Christmas Island: caving and diving

By Dan Bowles 1 May 2012
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Myriad mysterious caves and stunning coral reefs abound on Christmas Island.

CHRISTMAS ISLAND IS LITERALLY peppered with caves. Geological uplifting has created a tiered ‘wedding cake’ island of ancient coral reef beds and a fascinating karst landscape.

Though caving is not allowed inside Christmas Island National Park, and there are no cave tour operators to speak of, Brayden Maloney, one of the island’s most avid speleophiles, has kindly offered to show me into Upper Daniel Roux Cave. It’s the most accessible cave, and after a short walk through the forest and some easy climbing we stand at the entrance to a massive cavern.

My sturdy hiking boots quickly prove their worth, not only for gripping onto the moist rock. As Brayden points out a busy population of Christmas Island glossy swiftlets nesting directly above us, the boulder on which we were standing becomes a 5m mound of guano into which I am slowly sinking!

The caves of Christmas

Further into the cave, we shine head-torches onto glistening shawls, pools, stalagmites, stalactites and, most interestingly, helictites: intricate and tiny structures which have grown every which way due to the tropical humidity and the capillary action of water.

This underwater mountain’s crowning jewel, however, is its untainted fringing coral reef. I spend an underwater-themed day with Tiriki Hamanuka, Christmas Island’s professional dive operator and even more professional jokester, affectionately known by all as ‘Hama’.

We take two scuba dives to just over 20m depth where the sloping reef fringe drops precipitously towards the abyssal plain.

Divers’ paradise

The water visibility is over 30m by my reckoning and bathtub warm. Add to this hard and soft corals, sea cucumbers, and tropical reef and pelagic fishes all around; it is simply a divers’ paradise.

During our downtime between dives, some of us opt to jump back in for a snorkel with magnificent giant trevally, simply because we can.

After four days of non-stop adventure on Christmas Island the time has come, as it always must, to return to the normality of life. Sitting back on the plane taking off and cruising south toward Perth, all I can feel is a sense of sadness and longing, the kind you feel when seeing off a close friend or relative. I cling to my last views of the rugged coastline and lush green forests from my tiny window.

Author Dan Bowles is an Australian Geographic cartographer.