Christmas Island: What you need to know

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The land of the tiny red crab, Christmas Island is an alluring proposition for those chasing something a little off the beaten track.

Read on below for a brief guide on Christmas Island:

What is it?

Christmas Island is a rocky land mass in the Indian Ocean northwest of Western Australia, about two thirds of which are classified as a national park.

For this reason the Island has garnered a reputation as the Indian Ocean’s own version of the Galapagos Islands, filled with unique animal species like its unique red crabs – tens of millions migrate annually in spectacular scenes made famous in David Attenborough’s Trials Of Life documentary.

It also has a controversial history being the home base for the Christmas Island detention centre, housing refugees and asylum seekers attempting to arrive in Australia by boat until its closure in 2018*.

Where is it?

Similar to the Cocos Keeling Islands, Christmas Island is an Australian external territory, located in the Indian Ocean just over 1500km northwest of Western Australia.

The best way to get there from WA is by plane (flight time: 3.5 hours), with Virgin Australia offering two flights a week on Tuesdays and Fridays.

What to do:

Pack a sense of adventure and be ready to explore a largely un-touched jungle paradise filled with unique flora and fauna, volcanic outcrops, secluded beaches and awe-inspiring waterfalls.

The major drawcard is of course the red crab migration, beginning with the wet season around October/November and continuing through to December/January.

Over this period of time 60+million crabs begin to migrate from their inland island homes to the ocean to mate and spawn with one another – head HERE for an in-depth breakdown on how best to experience the red crab migration.

Wildlife spotting outside of red crabs extends across the island too, both above and below sea level, with some of the world’s rarest birds calling Christmas Island home amongst some 80,000 seabirds who nest annually.

Underwater, keen divers will discover a plethora of bustling coral reefs, home to some 600 species of tropical fish, along with whale shark spotting (November to April) and dolphins enjoying the warm, tropical waters.

There’s an abundance of stunning beaches and coves to explore, including Lily, Dolly, Greta, Ethel and Merrial Beaches, plus the stunning “Grotto” – a subterranean seawater pond inside a cave!

Walkers and hikers will do well to tackle the Dales Hiking Trail, with spectacular waterfalls, lush forests and plenty of crab and bird spotting along the way.

Flying Fish Cove is the island’s main settlement, with a small population of around 2000 people and not a whole lot going on – although it’s a fine home base and good place to experience some of the local culture along with learning up on the island’s extensive history.

Tai Jin House and the Chinese Museum offer an in-depth look at Christmas Island’s history, and a visit to the Christmas Island Visitors Centre is essential for setting up any tours you’d like to go on and to get a real feel for the island.

What not to do:

Come unprepared – while there are many beautiful little hidden beaches to relax on, getting to them can require some decent walking shoes or reef-walking booties.

Not keep your eyes down – the roads and pathways of Christmas Island become literally covered in red crabs during the migration, with some roads actually closing over this period to ensure safe passage, so keep your eyes open!

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Anything else?

Flying Fish Cove has a few restaurants and guesthouse accommodation options, and if you’re looking for a more nature-based stay Swell Lodge is a popular and stunning choice.

The Christmas Island website is your best starting point to plan your upcoming trip.

* The Australian Government announced plans to re-open the detention centre in 2019, and it was also briefly used as a quarantine facility in February 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. 

At the time of writing (November 2020), it would appear the detention centre has been re-opened temporarily for six months to house immigration detainees and relieve pressure on mainland Australia detention centres (source: SBS News).

Image Credit: Swell Lodge, Christmas Island Tourism