Christmas Island might be one of Australia's most far flung outposts, but there’s nothing like it anywhere else on the planet.
By Lee Atkinson
Christmas Island, a rocky speck in the Indian Ocean 2600 kilometres (1616 miles) north-west of Perth, is not your typical tropical island paradise. Nicknamed the "Galapagos of the Indian Ocean", the island is famous for its red crabs, sea birds, whale sharks and spectacular coral reefs. Almost two-thirds of the island is national park. Closer to Asia than mainland Australia, it's home to a beguiling mix of cultures and some of the world's most spectacular natural wonders.
- Witness one of the world’s most amazing natural wonders, the annual crab migration
- Dive some of the longest drop-offs in the world
- Swim in a cave and bathe beneath a waterfall in the rainforest
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Top things to do on Christmas Island
Watch an army of crabs on the move
Christmas Island's "nowhere else in the world" attraction is its annual red crab migration, in which 60 million red land crabs make their way from their burrows in the forests down to the coast to spawn at the beginning of the wet season, forming carpets of crabs miles long. It's a spectacle that Sir David Attenborough has described as one of the greatest natural wonders on earth. Migration time is usually in late October and November, but you will see thousands carpeting the landscape at any time of year, especially in the forests. The island is also home to the world’s largest land crab: the robber crab (also known as the coconut crab). Up to a metre (3.3 feet) wide, claw to claw, robber crabs can live for up to 100 years. Learn all about them on an Indian Ocean Experiences red crab spawning tour.
Explore an underwater paradise
Surrounded by coral reefs, the island has more than 60 dive sites dotted around its coastline in some of the clearest waters in the world. The water is warm all year round, and free of stingers (poisonous box jellyfish). Wet'n'Dry Adventures or ExtraDivers Christmas Island can take you snorkelling over coral gardens straight from the beach at Flying Fish Cove, the main hub of Christmas Island (pictured above). Perched on the edge of the Java Trench (the Indian Ocean's deepest point), the island has some of the longest drop-offs in the world, up to 5000 metres (16,400 feet) deep, and some of those walls are just 20 metres (66 feet) from shore. The waters are home to more than 575 species of tropical fish, and whale sharks are often sighted on dive trips between November and May.
Go wild all over the island
Almost two-thirds of the island – which is about 19 kilometres (12 miles) long and 14 kilometres (nine miles) wide at its longest and widest points – is national park, and covered in thick monsoonal rainforest. A number of 4WD tracks, walking trails and boardwalks can lead you deep into the forest to waterfalls, clifftop lookouts and beautiful beaches. Top spots include the Dales, where you follow the course of a freshwater stream to a small waterfall under which you can stand, and the Blowholes, where waves whoosh through hundreds of holes along a shoreline covered in black rock pinnacles. Hire a vehicle through the visitor information centre or join a tour. Indian Ocean Experiences offers a range of guided trips around the island starting at AUD$90 for a half day tour.
Chill out in a free rock spa
The half hour boardwalk to Dolly Beach, the island’s longest and prettiest sandy beach, winds through groves of palm trees, Tahitian chestnut trees, strangler figs, banyan trees and pandanus. The beach is flanked by coconut palms. It has rolling surf and the Dolly Beach Spa, a natural rockpool that is better than any jacuzzi. If float tanks are more your thing you'll love the Grotto, a sandy-floored sea cave festooned with dripping stalactites that fills with water up to your knee or chin (depending on the tides), forming the perfect cold water plunge pool. Both are free to visit, or you can see them on an island tour.
See some of the world's rarest birds
You can't help but become a keen birdwatcher on Christmas Island. Beautiful golden bosuns, with their yellow plumage and long trailing tails, circle over the clifftops. Bold frigatebirds dive-bomb swimming pools for a drink. Masses of red-footed and brown boobies are just about everywhere, and you’ve even got a good chance of seeing the rarest booby of them all, the Abbott's booby. The boobies have no fear of people, and let you get very close to their nests, which are often on the ground, providing some fantastic wildlife photo opportunities. Download the free Birds of Christmas Island app from the iTunes app store before you go. Bird'n'Nature Week – held each September – attracts researchers and experts from around the world with a series of birdwatching events.
Enjoy the sights and tastes of Asia on Australian soil
Before Christmas Island became an Australian Territory in 1958 it belonged to Singapore, and most of the population was (and still is) a mix of Chinese, Malay and European. The island is dotted with Chinese shrines and Buddhist and Tao temples, and incense perfumes the air in Poon Saan township. You'll also hear the mosque's call to prayer drifting across the bay near the Malay Kampong and see prayer flags flutter in the breeze. The island is just 360 kilometres (224 miles) from Java, and the only thing that doesn't remind you of south-east Asia is the clean, smog-free air! For an authentic taste of Asia eat at the Chinese Literary Association or many of the island’s other flavours of Asia restaurants. There are no books, but the noodles are excellent.
Watch the stars under the stars
Watch the latest blockbuster or cult classic movie in the community-funded open air cinema at the township of Poon Saan. Run by volunteers, the cinema screens movies on Saturday nights and every second Wednesday, and locals take turns picking the movies they want to see. Even rain doesn’t stop the show – everyone just brings an umbrella if it looks like a wet night is in store. There's a kiosk for snacks, but most people take a picnic hamper or tuck into some takeaway. At just AUD$5 a ticket, it's a great value night out.