Some of the most interesting airports in the world are sometimes among the least known.
Nauru International Airport (INU) on the remote island of Nauru in the South Pacific is a great example.
It stands out for several reasons. The first is that the airport serves the world’s smallest republic.
Nauru isn’t a city, but a country in itself. Around 10,000 people live on Nauru in an area one third of the size of Manhattan.
Its nearest neighbour is the island of Banaba, some 186 miles (300kms) away and so naturally good air links are essential.
To enter the country – all eight square miles of it – as a tourist, you will need a visa first.
When I arrived into Nauru, passport control and customs were both staffed by the same serious looking guy behind a tiny wooden counter. He looked at me for one second, called me over and asked without hesitation:
“Are you the tourist?”
It seemed like the entire country had shown up to greet those arriving.
The scene was set. It was only me, arriving locals and some foreigners there for a fish conference. I nodded. He then put on a huge smile.
“Welcome to Nauru!”
It seemed like the entire country had shown up to greet those arriving. Surprisingly, noone left the airport until the plane set off again half an hour later.
I soon realised that they had little option, as the runway doubles as a road that is blocked every time a plane touches down here.
A free airport bus links the country’s two only hotels, one of which is “downtown.”
The hospitality of the islanders is heartwarming and genuine. I was twice offered the chance to hitch a ride while strolling alongside the main road. The rides came with smiles and nice conversations.
Facilities on Nauru are limited, but what the island lacks in services it makes up for in sheer beauty, with stunning beaches, reefs and pleasant water temperatures.
You’ll find a handful of shops, an Internet cafe, a police station, the city hall, a tiny “casino” and two restaurants. Neither of them come with wine lists, but you are welcome to bring your own bottle. Food can also be purchased from small food stalls.
Only one airline serves Nauru International Airport, but to no less than four destinations: Brisbane, (Australia); Nadi, (Fiji); Tarawa, (Kiribati) and Honiara (Solomon Islands).
There are no shops inside the airport, but the staff may let you use the Wi-Fi code if you ask nicely in the ticket office of ‘Our Airline’ – the country’s national carrier.
The company owns a very old Boeing 737 and the aircraft allegedly costs 30 percent of the country’s GDP to run.