10 top events on Christmas and Cocos islands

By Erin Doyle May 1, 2012
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There’s much more to Christmas Island than politics. Here are the top 10 things to do on this remote island.

YOU MAY THINK ONLY of politics when it comes to Christmas Island, but there’s far more to this remote location than its controversy. 

Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) islands remote Australian territories and untapped paradises, just waiting to discovered and adored. With fascinating traditional history and culture and an all-encompassing natural wonderland, you’ll feel as though you have arrived in an Aussie Garden of Eden. There’s unmatched ecology to be relished – from the magnificent red crab to the striking natural birdlife, along with adrenalin inducing activities to get your blood pumping. Clearly there’s no better time to make Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) islands your next ultimate fun filled getaway.

Here are the top 10 things to sink your teeth into during your stay on Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

1. Annual Red Crab Migration

Best time to go:  Around October/November
Location:  Drumsite, Flying Fish Cove, Ethel Beach and Greta Beach have the best views

Christmas Island is home to some of Australia’s most majestic and unique creatures, including the stunning red crab. Regarded as one of the greatest wonders of the natural world by ecologists, the mass migration of this crustacean occurs every year around October/November on Christmas Island and is a not-to-be-missed spectacle for all visitors. Numbering well into the thousands, these red crabs take over the island as they embark on a synchronised journey from the forest to the coast for breeding. Creating a visual feast for spectators, the pilgrimage at times forces various road closures to ensure safe passage for the crabs. This also allows people to get up close and personal and carefully navigate through the hordes of crustaceans as they roam the island. For the best views, head to Drumsite, Flying Fish Cove, Ethel Beach or Greta Beach or check out the seasonal Red Crab Discovery Tour to learn all their secrets.

2. Bird Watching

Best time to go: September
Location: Christmas Island

With a multitude of bird species inhabiting both Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) islands, avid bird watchers will not be disappointed. Much of Christmas Island comprises national park (63 per cent of the island’s 135 square kilometres) and its close proximity to South East Asia has meant that the island has become a birdwatching haven, with a wide range of bird species calling the island home. Among these are the Christmas Island thrush, Abotts booby, Christmas Island frigatebird, and Christmas Island hawk owl. Interestingly, seven land birds are endemic to Christmas Island. Not to be outdone in the bird watching stakes, Cocos Keeling Island also plays host to a diverse variety of birdlife, providing birdwatchers with the opportunity to spot 39 breeding or resident bird species including the Cocos buff-banded rail, white tern, red-footed booby and common sandpiper. Bird-sighting tours are available for those wanting guidance in the many sighting spots across the atoll. Arrive during Christmas Island Bird ‘n’ Nature (September 1 – 8) week for the best bird watching experiences.

3. Scuba diving and snorkelling

Best time to go: May – November
Locations: For scuba diving: Cabbage Patch, Fern Wall, Garden of Eden, Two Caves and the Rose Wall on Cocos (Keeling) islands; Java Trench and Christmas Island Marine Park on Christmas Island.  For snorkelling: Flying Fish Cove on Christmas Island, the “Rip” at the southern end of Direction Island or the “Humbug Drift” alongside Prison Island

Accommodating radiant tropical reefs and marine marvels such as dolphins, whale sharks and hundreds of species of fish (including the Cocos pygmy angelfish, endemic to Cocos Island) Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) islands are the embodiment of underwater bliss. Scuba dive from the edge of the Java Trench on Christmas Island, the Indian Ocean’s deepest point, or simply snorkel through the innumerable kilometres of exquisite coral, breathtaking wall diving in tepid waters, which are swarming with majestic marine life. Cocos (Keeling) islands also contains an abundance of amazing dive spots with diverse locations begging to be explored, from reefs and drop-offs to wrecks and caves. Try the Rose Wall, Garden of Eden, Cabbage Patch or Two Walls to get you started. In terms of snorkelling, it is impossible to ignore intense spot The Rip, located at the southern tip of Direction Island or the gentler Humbug Drift alongside Prison Island. Over at Christmas Island, Flying Fish Cove is immensely popular among snorkelling enthusiasts.

4. Rainforest/nature walking

Best time to go: May – November
Location: Christmas Island National Park

Unsurprisingly, with the vast natural resources and National Park landscapes both Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) islands have to offer, there is no shortage of ecology begging to explored. Walks ranging from complete beginners to advanced trekker level can be found all over Christmas Island. Take advantage of the abundance of endemic flora and fauna in your surroundings and entice your senses with a rejuvenating nature walk. Experience every natural element Christmas Island can provide – stand under Hugo’s Waterfall, watch the astonishing Blowholes or take time out to soak up the impressive views from Magaret Knoll. Discover the captivating local fauna including the iconic red crab and the red-footed booby then trawl through 200 species of native flowering plants – 16 of which are found only in Christmas Island.

5. 4WD Tours

Best time to go: May – November
Location: On Christmas Island there are tours from Dean’s Point to Greta Beach or through Martin’s Point.

For a slightly bolder take on a traditional island tour, Christmas Island offers a unique chance to roam through the exhilarating landscape with its 4WD tours. The Dolly Beach Jungle Tour combines a thrilling ride past Dean’s Point to Greta Beach (where you may be lucky enough to see nesting Green Turtles in season) with an invigorating stroll through some of the most luxurious natural landscapes, including sandy and shell beaches as well as rock pools and the jungle. If you’re after a little romance, be sure to experience the Champagne Sunset Tour. With champagne and gourmet snacks provided and culminating in a picturesque sunset, the drive allows you to traverse some of the awe-inspiring natural environment of Martin’s Point. Alternatively, hire a private charter to explore the island on your own terms (dependent on the availability of vehicles and guides).

6. Indigenous Coco Malay culture

Best time to go: August
Location: Home Island

Immerse yourself in the rich culture of Cocos (Keeling) islands with the Cocos Malay people. This unique cultural community contains approximately 600 people and is situated on Home Island, accessed via a short ferry ride from West Island.  Explore the history of these remarkable people by touring the island and visiting the intriguing Homeland museum.  Discover firsthand the ancient practices of their culture – there are ample opportunities for visitors to try traditional activities such as basket weaving and learn about jukong (boat) building. For the ultimate Coco Malay cultural experience ensure your visit coincides with one of their cultural ceremonies – the  Hari Raya Puasa  (which commemorates the end of Ramadan, the Islamic fasting month) is held in the kampong (town) and is an unforgettable celebration. In 2012, it’s scheduled to fall in August. Before you leave, don’t forget to indulge in the delicious Coco Malay cuisine at one of the various authentic restaurants on the island.

7. Fishing

Best time to go: May – November
Location on island: Visit the outer Cocos atoll and North Keeling on Cocos (Keeling) islands or fish from Christmas Island’s shoreline or use their boat launching facilities to get out on the water.

There’s not much in life that can compare to the allure of sinking a hook in the water and trying your luck at a hand of fishing. Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) islands both satisfy this desire by supplying splendid fishing conditions against sublime surroundings containing clear, azure waters. The quality and diverse nature of the marine life on the islands is virtually unmatched anywhere else in Australia. Challenge yourself by endeavouring to reel in wahoo, mahi-mahi and sailfish or, alternatively, species of the deep-sea variety such as tuna and trevally. The bonefish fly fishing available on Cocos (Keeling) is also particularly enviable. With options offered for every type of fisherman, including open ocean trawling, deep-sea jigging and lagoon sport fishing, people of every experience level can feel like the next Rex Hunt.

8. History

Best time to go: All year
Location: Christmas Island

For history buffs, Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) islands have a tremendous amount to offer. Join the Christmas Island Orientation Tour and uncover an intriguing insight into the island’s enthralling past. Although first spotted in the 1600s by British and Dutch navigators, Christmas Island was officially ‘discovered’ in 1888 and has since become the focal point of many fascinating occurrences. Many remnants of by-gone times have been left behind for you to examine. Explore Christmas Island’s historical highlights such as the army quarters and gun placements at Smith’s Point. Christmas Island was a key target for Japanese occupation during World War II due to its rich phosphate deposits. Delve into the depths of the island’s associated war history with the tour. On Cocos (Keeling) Islands in particular, there are also several historical shipwreck sites that divers can now enjoy.

9. Island hopping

Best time to go: May – November
Location:  Depart from West, Home or Direction Islands

Boasting some of the most picturesque views in the country, the pristine beaches of Cocos (Keeling) Islands are ideal for island hopping odysseys. Spoil yourself and relax amongst the purity and serenity of the undisturbed white sands at any one of the 27 coral islands that constitute the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Alternatively, pander to your more adventurous streak and explore the horseshoe-shaped atoll and enclosed lagoon. For those spirited enough, the Cocos Island offers an exclusive chance to walk the entire atoll at specific times and is the only place in the world where this is possible. Journeying from island to island by other methods is simple enough, with ferries provided for accessible transport.

10. Water sports

Best time to go: June/July to October
Location: Cocos (Keeling) Island

Among the extensive list of things to experience at Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) islands, there’s no better way to get the adrenalin pumping than with a bit of surfing or kite- and windsurfing. Recently enjoying a surge in popularity, these sports have lured two experienced operators from the mainland of Australia which hold several windsurfing and kite surfing clinics in Cocos every year – so there’s never been a better excuse to learn these adventure sports. Conditions are best during the ‘winter’ season (despite the still-balmy weather) so aim to arrive during July to October if this activity appeals. Even if water sports aren’t your thing, head down to the southern end of the lagoon and enjoy the view of a kaleidoscopic sea of colourful sails during peak periods.