Christmas Island Air now flies weekly between Kuala Lumpur and Christmas Island, using a B737-400 chartered from Firefly, the Malaysia Airlines subsidiary.
“This is a huge boost to tourism,” Linda Cash of the Christmas Island Tourism Association enthused last week. She told Sydney media on Friday that Christmas Island’s being listed among the ‘Best of Australia’ and featuring on the cover of Australian Geographic “has led to a significant increase in nature-lovers wanting to witness our amazing nature – the crab migration, the whale sharks, the seabirds.”
Sir David Attenborough described Christmas Island’s red crab migration as “one of the most amazing animal migrations on the planet”. He also chose it as one of his all-time top 10 nature experiences.
Visitors can fly to Christmas Island from Perth with Virgin Australia, departing Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The flight takes roughly three and a half hours.
The island receives much media publicity – though not usually of the sort to delight tourism operators. Its natural attractions are such that almost two thirds of it is National Park, but the tourism aspect is heavily outweighed in terms of media coverage by publicity about relentless arrivals of “boat people” asylum seekers.
Nearly 2000km from the Australian mainland but only about 300km from the south coast of Java, Christmas Island offers a choice of accommodation outlets ranging from boutique hotel, luxury self-contained, and lodge-style accommodation. Some 1500 tourists arrive a year and the island’s tourism industry is gearing up for a busy six months with the new flight connection to Asia. The island’s iconic Bird ‘n’ Nature Week (1-8 September) looks like being one of the most popular ever. Seven of the island’s 13 land-based birds are found nowhere else, including the melodious Christmas Island thrush, which sings at sunset.
Christmas Island’s famed red crab migration takes place November/December, when millions of crabs scuttle from the rainforested slopes down to the ocean to breed, and then return to the forest. The breeding timetable is fixed by the phases of the moon. Land crabs (about 20 species) include the giant robber crab or coconut crab, which can grow to the size of a large garbage bin. The crabs are not good to eat, which has probably helped save them.
Whale sharks, the world’s largest fish, visit Christmas Island’s warm waters from November to April. Despite their size, they eat only plankton and small fish. As the island is a volcanic seamount surrounded by a fringing coral reef, diving, snorkelling and other watersports excel.
Christmas Island has a permanent population of only about 1200 people and over 40 million crabs. It enjoys duty-free status – which means cheap drinks. Visitors can hire a bike or 4WD, take guided tours or play a round of golf at a nine-hole golf course where special rules apply when crabs block the holes.
Written by Peter Needham