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MICRONESIA: THE SMALL ISLANDS

         

Micronesia means 'small islands' and this is a perfect way to describe these 2,100 tropical islands scattered across the heart of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the Philippines. They are spread over a great distance, yet each has its own culture and topographical personality.

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Set in sparkling waters which change shades of colour from deep blue through to sea green, each one is ringed by coral reefs. Your first glimpse of these ‘pearls’ of the Pacific are of specks of land surrounded by necklaces of white waves. Each island is covered in lush tropical vegetation, but the real action is underwater where there is some of the richest and most varied of marine life to be found anywhere in the world. Here are some of the world’s smallest and newest nations, their lush, tropical islands are gathered loosely into the Mariana, Caroline, Gilbert (Kiribati) and Marshall Islands.

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The above map does not include the Micronesian nation of the Republic of Kiribati which is
made up of 33 islands straddling the equator  - Kiribati: 17 islands (including Banaba);
the Line Islands: 8 islands and the Phoenix Group: 8 islands.

CAPITAL AND MAJOR CENTRES

The islands vary in size and political status. The most well known is Guam, an American territory and gateway to the other island groups.

The others, Pohnpei (Ponape), Chuuk (Truk), Kosrae and Yap elected to join a federal government known as the Federated States of Micronesia with headquarters in Pohnpei.

Palau and the Marshall Islands voted to remain independent and have established autonomous governments.

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Tiny Airlines like Air Nauru and little-known ones like Continental Air Micronesia leapfrog the island stepping stones of Micronesia, a vast expanse of blue water beyond Papua New Guinea, to connect with trunk routes at Fiji, Guam or Manila.

THE PEOPLE

The whole of Micronesia has less than 500,000 people. The region was settled approximately 2000 to 3000 years ago by an ancient seafaring race which migrated into and successively colonized the islands from areas in Southeast Asia. English is widely spoken in addition to a number of indigenous languages, including Chamorro, Palauan, Yapese, Chuukese, Pohnpeian, Kosraean, Marshallese and Gilbertese (I-Kiribati).

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HISTORY

The great Portuguese sailor Ferdinand Magellan sailed through the Micronesian islands during his world circumnavigation in the name of the Spanish King in 1521. He was followed by whalers and Spanish missionaries in the 1600s. Four colonial powers have used them as provision ports on trade routes between continents and at the end of World War 2, the USA took over their administration.

NATURE

The islands of Micronesia are naturally diverse and include high volcanic islands such as Pohnpei and Kosrae, raised coral islands such as Guam and Saipan, and coral atolls such as the Marshall and Gilbert (Kiribati) Islands. The inhabited parts vary from villages with no cars or electricity to the sophisticated resort areas of Guam and Saipan.

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The underwater wildlife is particularly diverse; Micronesia offers some of the most pristine and bio-diverse underwater environments, which make scuba diving here excellent. Birds and plants abound on all of Micronesia’s islands.

THE SIGHTS

Geologically, culturally and naturally diverse, the islands of Micronesia offer a wide array of natural and man-made attractions. These range from pristine underwater environments and lush island landscapes to sprawling resort areas with shopping and nightlife. See individual sections for more details.

WHERE TO STAY

Each island differs in accommodation from native style thatch cottages to hotels and resorts. The more developed islands such as Guam, Saipan and Palau have international hotels. Rota also has several new hotels and a resort with an 18-hole golf course.

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In the Marshall Islands, guest accommodation on some of the outer islands is in traditional thatched huts with few amenities.

GETTING AROUND

All the islands have limited transport in the form of taxis, buses and rental cars. Most resorts and hotels offer mini-bus shuttle services to airports and other areas.

FOOD AND ENTERTAINMENT

The islands which are best equipped for tourism offer world-class seafood restaurants. In Guam, Palau and Saipan you can sample a variety of cuisine including American, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Philippine, Mexican and Chamorro cooking. In the Marshall Islands, American, Western style cooking and Chinese cuisine goes hand-in-hand with Marshallese specialties.

ACTIVITIES

There is a diverge range of water based activities including snorkelling, kayaking, diving and swimming in the exquisite clear blue water which offers colourful corals and lots of sunken historical objects.

SHOPPING

Jade, coral, ivory, gold and handmade silks are available plus handicrafts such as trays, baskets, hats, headbands and purses. The islanders are known for their weaving of pandanus leaves and for their traditional stick charts which have been used for centuries by the fishermen for navigation.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Climate

Tropical with little seasonal change. Average temperature on all the islands is 30C.

 

Clothing

Casual clothing, although swimwear is not normally permitted in the public areas of hotels.

 

Electricity Standard 110 volt (Republic of Kiribati - 240 volt with the exception of Christmas (Kiritimati) Island).

 

Time Zone

Guam, Yap, Saipan and Chuuk are on the same time zone as east coast Australia. (GMT plus 10 hours). Pohnpei is one hour ahead of east coast Australia and the Marshall Islands are 2 hours ahead. Palau is one hour behind east coast of Australia.

 

Currency

US currency is used throughout Micronesia (with the exception of the Republic of Kiribati which use Australian currency). Outside of Guam and Saipan, the use of credit cards is very limited, although major hotels on all islands take them.

 

Tipping Tips are accepted.

 

Visas and Health

Non US citizens must hold a valid passport and onward airline ticket. Australian passport holders do not require a US visa to visit any of the islands, but must complete a Visa Waiver Form. Always confirm current entry requirements with your travel agent.

 

Getting There

Continental Airlines, Japan Airlines, Northwest Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Pacific Missionary Aviation, Marshall Islands Airways, Aloha Airlines, and Air Nauru. All islands are serviced on a regular basis by Continental Micronesia or ‘Air Mike’ as they are known locally.

Micronesia Postcards and Picture Galleries

  click here Micronesia Home Page                                      
click here Federated States of Micronesia Home Page   
click here Postcards From Micronesia                              
click here Jane's Oceania Home Page                              
 
Jane Resture
(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 31st August 2009)   

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