With its quaint name, you’d almost expect Christmas Island to be located near the snowy climes of the North Pole. Instead it lies in the balmy Indian Ocean, just south of Indonesia and northwest of Australia, the continent of which it is a territory. A remote and virtually unpopulated land with less than 1,200 inhabitants, Christmas Island is a true undiscovered treasure for the visitor looking for natural beauty and unhurried relaxation.
The island’s name derives from one of several competing historical claims: its discovery by British sea captain William Mynors on Christmas Day, 1643, or by Dutch seamen on the same date, or its discovery by Captain James Cook on Christmas Eve, 1777. Whatever its origin, the name suits the island, which lies like an unwrapped present, hidden from most world travelers.
Let’s take a look at just a few of the most intriguing facts about this island destination:
- Christmas Island is known as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean due to its wide variety of endemic fauna and flora. Numerous naturalists and other scientists visit the island, usually outnumbering tourists. Its forests are home to Tahitian chestnuts, arenga palms, and strangler figs, and its skies, seas, and land are filled with unique wildlife.
- The island may be most famous for its annual migration of red land crabs – over sixty million of them! Each year visitors come to watch them march from the island’s tropical rainforests to the sea. The area is home to over 20 other land crab species, including the world’s largest land invertebrate, the coconut crab – reputed to grow to the size of a small dog.
- Christmas Island is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Thousands of rare birds make the island one of the most significant seabird preserves in the world. The endangered Abbott’s booby can be found here, and the island is reputed to be the world’s only nesting site of the Christmas Island frigate bird.
- As a raised coral atoll, Christmas Island has the greatest land area of any such formation in the world, with a correspondingly large lagoon. Its waters are clear and deep, dropping toward the Java Trench. However, surround the island is a narrow protective reef. These factors all combine to make the island a spectacular diving spot. Scuba divers enjoy exploring the plentiful caves, steep drop-offs, and drift dives in the area. Both divers and snorkelers can appreciate the reef’s plentiful butterfly fish, anemones, surgeon fish, gobies, and other tropical marine life. Further from shore, sharks, manta rays, and dolphins can be spotted. With sight distances as great as 100 feet or more in many locations, the area provides panoramic views of its underwater bounty. Ethel Beach’s coral reef is one recommended dive spot.
- Other water activities abound. Bone fishing is a prized activity on the island, drawing world class fishermen to its warm waters. The island is also a prime surfing locale.
- Just taking a nature stroll is an adventure itself. Christmas Island National Park offers miles of almost deserted beaches as well as several nature hikes and walks. The more modest Territory Day Park is a perfect spot to get an aerial view of beautiful Flying Fish Cove, walk quiet nature trails, or have a picnic. Other scenic spots worth noting: the Blowholes– whose elevated viewing platforms and walkway provide an unbeatable view of the large swells which strike the southern coastline’s rugged shores, and Margaret Knoll – a panoramic lookout spot where birdwatchers come to observe the island’s fruit bats, and hikers view the island’s east coasts at the edge of an inland cliff.
Have we given enough facts to capture your attention? We think that Christmas Island is an enchanting place to visit. If your idea of a vacation includes five-star resorts, shopping, and nightclubbing, you may find the pace a bit slow. But if a leisurely escape into a natural wonderland appeals to you, consider Christmas Island. Its friendly locals, unspoiled vistas, and plentiful opportunities for healthy outdoor activities might create the perfect alternative to traditional bustling tourist destinations. A week on Christmas Island may be the best present you can give yourself – and not just at Christmas!