western Pacific, these 2000 tropical islands cluster into four great archipelagos, the Marianas, Carolines, Gilberts and Marshalls, whether as volcanic peaks rising from the ocean floor or as coral atolls.   The cultural landscape is equally varied.

Island-hop from Oz to Fiji; stop over to check out a lost civilisation, meet a school of manta rays or just transit an international airport where police and ground crew go barefoot.  Leapfrog the island nations of Micronesia, from Nauru, the world’s smallest island republic, to torrid Pohnpei, all-American Guam or laidback Kiribati, whose tiny atolls span three thousand kilometres of blue water. 

Guam, Gateway to Micronesia   At first sight itís an unlikely destination: Waikiki West perhaps, an Hispanic Hawaii, America transplanted to a dot in the ocean due north of New Guinea.   Guam, the metropolis of Micronesia, is an American military outpost bristling with antennae, dishes and domes.   At the same time itís a busy resort for Japanís "office ladies shopping till they drop in slick shopping malls, frolicking on manicured beaches.   Yet in sleepy villages around the coast where Magellan dropped anchor in the 16th century, youíll find Chamorro villagers preparing for fiestas, their pre-Christian traditions alive if heavily overlain by centuries of Spanish - and now American - rule.   For many the great attractions of Guam are waiting in the silent depths, including the seventeenth-century Spanish galleons, laden with Mexican silver, which floundered on the reef separating the island from the abyss of the Marianas Trench.   Others seek out the legacies of World War Two, above or below the waterline.

Nauru:   The worldís smallest island republic searches for a sustainable future... but is money laundering or hosting Australia's unwanted boat people the answer?   Too small to mint its own currency, Nauru has become a tax haven, attracting money launderers.

The prosperity of this tiny equatorial nation relied until recently on phosphate rock, that is, ossified bird droppings, a resource now almost depleted.   Inside the reef, a lush equatorial coastline belies the moonscape of the heavily-mined interior. Nauru's few visitors can fish for marlin, yellowfin tuna, skipjack, barracuda and more.   More recently, Nauru became a "dumping ground" or resettlement place for some of Australia's unwanted refugees.   But many Nauruans question whether this is an appropriate role for an independent nation.

Pohnpei: Legends, Lords and Lost Cities   Discover an island of rain-drenched forests and coastal mangroves, whose mysteries deepen through the bottom of a glass of paralyzingly potent sakau liquor.  Legends tell of the Saudeleurs who built the ruined stone city of Nan Madol, rising out of the seas, more lasting than the legacies of four successive foreign powers.

Pohnpei's lost city of Nan Madol   Monumental ruins from five periods of history remain on Pohnpei, a lushly fertile island in the heart of Micronesia. Most enigmatic of all are the remains of a man-made floating city built by a lost civilisation.

Tarawa, treasured values of a timeless atoll  These low-lying coral atolls span three thousand kilometres of ocean, home to barely eighty thousand souls.   Sir Arthur Grimble, author of A Pattern of Islands, wrote eloquently of his experiences as a colonial officer in the Gilbert Islands a century ago.   Even in spite of the upheaval of global war then independence, daily life has changed little in Grimbleís former colony.

Television (we have none)... we do work but we have not become slaves to it.   With these well-chosen words the 78,000 Micronesians of Kiribati (Kirr-i-bas) - known to our parentsí generation as Gilbert Islanders - present themselves to the world.   Itís the kind of place where everybody comes out to the airport when a flight is due; where the departing traveller, formally rubber-stamped out of the country is turned loose for the next hour, free to wander out the gate and disappear.

Review or order any of the above stories by contacting Philip Game

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