Funafuti © Tomoaki INABA
Halfway between Hawaii and Australia the remote Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu keeps its beauty mostly to itself. Large lagoons and coral reefs dominate the nine islands, creating dramatic and unusual landscapes.
A lack of tourism industry means visitors are usually left to their own devices for beach activities and watersports. Travellers should bring their own boogie board and flippers to explore the many gorgeous beaches and lagoons. The capital, Funafuti, offers simple accommodation in a few hotels which sometimes host feasts and dances. Unfortunately tourism is growing at about the pace of the coral and neither is enough to keep the island afloat. For the time being, however, this is a dream destination for those in search of an unspoiled beach paradise where luxury resorts and tourist hordes are unheard of.
While rising sea levels threaten a number of low lying countries, Tuvalu's three islands and six atolls are expected to be some of the first landmasses to take the plunge. The country's leaders are trying to find high and dry quarters for Tuvalu's 11,000-odd people in New Zealand and Australia. Each year only a few people are allowed to emigrate to New Zealand, although many more would like to leave. The nation has no fresh water, few natural resources and terrible soil for agriculture that is being further degraded by salt water seeping through porous coral ground. Yet despite the nation's woes a hardy few tourists that make the voyage still find a pleasant, hospitable country with a unique atoll geography. And for the competitive off-the-beaten track traveller a visit to a country that may soon be submerged has obvious appeal.
Tuvalu's atolls were formed when coral rings grew around sinking volcanic islands (yes, sinking is a recurrent theme in Tuvalu). The coral continued to grow upward while the central islands eventually disappeared leaving lagoons in their stead. The nine islands are spread over 420 miles (676km) of ocean but together comprise only 10 square miles (26km) of land to explore.
Funafuti is connected to Fiji by flights, although the remoteness of the islands generally makes it a pricey journey. Some of the outer islands can be reached by ship or boat from Funafuti, but getting around the archipelago can be challenging. Increased tourism may throw the remote island a thin lifeline but its future is anything but smooth sailing.