Christmas Island, a delightful speck in the Indian Ocean

We arrived in Tanzania on 23 September 2022, 43 days after leaving Indonesia. On route we stopped in at two of Australia’s Indian Ocean Islands and were pleasantly surprised, once again realizing how Moondust enables us to reach far-flung places that we wouldn’t otherwise contemplate visiting.

On departure our exit from the Lombok Strait proved interesting for when we rounded its south east headland the current peaked at around 8 knots, flowing into a 16 knot SE wind. This combination threw up breaking waves, which at one stage looked pretty intimidating as they covered the horizon. However, upon approach it was possible to thread our way through these and, whilst we pitched and rolled sharply in the steep seas, it wasn’t hazardous.

It then took us seven days to reach Christmas Island and was one of our best passages thus far; the wind was perfect and allowed us to make good progress without the sea being too boisterous. 

Christmas Island

We spent three delightful days at Christmas Island, anchored in Flying Fish Cove, the only bay on the island that is suitable for ships.

Almost three quarters of the island has been declared a national park and has a high rainfall, most falling during the November to April rainy season. This is also the time for the annual red crab migration when they march en-masse from their rainforest burrows to the sea to spawn. 

During the red crab migration season some of the roads on the island are closed and in some places rangers have built crab grids and bridges to protect the crabs from cars.

Unfortunately we were too early to experience this incredible phenomenon, but were lucky enough to spot many of these ‘skew-walking’ creatures outside their burrows in the forest.

The red crabs usually come out of their burrows after some rain.

During one of our hikes in the rain forest we had a close-up view of some flying foxes, feasting on the red flowers of Coral trees. A significant part of these huge fruit bats’ diet consists of nectar and pollen and they use hands attached to their wings to clamber along branches, much like sloths. Having large eyes these bats are able to make visual discriminations at lower light levels than humans can.

Flying foxes have large eyes and fox-like facial features.
Boobies breed at Christmas Island.
There are some interesting volcanic rock formations to be found in the rain forest.

Christmas Island was named by Captain William Mynors from the East India Company when he sighted the island on…. guess which day of 1643? It was annexed by Britain in 1888 after phosphate deposits were found and thus the imported workforce, including Chinese and Malay laid the foundation for today’s diverse community. This mineral resource is however expected to come to an end soon.

Post WW II the island was administered as part of the Straits Settlement, before the UK transferred sovereignty to Australia. It has been Australian Territory since 1958. Today almost 2 000 people live on the island permanently. 

The reef at Flying Fish Cove offered some good snorkelling.

The island’s infrastructure is well-developed, albeit a bit old-world in a sense. There is no ATM; only a post office and bank where foreigners can withdraw cash. Internet is only available at wifi points, so we did most of our communication outside of the bank, using their wifi. There is an outdoor theatre where a film is shown every Saturday evening. What we call a municipal office is called The Shire on Christmas Island, which reminded me of Robin Hood.

We shopped at the local grocery store and were amazed at one of the most impressive displays of liquor that we have ever seen. At first we wondered if perhaps the islanders get bored with their existence and the liquor helps provide some variety? Not so, it turned out, but rather the duty free status of the stock which is attractive to a variety of visitors as well.

Buck House was the official home of the island’s government administrator until 1995.

As most of the fresh food is flown in, vegetables are very expensive. Thus we objected to the price of the bananas. However, as we passed a banana grove on the side of the main road we heard women talking and, through a gap in the banana trees, asked if we could buy some from them. We ended up with a huge bunch of bananas for about the same price as the hand that we had declined to buy at the shop. These made a welcome addition to our diet and to those of other cruisers we met at our next stop.

We thoroughly enjoyed our short stay on Christmas Island and found the clearing formalities to be some of the easiest we’ve had thus far, the islanders being very friendly and welcoming. It appears that being off the beaten track encourages informality and friendliness. We met two holidaying Aussies at the end of one of our walks, who gave a brief tour of the area as they drove us back to the beachfront.

The Australian Immigration Detention Facility on Christmas Island has been surrounded with controversy over the years, so that is maybe why we didn’t see or hear anything about it during our stay on the island.

In the meantime it was confirmed that Madagascar was still not open to yachts, which was a big disappointment to us and many other cruisers crossing the Indian Ocean. So we finally decided to head to Tanzania. Cruiser reports were very favourable and we loved Tanzania when we visited it in 2015 on our overland trip.

However, first we were heading to Cocos Keeling, another Australian Indian Ocean island. This small speck of land in the middle of the Indian Ocean is some 350nm from Christmas Island and 2 750km north west of Perth.

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