Christmas Island is known as the “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean”. Located 1500 km off the north-west of the Australian mainland, it boasts crystal clear waters, sheer drop offs close to the shore, whale sharks during season, and the famous red crab migration.
This dive report by Tracey Hale will not only make us all jealous, but hopefully inspire you to to sieze the next trip opportunity (and quickly, keep your eyes peeled as this trip was filled overnight!).
Sending Christmas Fishes
from Tracey Hale
A group of 6 intrepid explorers (Akiko, Danielle, Gilbert, Josie, Sarah and myself) set off from Perth on the Nautilus Club trip to Christmas Island from 25/11/2022 to 02/12/2022. Situated about 2600km north-west of Perth in the Indian Ocean, Christmas Island is accessible via flights twice a week (Tues & Fri with Virgin). Our flight had 2 stops en route (Learmonth & Cocos) so we met up with 10 Club members (Brian, Jen, Judy, Juergen, Laura, Mateja, Michelle, Paul, Richard, Rochelle) who had the previous week in the Cocos-Keeling Islands. On arrival at Christmas Island, we collected our hire car (1 car/4 divers) at the airport which is a must for navigating around the island (Australian road rules apply and a valid driver’s license is required).
Christmas Island has more than 20 crab species including the endemic red crab and the largest land invertebrate, the robber crab (aka coconut crab). The red crab migration occurred the week before our arrival as evidenced by multiple road closures so visitors are armed with rakes for traffic control if needed (up to 60 million crabs trek from the rainforest to the sea!). Our driver Paul diligently avoided the red crabs dotted all over the island and no crabs were harmed during the making of this report. Our group of 16 divers utilised different accommodation options on the island:- 4 divers were at the Cocos Padang Lodge (3 bedroom apartment with kitchen, garden and sea view) opposite the pub (Golden Bosun), 4 divers were at the Sunset Hotel (hotel style rooms with swimming pool) and 8 divers were at the Divers Villa (a luxurious refurbished English colonial house with adjacent cottage). Supermarkets stock most items on the island including cheap duty free alcohol but food is very expensive.
Extra Divers (Dave, Jo, Johnny, Wei Tang) scheduled a diver check in on the day of arrival to complete paperwork and receive a briefing. A numbered mesh bag was provided for our gear (full rental equipment is also available on the island). The dive boat “Nemo” is moored in Flying Fish Cove (the main settlement on the island) and departs from the jetty at 7:30am for 2 dives at different sites then returning to the cove for lunch (around 12 noon). The boat is very comfortable with a toilet onboard (luxury!) and the crew provided a cuppa and snacks in the surface interval. Snorkelling with dolphins and giant trevally in the surface interval made our day trips with Extra Divers even more special.
There are more than 30 dive sites to explore on the island with 88 coral species, over 600 fish species and varying topography (walls, caverns, reefs, wrecks, etc). Water temperature was 27 degrees with excellent visibility (20m-50m). Our dive guides, Jo and Johnny were very experienced, helpful and professional. Perpendicular Wall is one of the most spectacular dive sites in the area with a reef wall that falls away almost vertically to the depths below. The dive starts in an overhang with huge gorgonian fans extending out from the wall and the site is teeming with marine life including schooling fusiliers, different types of eels, lionfish and longnose hawkfish. Christmas Island’s biogeographic location results in more hybrid reef fishes with unique colour patterns than any other location in the world.
Diving in Thundercliff Cave was also a highlight. The entrance to the cave was through a cathedral like archway at around 6m and once inside, we surfaced in a large limestone cavern with a stunning array of stalactites. The faint blue light of the exit is reassuringly visible. Marine life included electric clams, nudibranchs (hypselodoris & phyllidia), fire dartfish, pink anemonefish and huge flocks of resident batfish. Despite whale sharks being known to congregate at Christmas Island during November, this endangered creature proved elusive during our trip. However, we were not left disappointed when an enormous oceanic manta ray was spotted cruising along the reef during our safety stop at Barracuda Bay. The oceanic manta is the world’s largest species of ray and can be over 7m in width!
The crew from Extra Divers kindly provided updates on opening hours for lunch spots available each day and even assisted with booking a table for us at the local pub (Golden Bosun) for dinner on several occasions. Additional tanks are provided for self-guided shore dives in Flying Fish Cove each afternoon/evening for a very small fee. Crime is very low on the island so dive gear can be left on the platform under the jetty whilst getting lunch. Most people leave their house unlocked and car keys in the ignition!
Diving in the Cove is one of the best shore dives in the Indian Ocean. From the end of the jetty, you descend and follow the line of the ramp straight out until you hit the drop off at around 18m. Along the way, you’ll encounter the snowflake moray eel, scorpionfish, peacock, flounder, octopus, scrawled filefish, snake eels, dwarf lionfish and peacock razorfish.
Flying Fish Cove is popular with families and has barbecue facilities. There are stunning views of the Cove from the Territory Day Park where there is also a nature trail. Temples and shrines dotted around the island are a testament to the island’s multiculturalism. Christmas Island has a fascinating history as evidenced at the museum in Tai Jin House, a grand colonial building which was once the home of the British Administrator of the island. Domestic chickens roam wild on the island and there are resident seabirds and landbirds including frigate birds, golden bosun, booby (brown, red-footed, abbott’s), thrush and the white-tailed tropicbird. A rare chance to observe feeding of rescued birds is provided on a free tour at the rehabilitation centre in the national park.
Other notable sightseeing spots above the water on Christmas Island include:-
- the Blowholes > an elevated boardwalk along rugged coastline to witness the power of the waves crashing against the cliffs
- the Grotto > a great place to cool off in a crystal clear, sandy bottomed sea water cave
- the Dales Hiking Trail > an iconic wetland site with a waterfall and small gorge with a stream that flows to the sea
- the Island Beaches (Dolly, Lily, Ethel etc) > fringed by coconut palms and accessible by forest boardwalks with clear shallow rock pools to explore
Overall it was a truly memorable trip to a wild and beautiful part of the world. Thanks to all the crew at Extra Divers for a wonderful week. Thanks also to Akiko and Diveplanit for all their efforts in organising the trip.