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Tuvalu Travel Guide

Nukulaelae Map

Nukulaelae Atoll

Nukulaelae is the easternmost of Tuvalu's nine islands, only a half degree west of the 180th meridian and the international date line. Its 10-km-long lagoon is partly surrounded by two dozen long, sandy isles. Despite the submerged reef on the west side of the atoll, there is no passage for ships and landing can be difficult. Tumiloto and Niuoko on the east side of the lagoon are the largest islands but the entire population lives on Fangaua Island in the west. The Nukulaelae people are renowned dancers.

It was here in 1861 that a Cook Islander named Elekana made an unscheduled landfall after drifting west in his canoe from the Cook Islands. Elekana introduced Tuvalu to Christianity, as a monument near the southern end of Tumiloto Island now records, and it was here too that the first organized missionary party from Samoa landed in 1865.

In 1863, visitors of a different kind called, as three Peruvian ships appeared off the atoll. An old man came ashore to tell the islanders they were mission ships and everyone was invited aboard for religious services. The trusting Polynesians accepted, and after all the men were aboard and locked in the hold, the same rascal returned to the beach to say that the men had asked that the women and children join them. The ships then sailed off with 250 of Nukulaelae's 300 inhabitants to be used as slave labor in Peru. Only two men, who managed to jump overboard and swim 10 km back, ever returned.

Today, climate change threatens this isolated atoll and flooding has become a problem. Though the European Union has funded a seawall to slow the increasing erosion, salt water has already seeped into the large taro pits in the center of Fangaua. Pigpens stand on the mounds created when the pits were dug.

The Island Council Guesthouse charges separately for the stay, bedding, and meals. Unless you're really big on food, ask if they can cut some of those meals from your bill. This island is dry, so don't carry any alcohol with you if you go ashore here.