Northern Mariana Islands
The Northern Mariana Islands consist of 15 islands located about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines in the West Pacific Ocean. Together with the southernmost island, Guam, they make up the Mariana Islands which form an 400 mile arc running from north to south adjacent to the Mariana trench.
The islands to the south are limestone with fringing coral reefs. The ones to the north are volcanic, some of which are still active.
Only three of the islands, Saipan, Tinian and Rota, have a permanent population.
Some of the islands that are unpopulated were evacuated as recently as 1990 due to the threat posed by volcanic activity.
The capital is Saipan, the largest and most populated island in the group. To the west of Saipan there is a huge barrier reef which encircles a beautiful, calm lagoon with sparkling white sand beaches.
Tourism is increasingly contributing to the local economy with the vast majority of visitors coming from Japan.
The Northern Mariana Islands enjoy a tropical maritime climate. There is little temperature variance from season to season and the heat is moderated by the trade winds.
The main seasonal change is in the amount of rainfall, with a dry season
from December to June and a rainy season from July to October. Typhoons are possible especially between the months of August and November.
How to get there
There are direct flights to the international airport on Saipan from Tokyo, Hong Kong and Taipei. There are flights too to Guam which have onward connections to the United States for American visitors.
Travelling between the three main islands is by either a short flight or by inter-island boats.
Boats can also be chartered to get to the outlying islands.
Where to stay
Saipan is one of the fastest growing tourist resorts in Micronesia with a huge amount of development in the past few years. As such, there is a huge choice of accommodation ranging from exclusive luxury resorts to homely family run hotels.
To enjoy a more peaceful holiday and see a more traditional side of the Mariana Islands, the smaller, less commercial islands of Tinian or Rota also have a good choice of accommodation.
What to see
Saipan has glorious white, sandy beaches to the west and south with the usual beach activities on offer. The island has developed quickly and caters for the most westernised tourist with shopping centres offering duty free goods, nightclubs, bars, discos and good restaurants.
There are a few golf courses and a zoo and the island is small enough to be explored by car in a day. It has picturesque walks to be enjoyed particularly to the north with its dramatic cliffs.
The diving around Saipan is excellent with the coral reefs and lagoon being home to a vast array of tropical fish. One of the best places for snorkelling is around Mañagaha, an old coral reef, and glass bottomed boats allow you to enjoy the view without even getting wet.
For experienced divers a must is the Grotto. This huge limestone cavern is connected by underwater passages to the ocean. Those who can't dive can still enjoy a dip in the cobalt blue waters by descending some steep concrete steps.
Other sites popular with divers are around the large number of wrecks from the war including aeroplanes, submarines, tanks and ships, many of which are still in almost perfect condition.
The Marianas were captured by Japan in 1914 and became a bloody battle ground in World War II between American and Japanese troops. There are many war remembrances and old war relics all over the islands including a number of tanks, cannons and a natural limestone cave fortress. Some caves still have the remains of Japanese troops and many soldiers remained in hiding until as late as 1952 unaware that the war had ended.
The last Japanese command post,
Banadero Cave, can be explored and the views from Laderan Banadero (also known as Suicide Cliff) and Puntan Sabaneta (Banzai Cliff) are breathtaking.
The island of Tinian is much more laid back and sleepy. Near the harbour are huge carved limestone latte stones at the home of Tinian's legendary Chief Taga. Blowholes on the northern coast are also worth a visit.
Rota too is a charming quiet island. Home to a zoo, a seabird sanctuary, a seawater park and botanical gardens, it is a perfect place to see the flora and fauna of the islands. Taga Stone Quarry is to be found here. This is where the ancient Chamorros carved giant latte stones out of the limestone rock.
Wallis and Futuna
The Northern Mariana Islands
Northern Mariana Islands
Torres Strait Islands
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