Christmas Island Adventures
"Oh wow, I wasn't expecting that!" On my recent trip to Christmas Island, this became the catchphrase that our group found ourselves repeating again and again. Surprise and wonderment were our constant companions as we explored this rugged and pristine diamond in the Indian Ocean between Australia and Indonesia.
Prior to the trip, I, like most others, had mainly heard of Christmas Island when it was in the news to do with the red crab migration or the detention centre. Naturally we had preconceptions of what the island would be like based on the heavy media coverage of both however, these preconceptions were quickly challenged and changed.
The first preconception I had about the red crabs was changed within moments of landing on the island. Given the red crab migration takes place around November/ December each year, I had no expectations of seeing any since we were visiting in the middle June. Within 5 minutes of leaving the airport though, the first "Oh wow, I wasn't expecting that!" moment took place as we were driving along the road to our hotel. Not only did we see a red crab, we were seeing hundreds of them in the jungle along the side of the road as well as the many that were scurrying up the middle of the road. To our surprise, we were informed that there are an estimated 45 million red crabs and you'll see them here all year round!
Christmas Island's crab population isn't just limited to red crabs though. Shortly after spotting our first hundred or so red crabs, we came across the world's largest crab species, the Robber Crab and our second "Oh wow!” moment. Years ago I'd seen an image of one of these crabs climbing up the side of a rubbish bin, its legs completely covering the side of the bin from top to bottom, a scary sight and one I'd hoped I would never see in real life. Well, it turns out C.I is also home to these huge crustaceans and they too were in large numbers crawling through the jungle and across the roads. What was even better was that we were able to get right up close to them and the fear I once had completely disappeared and was replaced by admiration. C.I has the largest population of Robber Crabs in the world, unfortunately in many other parts of the world where they once thrived, they have now become extinct due to being extensively hunted. Through amazing conservation work done on C.I though, the population is once again starting to increase.
After stopping the car multiple times to get out and take photos of the crabs, we made our way to a lookout on the eastern side of the island. Our third "Oh wow!" moment then took place as we reached the top of the boardwalk and were greeted by the sight of an incredibly rugged coastline and dense jungle. C.I was formed millions of years ago from the remnants of an undersea volcano. Over time it's evolved and changed, especially with the settlement of the island but despite the development that has taken place in parts, it’s still largely untamed and pristine.
The next day had me excited, with diving and snorkelling on the itinerary. I'd heard great things about the reefs around the island and not only were my expectations met, they were exceeded and yet again we had several "Oh wow!" moments. Crystal clear water, large coral gardens and huge numbers of fish greeted us as we descended on our first dive. The 3 of us sat there on the ocean floor in complete awe of what was before us. We were at the site of the Eidsvold shipwreck and what an introduction to the underwater world of C.I.
We spent around 45minutes here diving around the wreck and along the coast before we had to re-surface. On our way to our second dive site we stopped off at the local's fish cleaning station not far from Flying Fish Cove. Here the local boaties clean the fish they've caught and throw the scraps over the side of the boat to the waiting school of Giant Trevally below. You can also snorkel here and we were quickly into the water and in the thick of the action. It's quite a thrill to be in the middle of a GT feeding frenzy and before long a couple of reef sharks showed up to get in on the action. I'd never been so close to so many GT's or reef sharks in the wild and there were a few "Oh wow!" moments as they buzzed around, with one even mistaking my camera for food and lunging straight into the back of it!
After around 20minutes here we headed to West White Beach and our second dive for the day. This dive had us swimming through a huge arch way on the ocean floor and again through vibrant coral gardens with thousands of fish. After travelling to other parts of the world and seeing so many reefs in distress it was a welcome sight to see that such pristine reef systems still exist.
The afternoon saw us at the Blowholes for sunset and a landscape that just blew us away. From the car park we could hear the deep monstrous roar of the ocean surging through the cliffs and as we rounded the final bend of the boardwalk and it opened up in front of us we were just speechless. Jagged limestone cliffs lay in front of us as far as the eye could see with huge plumes of water spraying meters into the air all up and down the coast. The sea spray combined with the roar of the blowholes had the landscape looking like a series of ancient mini volcano's exploding everywhere. Add into the mix the stunning orange and red colours of the sunset and you could be forgiven for thinking you were back in the age of the dinosaurs.
The incredible diving of day 2 had us keen to get back in the water so the next morning we headed to the most popular and easily accessible beach and snorkelling site on the island, Flying Fish Cove. Within moments of entering the water we were in awe again of the underwater world here. The reef was just as vibrant and lively as the dive sites we explored the day before and we spent a couple of hours snorkelling along the drop off and the edge of coastline.
The drop off is quite a sight, one moment you're in 3 meters of water and the next it disappears to a depth of 150 meters! Back in the shallows were huge schools of black triggerfish and convict fish, all seemingly carefree and quite happy for us to swim amongst them taking photos.
The afternoon's activities had us exploring a different side to the island with a tour from the very knowledgeable Lisa at Indian Ocean Experiences. On our way to the western side of the island we passed the road to the detention centre. Given how much the detention centre had been in the news over the years my expectation was that it would take up a large part of the island and be the main focus. Up until this point though it had been mostly forgotten by us as we were too busy being amazed by the natural beauty of the island. As it turns out the centre is tucked away many km's from the main settlement on the island and you can’t actually see the detention centre from the main road.
We continued on our afternoon adventure to the Dales and the most popular one, Hugh’s Dale. Here we followed the boardwalk to the waterfall, a welcome sight in the afternoon heat! This waterfall flows all year round and is fed by a natural spring. This site is also of significant religious importance to the local Buddhists who believe it is the centre of the islands water universe. From here we made our way to another little hidden beach and then finished the day with sunset drinks at Martin Point. The lookout here is quite exceptional, huge waves pound into the cliffs below and quite often the spray will make its way up to the viewing platform.
The last morning had us taking in golf course lookout and a quick tour of the local shops including the hardware store that included selling jewellery and underwear! The uniqueness and diversity of Christmas Island never ceased to amaze me and I now find myself wanting to go back again later in the year to experience the red crab migration, Dolly Beach (the 7th best beach in Australia) and to also swim with the whale sharks that frequent the rich waters here. These 4 days have been an amazing appetiser of what C.I has to offer and I'm sure it has many more "Oh wow!" moments to come!