Christmas Island and Cocos Island

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Where do I begin about Christmas Island (CI)? What a place! It is one of those destinations that you’ve heard a lot about (if you’ve heard of it at all) and you’ve always wanted to see but it’s so far away and such a pain to get there, you just kind of wrote it off. I am here to tell you to go there, it’s awesome! They call it a natural wonder for a reason. The expense and hardship of actually getting there is well worth it to get to see somewhere that so few people have ever been. An Indian Ocean territory of Australia that 99% of Aussie’s have never been to; and a very high percentage haven’t even heard of it. It is truly a world away but has so much to offer an intrepid traveler.

Christmas Island was discovered in the late 1600’s and the ship captain landed on the island on Christmas Day, hence the name. It has been occupied over the years by several nations and in the 20th century was occupied by the Japanese during World War II, the British and was finally annexed to Singapore after the war and sold to Australia for 2.9 pounds in the late 1950’s. The reason for the money was because CI is rich in phosphate.
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Phosphate remains the main industry on the island and the majority of people who were on my plane were going there to work the mines and the plant pictures below. Many roughneck type guys, much like you’d see in an oil rich nation in Africa. The only other industry on the island is service. There are several bars or taverns, many of which sell very good meals. There are a few different population centers and I stayed in the main settlement area of the Europeans called the Settlement…yes very clever I agree.
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The island is made up of some 70% Chinese Malays and Singaporeans and the Chinese culture is very apparent. There are temples all over the island and most signs are in English and Chinese. However, in Settlement, the main language is English and where most native Aussies live and work.
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I stayed at an awesome little self contained unit called Captains Last Resort (above). It was the cheapest place available on the island but certainly not the worst. Most of the other accommodation is motel style units that have little character and are very generic. It is right in town and walking distance to everything you’d need. It’s also right on the cliffs overlooking the Indian Ocean and a blowhole right out the window. I was quite pleased.
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The main reason people come to Christmas Island as tourists is to see the world famous crabs. The biggest time of year is during the migration of the crabs between November and January when the island is apparently overrun with the 8 legged crustaceans. They claim there are some 120 million crabs on Christmas Island right now and during the migration there are more and most of the roads are closed because of the crabs. I cannot imagine CI during the migration because you couldn’t escape the millions of crabs right now!
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Renting a motorbike or scooter is easily the best way to see CI (above). Alternatively, if you have your own motorbike make sure you have decent insurance. Swinton bike insurance is a great option. The only better way would to have a 4-wheel drive; which are hard to come by on the small island. I took the scooter and headed out to see the sights and the crabs. The two are actually synonymous because you can’t see a sight without seeing thousands and thousands of crabs.
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The crabs come in 3 or 4 different kinds and vary in size. The most common crabs are the red crabs which are literally everywhere. They are pretty cute at first but after a while, you just want to whack them out of the way because they are also quite dumb and move toward your steps when you want to pass them making you almost fall to avoid them sometimes. They also can get pretty damn big too, like a foot wingspan I’d say and also up to 4 inches tall. They are also noteworthy because they have designs on their backs that look like animals. They can resemble jungle cats, like panthers and lions or even cobras and other snakes. It’s very cool to see up close.
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There are also blue crabs. These guys are mainly found in the jungle and damper parts of the island. They are easily spotted because they are bluish white and have massive claws. They also are smarter than red crabs and move when you’re coming and know how to hide or camouflage themselves.
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Finally, there are the unreal and prehistoric looking robber crabs (above) that are so big and scary looking, you think they are fake. There is no way there are crabs that big and that ugly. When you approach them they ease backwards but lift up their huge claws and ugly antennas at you. They are so big and I think I saw one eating a red crab. They are the size of a large pumpkin and again are so ugly that you can’t stop staring at them. They can also be different colors. Some are rainbow colored and some are darker. I think it depends on their age but it is a sight to behold. It is also a A$500 if you run one over with your car.

The first sight I checked out was something called the Dales. It was supposed to be some cool waterfalls and streams in the jungle and was located about 20km away from the Settlement on the opposite side of the island so it made sense to go there first and work back. I have to say the sight itself was very whatever and I wouldn’t tell you to go all the way out there to hike down to see it. But the crabs were really abundant in that part of the jungle and I had my first encounters with the enormous robber crabs. The first one I saw scared the hell out of me. I wasn’t expecting them to be so big!

Next I decided to head to the famous beach on the island called Dolly Beach. Every local and book says Dolly Beach is easily the best thing on the island because it’s an amazing beach and take something like an hour to walk there from the scooter park through thick jungle. Most locals have never even been and it is almost always empty. It was an experience I will never forget as you will see.
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Christmas Island gets a lot of rain as all tropical islands do and in the jungle on the paths, the water can stay a while, even when the rest of the island is dry and hot. Driving my scooter down the dirt and gravel roads (above) was like second nature for me as I have done a hundred times around the world. However, the shadows were over the road and I was wearing sunglasses so it was kind of hard to decipher whether certain parts of the ground were mud, moss, gravel or leaves.

To make a brutal part of my trip short, the bike skidded out on some moss that I couldn’t see and it was followed by mud. Next thing I know I was skidding along the ground and into the shrubbery on the side of the mud road at about 35km per hour. The scooter was fully in the jungle part and the skid line was about 30 feet long. I was in shock and had never had any type of accident before, well except when I was 16 right after I got my license but that doesn’t count.

My first thoughts were is anything broken. I quickly took inventory and realized I was OK although my left ankle and foot were profusely bleeding as I was wearing flip flops (thongs). Next I had to check and see if my friend was OK. Thankfully all was well except for the same foot bleeding and some nasty shoulder scratches. I felt awful although it was unavoidable. Next, I had to check the scooter and make sure it still worked as I didn’t really want to have to buy a new one. It was still running when I got over to it which was a good sign and after shaking out the kinks, got back on the bike and headed toward Dolly Beach.

I was pretty shaky driving the rest of the way and my friend even more so on the back. The roads were brutally muddy and slippery so I was going as slow as possible so as not to fall again as that was some seriously scary shit. We eventually made it to the sign that says, nothing but 4-wheel drives beyond this point and had to walk down the very steep and rocky hill. This was not easy in flip flops and feet covered in wet mud. Not to mention bloody feet and ankles amongst other body parts. It was not fun.

We also didn’t know how far it was because there are no signs that give distance on these paths. After making it down the two steep hills, there was a fork that was unmarked. We chose a way and of course it was the wrong way and took us to the top of a sharp coral cliff overlooking the ocean. The only good thing is we saw a booby bird and a nice view (below).
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So we headed back down the path the other way and eventually after about 45 minutes of trekking through the mud made it to the sign that said Dolly Beach 2km this way. We couldn’t believe we had another 2km to hike and it was thru the jungle proper with poorly laid out paths at times. We had little choice and clearly weren’t turning back so we began the hike once again.

This might not sound like too much but you have to remember all the circumstances and the heat along with the fact that we were bleeding, it was fairly miserable. We just hoped the beach would be worth it. However, we had much to get through before we got there.
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As I said, the wet path was straight through the jungle and there were thousands of crabs everywhere so you had to go slow to avoid stepping on them or getting clawed. It was also really muddy and tough traction especially in flip flops. However, the worst part for me; was the fact that there were hundreds of massive spider webs along the narrow path that you couldn’t really see and I was leading. I literally must’ve walked into dozens of big webs with the spiders still in them which then went onto me. It was nasty and pretty miserable. Finally, I got a stick to try and clear them ahead of me but you still can’t see many of them because it’s so dark in the heavy jungle. By the time we reached the beach, my hair and shirt was completely covered in spider web and other unknown substances, it was unbelievable and pretty nasty. The only bright side was that I knocked most of them down for the way back.
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Now I must say that Dolly Beach was spectacular and a really beautiful beach (above and below). Looking back now it was really worth the hike and the accident to get there because it makes for a great story but trust me it was pretty tough going there for a while. Hopping in the water was just what the doctor ordered. I was just happy to get the spider webs out of my hair and clean the mud off my cuts, although the salt water didn’t feel so great on the open wound. So after about 2 hours relaxing and catching our breath on the awesome beach, we were relatively refreshed and ready to head back.
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The way back was much easier as I said, I cleared the spider webs and we knew the way pretty much. So we moved quickly and made it back to the bike in an hour flat as opposed to nearly two hours on the way down. But then something really annoying happened; the scooter wouldn’t start and we were in the most remote part of the island that rarely sees any visitors so we knew we wouldn’t have any help and it was getting late. This meant we’d have to leave the scooter and walk another 6km up a very long hill up to the actual road. We were miserable and out of water.

Left with no other choice we eventually made it up to the main road, although it’s not sealed (paved). Then we had another decision, do we sit there and wait and save energy, I mean a car had to come by at some point, or do we walk in the direction we think is towards Settlement which we knew was some 20-25km away. We decided to walk slowly toward where we thought was the right way.

This turned into walking fast again and we ended up walking for 2 hours in the heat with no water and feet, knees, back, cuts, everything was hurting. Finally, after 2 hours on the same road we saw a car and were able to flag down a Chinese man in an SUV named Choo. This amazing person gave us a ride all the way back to Settlement and we were able to drink, eat and shower and clean out the deep cuts on our feet and body. Ironically he is on the flight to the Cocos Islands I am on right now. I can honestly say now, looking back, what a great story and memorable it was. However, at the time; we had no idea how long we would have to walk, if we were going the right way and if we would even make it with the heat, no water and our physical states. As I said, it was a story I will never forget.
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Back in town, after getting cleaned up, I headed to Golden Bosun restaurant and tavern (above) which is the main gathering place, watering hole and eatery in Settlement. The beers there are much cheaper than mainland Australia as the whole island is a duty free zone. The food was also excellent. I ate there both nights I was on the island. They even had a pool table but after yesterday’s journey, I didn’t even play. I just ate and went straight to bed and slept for like 12 hours.

Another good place to eat is where I had brekkie (breakfast) this morning called Rockfall restaurant which is across from the pharmacy and the CI Tourist Association which is where you make all your reservations through and the only place on the island to use the Internet although there is no wifi. Try the Aussie burger, not too bad.

All in all, Christmas Island is a fantastic place to visit and as you’ve seen, will always be in the forefront of my trip memories as the only place I’ve nearly killed myself and someone else!
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The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are an atoll that is ovular in layout as a sort of archipelago of islands. The main island where the airport is located, is made up of the airstrip basically and some stores. There is an information center and store in town and some houses along the beach. The narrow island is mainly palm trees and has a nice coastline that is famous for surfing. Cocos is very different from Christmas Island in that the elevation of Cocos is very low, actually 10 feet (below a few), which makes it much easier to get around and again, great reefs and water activities. There are also long stretches of beach as opposed to small coves like on Christmas.
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Flying into Cocos Island reminded me completely of flying into Kiribati (above and below) with the way the islands are windswept and laid out. Once on the ground it reminded me of Tuvalu or Tokelau how you can see the other islands in the atoll far away. Basically, it was like a South Pacific island in the Indian Ocean but a cool place to say you’ve been even if only for a brief time. I did however; get a cool tee shirt as my one that I buy per trip.
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When the plane lands at the airport it is like a party as the locals come to greet the planes arriving and transit passengers with beers. Again, it kind of reminded me of Tuvalu because the 2 flights per week are the big event on the island because there is nothing else to do!
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Anyway, this was a long post but one I am very fond of. I am back in Perth now for the night and all day tomorrow for Sunday Session at Cottesloe before flying out to Melbourne to connect to Tasmania which I am very excited about.

Comments

  1. Jessica says:

    Sounds like an amazing experience, glad you made it through the accident. What happened to the scooter?

  2. Awesome pics, cool story, very jealous

  3. Hey Jessica, I left the bike and went back to the rental lady and told her the battery died, which is what I believe did happen bc the bike was working after the accident. Anyway, it was back the next day so they clearly got it working so there was no issue.

  4. Did you bring any Old Bay for those crabs????…. I bet it took awhile to get those spiderwebs out of your high and tight

  5. The H&T is in full effect but spider webs did not help…Old Bay will be apparent for the upcoming Ocean City wknd!

  6. Hey Lee, always fun to read your write-ups of exotic places. Did you get there on Virgin Australia?

  7. What a trip! You’ve convinced me to make visiting Christmas Island a priority in 2014!

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