Travel to Australia’s Christmas Island • Home to Millions of Crabs

Christmas Island Australia

Where the Heck is Christmas Island?

Christmas Island is a 135 square kilometer island located 2,600 km NW of Perth and 500 km South of Jakarta. Over 65% of Christmas Island is National Park which is what drew me to visiting the island. There are only 2000 people on Christmas Island including a mix of Chinese and Malay Australians as well as people from mainland Australia. Unfortunately, Christmas Island is not a cheap place to visit. On top of the expensive flights, I had to pay $120/night for a room at the Captain’s Lookout cottage (cheapest I could find) and $65 per day for a 4×4 SUV through Kiat Car Rental. I made my bookings in advance through the Christmas Island Tourism Association and am very happy they suggested I rent a 4×4. Realistically, without a 4×4 rental there is very little one would be able to see and it may be difficult to even get from the airport to town.

When I arrived at the airport the rental car agent was there to meet me and thankfully she provided me with a small map to help me find my accommodation at Captains Lookout. Captains Lookout is in Settlement, which is the main coastal town on Christmas Island. When I found the Captains Lookout cottage I was not sure if I had to do something to check in or not but the proprietor of the hotel next door told me the key was probably in the door and that since I pre-paid there was probably nothing further I had to do. Easy!

After dropping off my luggage I walked through Settlement to the grocery store to buy food and beer. Because of shipping, food is extremely expensive in Settlement and I ended up buying frozen chicken drumsticks that I thought were a good deal. Luckily, because Christmas Island enjoys duty free privileges,  the beer was actually much cheaper than in mainland Australia. After returning to Captains Lookout I took full advantage of its patio overlooking the ocean and enjoyed a sundowner beer before barbecuing the chicken. Although the chicken looked great off the barbeque I soon realized why they were so cheap – they tasted awful. I am not sure how long they had been frozen for but I now understand that many of the groceries available on Christmas Island are old, expired, or generally garbage. Christmas Island is definitely not a place to visit for haute cuisine! Thankfully, my Captain’s Lookout Cottage had toast, peanut butter, and jam when I arrived so I could live off PBJ sandwiches for my three days in town.

Christmas Island Sunset

Sunset off my Balcony at Captain’s Lookout

The main industry in Christmas Island is mining. In 1888 phosphate was discovered and Britain took possession of the island in the name of Queen Victoria. In 1946 it was placed under the jurisdiction of the New Colony of Singapore and then in 1958 Britain transferred sovereignty to Australia. The island remain an Australian territory but thanks to the pronounced number of Malay and Chinese people Christmas Island has a unique culture which differs greatly from mainland Australia. Right in the Settlement the mining immediately becomes apparent as that is where the shipping terminal is located.

Mining Terminal at the Settlement on Christmas Island

I started my first full day on Christmas Island by visiting the Tourist Information office where I was able to purchase a Visitor Guide for $2. The Visitor guide has an excellent map and provides information on a lot of the walking trails and wildlife in Christmas Island National Park.

Map of Christmas Island

I drove to the middle of the island to the LB4 lookout. Unfortunately, everything seemed overgrown and I wasn’t sure where the lookout even was as there were no views to be found. I followed a couple of random overgrown roads through the bush, thrashing my 4×4 rental and praying I wouldn’t get stuck, but after a while I gave up realizing that if I did get stuck or high centered it was going to be one helluva hike out! With that in mind I continued West to the Dales walking trail. There were two hikes, Hugh’s Dale Waterfall (1.5km) and Anderson’s Dale (3.6km), but sadly Anderson’s Dale was closed so I only had one option. I walked up to Hugh’s Dale Waterfall through beautiful rain forest but was sort of disappointed in what was basically a dribble of a waterfall. That’s when I saw my first crab, a massive Robber Crab.

Robber Crab (AKA Coconut Crab) on Christmas Island

Robber Crab (AKA Coconut Crab) on Christmas Island

 

Robber Crabs (also known as the Coconut Crab) are the largest land-living anthropods in teh world. They can weigh up to 4kg (9 lbs) and grow up to 1m in length from leg to leg. The Robber Crabs I saw weren’t quite this big, but they were still huge! Christmas Island has the has the densest population of Coconut Crabs in the world and I was amazed at how many I began to see on my hike back from Hugh’s Dale Waterfall to my car. Even though the crabs have nice orange and blue colours, they camouflage in with the forest floor quite well and it wasn’t until I knew what to look for that I began seeing them. In fact, I had walked by no less than 100 crabs during my walk to the falls that I only saw on my return trip. I found it funny that Robber Crabs got their name because they will obsessively pick up large foreign objects (including pots and pans from campsites) and walk away with them. Dirty little thieves!

One interesting thing about Christmas Island is that many asylum seekers began arriving in Christmas Island on unauthorized boats. In fact, it became so common that the Australian government opened an immigration reception and processing center on the NW of Christmas Island to handle all of the people. I drove past the detention center on my way from Hugh’s Dale Waterfall to my next planned hike, West White Beach. Unfortunately, the West White Beach trail was also closed due to Hurricane Gillian. This became a common theme of my trip and I really wish the Visitor Center had told me that a number of trails were closed to save me all of the unnecessary driving!

Hoping I would have better luck to the South of the island, I drove the Blowholes Track and did the short walk to the boardwalk and view points. I have been to a lot of blowholes on my travels and am usually disappointed but Christmas Island offers some of the best I have ever seen. The entire area was beautiful featuring tall cliffs, a rugged coast, lots of crabs, and huge blow holes! The sounds were mesmerizing and I sat at the picnic table installed on the boardwalk for at least half an hour taking it all in.

Christmas Island Blowholes

Christmas Island Blowholes

From the Blowholes, I planned to continue South but there was a sign indicating it was an Active Mining Area and that there was No Unauthorized Entry. I had honestly only seen a few vehicles all day and did not think there would be much risk but since I wasn’t certain I decided it was better to err on the side of caution. The signs certainly provided to me how much more important mining is to Christmas Island’s economy than tourism, but I was disappointed I couldn’t make it to each and every point of the island.

Tourism vs. Mining

Instead of heading South, I drove North to the Greta Beach Road to walk the Greta Beach and Dolly Beach trails. The Greta Beach Road definitely proved why a 4×4 was recommending for touring Christmas Island as there were many rough and steep areas. Thankfully, I have had a lot of experience driving rough roads in Canada because I imagine the roads could be quite scary for some. Greta Beach was just a short 300m walk with steep stairs at the end. Greta Beach is placed in a beautiful little cove but sadly lots and lots of garbage seems to drift into the area. I actually met my first people of the day at Greta Beach and they were two friendly locals, one of which worked for the mining company, who were voluntarily cleaning up the beach. I helped them carry a couple bags of garbage back to the car park and it was nice to see people taking care of their island.

Dolly Beach was a 1km walk on a boardwalk and on the way I saw lots of Red and Blue Crabs. Once I reached Dolly Beach I felt like I had reached paradise. The sand was clean and white and the entire area was incredibly picturesque. Even better was that I was the only one there. A couple of hammocks are permanently hung in the trees so I took a moment to just relax and enjoy the beautiful breeze and sounds coming from the Indian Ocean.

Christmas Island Blue Crab

Christmas Island Blue Crab

Christmas Island Red Crab

Christmas Island Red Crab

 

Dolly Beach

Dolly Beach

It was getting late in the day so I drove back to my accommodation, parked my car, and walked over to the Rumah Tinggi Tavern and Restaurant for my sundowner drinks. I was hoping to meet some locals but sadly the crowd mostly consisted of miners who just got off work and were focused on getting pissed with their crews. After a few drinks and a beautiful sunset I made my way back to my cabin to rest up for another day of exploration.

 Since I had already covered a lot of Christmas Island the day before, and since so many walking trails were closed, I spent my next day closer to the Settlement. I drove up to Tai Jin House on an unique cliff-side one-way road that is controlled by a traffic light at each end. The Tai Jin house was the original home of the Resident Magistrate and is known by locals as the “Buck House”. The house offers stunning views over Flying Fish Cove and I enjoyed watching boats come in and out of the harbour while birds circled overhead.

Flying Fish Cove and Settlement

Flying Fish Cove

Christmas Island Brown Booby

A little past the Tai Jin House is a restored 1941 navy gun and other buildings from WWII.  Behind the gun I saw a sign for a trail that was not in the Visitor Guide and followed it up past an old WWII pillbox, through an incredible forest full of birds, up to Territory Day Park. The day park is also accessible by road and I would highly recommend visiting for its amazing views.

WWII Gun from 1941

After returning to my vehicle I went exploring Christmas Island, trying my best to get lost on its many side roads. Although I was unable to get lost, I found some incredible views over the ocean and Christmas Islands’ steep cliffs.

 

I stopped at Lily Beach, which had hundreds of birds circling, but left after I seeing a group of old overweight men relaxing in their speedos. I drove past the golf course, thinking it would be great to play a round, and stopped at the Grotto. The Grotto is a beautiful spot and if I had a companion with me I definitely would have gone bathing in the pool. In fact, the visitor center recommends taking advantage of the Grotto for romantic candle lit evenings. Hugh Hefner would be jealous!

 

For my last night on the island I returned to Rumah Tinggi Tavern and Restaurant for drinks. There was a local woman celebrating her birthday and before I knew it I was with a group of Irish miners, the local radio station host, airport operations manager, National Park worker, and numerous other locals. If you’ve ever been out with a group of Aussies and Irish with duty free alcohol prices you will know that things can quickly get out of hand and sure enough it was 3am before I knew it. Knowing I had to fly the next day I called it night and stumbled back to the Captain’s Lookout for a final sleep.

I enjoyed Christmas Island more than I expected and could potentially see myself returning, especially if I have the money to spare. Although it is an expensive place to visit, I loved feeling as though I was the only tourist on the island and exploring so many sites completely on my own. Renting a 4×4 is a must and I am very happy the tourist information center suggested and arranged one for me. The most unfortunate thing for me was how many of the walking trails were closed and the fact that the tourist information did not tell me in advance when I had purchased their visitor guide. The food at the supermarket also sucked, but since I expected that I was not overly disappointed. Christmas Island is definitely a gift to be enjoyed and I would be thrilled if Santa ever put an airfare under my tree.

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