Top 3 Things to Do in Christmas Island
Mention Christmas Island, and the reaction you’d probably get is “Eh? That’s a real place?” or a similarly quizzical expression. The island’s festive moniker invariable conjures up visions of an Enid Blyton-esque faraway winter wonderland, complete with talking snowmen and edible candy cane street lamps.
Ironically, the real Christmas Island is probably the furthest thing from that fantasy. A lush tropical rainforest right smack in the Indian Ocean, this external territory of Australia is located to the south of Java, Indonesia, and enjoys warm sunny weather all year round.
Despite the decidedly “non-Christmassy” climate and landscape, there still remains somewhat of a charming tale as to how Christmas Island got its name. According to the history books, it was first discovered by Europeans (to be exact, William Mynors, Captain of the Royal Mary, a trading vessel) on Christmas Day way back in 1634.
Many older Singaporeans might actually be familiar with Christmas Island; as a crown colony, it fell under Singapore’s administration back when we were still a British colony, and was only transferred by the British to Australia sometime in 1958.
While not exactly the most obvious choice for a vacation (Christmas Island’s most significant economic activity is phosphate mining), the island offers a variety of sights and experiences that make it a unique eco-tourism destination for travellers weary of the usual haunts. From the warm locals to the unique flora and fauna, there are a seemingly endless number of reasons to visit the island. If you’re planning to do just that, here are the top three things you must do while on Christmas Island.
3. Observe the Annual Red Crab Migration
Renowned naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough ranks this as one of his top 10 most memorable moments in all of his life’s work, and given that his illustrious career spans over half a century, goes to show how special this experience is.
Christmas Island is home to over 40 million red crabs that make the dense tropical forests inland their home for the better part of the year. During the wet season in November, these red crabs leave the shelter of the forests and make their way en masse to the coast to breed.
The annual migration is a spellbinding sight and has been described by some as a “scarlet curtain” or “crimson carpet”, an invasion of red crustaceans that almost overwhelms the eyes, as the red crabs march on relentlessly toward the sea, cutting across roads and any other obstacles in their path.
In a rather heartwarming manner, the entire community chips in to make sure this migration take place smoothly. Roads are closed, warning signs are put up to remind motorists to drive with caution, and even bridges and underpasses are built to help their fellow 10-legged island residents reach their destination without harm.
2. Set Off on a Beach Expedition
Christmas Island is actually the flat peak of an underwater mountain (which itself used to be a volcano), so much of the shoreline is steep, craggy cliffs. As a result, the beaches here aren’t your typical white sandy affairs. What you get instead are dramatic rock formations emerging from the water, tidal pools to explore, and plenty of aquatic life to spot. Most of these beaches require some effort to get to, so the added bonus is that you’ll bear witness to rugged nature in its full, unsullied glory.
Beaches you should make a point to visit are:
The only beach with proper sand and palm trees, but it’s secluded, which makes it perfect for that Castaway or Robinson Crusoe photo opportunity. You’ll need to endure a 4×4 drive across an unpaved road and a 2km trek through the forest (thankfully though, there is at least a wooden walkway), but you’ll be rewarded with the sound of crashing waves, and exposed limestone and basalt rocks.
Poke around the many tidal pools where you can spot fish and moray eels, or head toward the back of the beach where the palm trees are, to marvel at the massive, alien-like coconut crabs. Just make sure not to leave your lunch lying around unattended, they don’t nickname this giant crustacean the robber crab for nothing!
Do also look out for turtle tracks in the sand. Not many people are aware that Christmas Island is nesting ground for sea turtles, with Dolly Beach being one of the few places on the island where turtles come ashore to lay eggs. If you’re lucky, you just might get a chance to observe this wonderful spectacle of nature.
Lily Beach / Ethel Beach
Situated next to each other and connected by a boardwalk, these two beaches couldn’t be more different. Described as a keyhole beach, Lily Beach is flanked on either sides by steep cliffs. The seas are rough and the coarse “sand” is actually coral rubble. Not a good idea to swim here, but it’s the perfect place for an afternoon picnic at the gazebo while you watch the waves crashing into the cliffs.
Next door, Ethel Beach has calmer waters which are great for snorkeling, as a reef lies just off the shoreline. The beach is mainly sea shells which would make for a fun afternoon for the kids. Ethel Beach is an ideal spot to visit during the annual red crab migration, as the crabs envelop the entire shore on their way into the sea.
1. Take a Hike (and Maybe a Drive)
63% of Christmas Island is earmarked as national parkland, so it’s no surprise the island boasts a number of trails, ranging in difficulty and distance. However, they all have one thing in common – breathtakingly exotic scenery that makes them an absolute delight.
The journey there takes you through tall rainforests full of red crabs, and once you arrive, you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the southern coastline from the viewing platforms along the cliff edge. Dress for wet weather, as the plumes of sea water gushing out from the holes in the ground might just get you drenched in spectacular fashion.
One of the 42 caves that pepper Christmas Island, the Grotto is a coastal cave that is sometimes referred to as “The Mouth of the Dragon”, due to the teeth-like stalactites that hang down menacing from its roof. The waters here are fed by both the sea and a natural spring, and are a welcome respite after a hard day of hiking.
Come here for the birdwatching, as a number of seabirds make their nests in the cliff sides. Martin Point also overlooks the western coastline, and is a good spot if you’re a photography buff looking to take some beautiful sunset pictures. On a day when the sea is calm, you can even make out submerged reef formations in the clear turquoise waters.