I have everything ready for the 1,136nm flight from Honiara to Tuvalu, plane all checked out and fueled and supplies loaded up. I'm just about ready to call the ground and get taxi clearance when an airport official approaches me and reminds me that I need to pay the Departure tax before I can leave. I ask him how much and then I give him the SI $40 ($5.47 US) fee. Cash only.
I taxi to runway 6 and get cleared for takeoff in rainy 78 degree weather. This flight takes me out over the Indispensable Strait and the South Pacific on my way to Funafuti on the island nation of Tuvalu. I don't know how they managed to navigate back in Earhart's time, but if I didn't have a GPS, trying to find this tiny island would be nerve wracking, to say the least. Take a look at the picture below of the island. Such a tiny place, and you can clearly see the runway, which is a significant portion of the landscape. After a perfect flight to the island of Funafuti in Tuvalu, I get landing clearance from the one and only airport. Runway 21, 5052 ft, no lights and coral surface. That coral will chew up the tires pretty good.
Tuvalu seems like a place that time has passed by. It is the 4th smallest nation in the world and the second-least populated independent country in the world. They don't take credit cards in Tuvalu so visitors are advised to carry travelers checks. If you want to cash a travelers check you have to go the bank, which is open only 4 hours a day. Street lights are a bit of a novelty here. They didn't appear until 2002. There are no rivers or lakes. The country relies on rainwater stored in tanks for its fresh water supply. Very few cars and even fewer paved roads. Bikes, mopeds and walking are the best transportation, not that there's really anywhere to go.
I walked into town. Town? What town? The whole island is only 12 SQ miles. The Vaiaku Lagi Hotel facing the Funafuti lagoon is Tuvalu's only Hotel. It's about 50 meters from the airport and set on the lagoon side of the island and there only 16 rooms. $80.00 per person, Australian. Plus 10% Government Tax. There are few other lodges, but not really hotels, per se. If you want to get away from it all, this is the place. Departure tax is $30 Australian
4: This is the main drag.
3: The Tuvalu beach.
2: Funafuti Airport.
1: Aerial shot of Tuvalu.
This is it. The day I fly to Howland Island. All the months of planning and preparation and the weeks of flying have all led up to this moment. I'm hoping that I can fly from Tuvalu to Kiribati via Howland Island, and not get lost and crash in the ocean as Amelia and Freed Noonan did. It's 695 miles direct from Tuvalu to Tarawa, Kiribati in the Gilbert Islands, but since I want to fly over Howland island on the way, I head on a 19 degree course for 613 miles straight from Tuvalu to Howland. From Howland I'll turn to a heading of 264 degrees for another 613 miles to Kiribati, for a total of 1226 nautical miles.
I take off at 7:30 am in 85 degree heat from the 5000 ft long runway 30. Wind was 9 knots out of the NNE. I've been flying at 15,000 ft now for a few hours, and looking out over the expansive South Pacific Ocean, with no land in sight anywhere, it gives you a sense of just how small and insignificant the aircraft is. I'm not worried about getting lost, as I have a GPS and all of my other modern navigational equipment to guide me. But I can not imagine trying to navigate the way that Amelia and Fred did, using just a sextant and a compass.
As I near the island, 50miles out, I begin descending to 1,000 ft and slow to 150 kts. At 12:30 p.m, 20 miles from Howland, off in the distance I sight something. I see a tiny little speck on the horizon. Slowly growing larger. As I get closer, I can see that it's Howland island. It's looks like a grain of sand in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. So easy to miss and impossible to spot until you're right on top if it. I look around and can see nothing but blue ocean in any direction, save for this tiny spit of sand. I begin to get a feeling of isolation and desperation, realizing that if something were to go wrong with the plane there is no place to land. The only option would be to attempt to ditch and hope that I survive the landing. Then try to inflate the raft, grab my survival equipment and head for the island.
Howland Island is very small. Only 455 acres in all. There is no harbor or dock. The airstrip, built in the 1930's, has long since been reclaimed by nature. The highest spot on this island is only about 20 feet tall. The island is barren. No fresh water. No trees. No shelter. If Amelia and Fred had managed to ditch at sea and swim ashore, they likely would not have lasted long. Nor would I. I fly over the South Eastern tip of Howland, then make a turn and fly over the Northwest corner of the island and continue on my way, leaving Howland far behind me.
Landed in Kiribati about 4:30 pm. on the 6,320 ft long runway 9 of Bonriki International airport. Tired after such a long trip, I head straight for the Lagoon Breeze lodge. Very quiet, A/C and a fridge. Right on the water, though what isn't on such a small island. I didn't do much while here other than relaxing on the beach and swimming. Slept a lot too.
4: Some of the locals.
3: The market in Kiribati.
2: Lagoon Breeze motel.
1: Airport terminal in Kiribati.
I left Bonriki International airport at 11 am in gray and rainy weather for the 370nm flight to the Marshall Islands. Landed at Majuro International Airport (Amata Kabua International Airport) on the 7,900 ft runway 25 at 15:54 local time. There are 1,225 islands and 29 atolls in the Marshalls and there are airstrips on 26 of the atolls. The main airport was built by the Japanese during World War II. Located in Central Pacific, approximately 2,200 miles west of Honolulu. Majuro is a five-hour jet flight from Honolulu, 12 hours by my plane.
I had a room booked at the Marshall Islands Resort Hotel and took the hotel shuttle from the airport. This place is a Big, modern luxury hotel. It has a tennis court, pool, fitness center and it's right on the lagoon. Stopped in a coffee house and had large black coffee while I wrote this log. Did quite a bit of hiking and exploring of the island by foot, but other than that I made frequent use of the hotels facilities and not much else.
4: Welcome to the airport.
3: Another view of the airport.
2: The tower at the airport.
1: Majuro island from the air.
Got to the airport really early today, as this is set to be the longest leg of the trip to date: 1,980NM. Taxi to RW 25 and takeoff at 5:30 am. I set the Autopilot and GPS and settle in for a very long flight. Landed at Honolulu Int'l airport at 7:18 pm local time on the 12,000 ft runway 22R.
The flight to Maui is like a walk from the front door to curb when compared to the last leg. This only 87nm Took off at 4:30pm on 80 degree weather, for Kahului Airport, on the island of Maui to the East. There really isn't too much to say about this leg. The Hawaiian islands are breathtaking, even from 7,000ft. The mountains and volcanoes and the gorgeous blue Pacific ocean. Landed on RW 2 at 5:05pm.
Well, I finally finished. After 26,140 miles and 82 days I completed my around the world flight. It was a wonderful trip, a fantastic experience and the adventure of a lifetime. Fortunately there were no major problems anywhere I went. I met some fascinating people and went to some amazing places. As well as a few places that I couldn't wait to leave. I'm glad I did it, but I wouldn't do it again. As Frank Sinatra sang, "It's very nice to go traveling, but it's so much nicer to come home!"
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