Guide to Christmas Island
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 2,600 kilometres (1,616 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
How to get there
Things to do and top attractions on Christmas Island
Watch an army of crabs on the move
Christmas Island's "nowhere else in the world" attraction is its annual crab migration, in which 60 million red land crabs make their way from the forests down to the coast to spawn at the beginning of the wet season. It's a spectacle that Sir David Attenborough has described as one of the greatest natural wonders on the planet. 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 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. Perched on the edge of the Java Trench, the island has some of the longest drop-offs in the world, up to 5,000 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 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 that stop by all the highlights.
Chill out in a free rock spa
The half hour boardwalk to Dolly 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 adorned 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.
Stay at the remote Swell Lodge
Hugged by the forest on one side and the ocean on the other, Swell Lodge is as remote and exclusive as it gets. The single glass-fronted eco-chalet offers panoramic views of the surrounding wilderness as well as snorkelling tours, delicious meals and guided walks to ensure you experience the island like a local. Step out onto the secluded deck before experiencing the natural rockpools, crab migration and tropical rainforests that the island has to offer.
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 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.