Christmas Island

In the light of the full moon, we round the northern tip of Christmas Island, a small island in the Indian Ocean, about ten days’ sail from Darwin, Australia. Looking for a mooring, we see lots of flying fish in the light of the flashlight. We also see a huge jetty and some large dark buildings. Flying Fish Cove (the name of the anchorage and bay) is open to the sea, but the high mountain gives sea lee, and the 20-knot trade wind feels calmer here. We catch the third buoy, the one farthest from the jetty, but only two boat lengths to the rocks where the waves loudly announce themselves, along with the many birds that seem to be living on the tree-clad rock wall just behind us. There are two more boats here, from the USA and France, and later we learn that we are the seventh yacht to visit this season (end of July 2023).

Here I share my main impressions of this remote and unique island.

The first impression of Christmas Island in daylight is all the birds. The mountain next door is filled with birds in the trees. We learn that many species only live here, and up the hill, there is a bird feeder for the Boobies, who don’t make it on their own on the first try.

Looking down into the turquoise water, I see many small aquarium-like black fish swimming around the boat. They hang around us all week. When we later snorkel, we see many more beautiful fishes and live corals. Anchoring is prohibited, and they have nine solid moorings (10AUD/night or 50/week) and some huge ones for larger vessels. The local fishing regulations state that we can only pick four lobsters per day!

The third impression is the large jetty, yellow buildings and cranes on the other side of the bay. It is phosphate mining that takes place – the main reason why this island is inhabited. British sailors found this mineral in the late 1890s and claimed the right to the island. (Since 1958, however, it belongs to Australia.) People from China, Malaysia and India came to work in the mining operations. A Silver City with aluminium houses was built for the workers, and they have a huge hardware store with the saying – what’s not sold here, you don’t need.

Of course, there are nice people here too. It started with the super easy and pleasant meetings with the Bio-clearance check and Custom, who took their time on a Sunday. My biggest concern, about having fresh food and eggs on board, wasn’t even a question for them.

There is a shortage of cars. We were too late to book, but luckily it worked out anyway. In the hunt for a car, we were invited to dinner by Nigel and Ruby at Ocean View Apartments. Every Monday they invite those who live in their apartments, friends, neighbours, and sailors to a free dinner. There we met Neesha, a teacher on the island, who offered to show us around!

About 2000 people live on the island, 60% of them from China, the rest from Malaysia, India and Australia. They are said to live in harmony with each other. Well-dressed Muslims with covered hair, living side by side with young people in shorts and tank tops or dressed as mermaids!

As we go ashore, an ultramarine blue apartment building stands out. The Malaysians live here, we learn. They are the ones who go to the mosque nearby, to pray five times a day. My eyes catch the different sofas outside each entrance.

The big thing on this island is the crabs. There are millions of them, twenty different species that live mostly on land, and some only on this island. Once a year they go down to the sea – at the end of October when the rains come – to mate and lay eggs. 

The crabs do a great job – they clean up and keep the rainforest clean and open by eating fallen leaves, seeds, fruit and grazing on new plants.

They also maintain an open and clear understory, aerate the soil and recycle nutrients that help plants grow. 63% of Christmas Island is a national park on ancient volcanoes and limestone, so they have a huge area to look after.

Now, during the dry season (May to October), the crabs hide in the shade and their holes in the ground. Now and then they come out to dehydrate in water. Below you see Red, blue and robber crabs.

The migration procedure begins with the male crabs going down to the sea (taking two weeks) and making a burrow where they mate with the females. Then the males go back up to the forest and the female crabs incubate the eggs (12–13 days), then spawn before dawn during the last quarter of the moon – after this, the females also return.

The eggs hatch immediately on contact with water, and in 30 days larvae develop into megalops. They make it to the beach and transform into crabs that live on the shore for six weeks before returning to the first forest plateau. It takes four years before they become adults.

During this time, a total of two months, the roads are full of crabs. Roads are closed and on the ones that have to be kept open, people use scrapers to get around. They have built low fences on the sides of the roads, to direct the crabs to pass beside the road and through tunnels, and in one place over a bridge.

The good thing about missing this spectacular migration is that the roads are open, and we can see around the island.

Another very spectacular phenomenon can be found here, and that is the so-called blow holes. Water shoots up from the holes in the limestone, makes a loud noise and splashes us wet. Nature has so many wonders!

We had heard that the food supply comes to the island every other Friday and that the fresh vegetables only last a few days. It wasn’t too bad, even after a week they had plenty of onions, potatoes, apples, carrots and some cabbage. A lot of cans and frozen food were available. The prices were higher, but on the other hand, the alcohol was duty-free and offered a huge variety we have not seen since in Europe.

Diesel was only available in jerry cans at the petrol station for AUD 2.90/litre when we were there. 30% more expensive compared to Australia (where we got it duty-free on departure), but in a remote location like this still good.

One last thing from this island to mention is all the beautiful beaches. As sailors, we get plenty of sun and water, so we skipped this, also because the beach at Flying Fish Cove was great and offered nice snorkelling. At cycling distance, we instead found The Grotto – a cave with sweet water at a perfectly cooling temperature.
The last picture shows our magnificent night view from the anchor.

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