Tag - Indian Ocean

Comoros Photo Gallery

Despite the entire island being covered in black volcanic lava, there are plenty of white sand beaches on Grand Comore.

Comoros Photo Gallery

This is an Comoros Photo Gallery from taste2travel.

To read about this destination, please refer to my Comoros Travel Guide.


All images are copyright! If you wish to purchase any images for commercial use, please contact me via the Contact page.


 

 


About taste2travel!

Hi! My name is Darren McLean, the owner of taste2travel.

I’ve been travelling the world for 36 years and, 233 countries and territories, and seven continents later, I’m still on the road.

Taste2travel offers travel information for destinations around the world, specialising in those that are remote and seldom visited. I hope you enjoy my content!

Ever since I was a child, I have been obsessed with the idea of travel. I started planning my first overseas trip at the age of 19 and departed Australia soon after my 20th birthday. Many years later, I’m still on the road.

In 2016, I decided to document and share my journeys and photography with a wider audience and so, taste2travel.com was born.

My aim is to create useful, usable travel guides/ reports on destinations I have visited. My reports are very comprehensive and detailed as I believe more information is better than less. They are best suited to those planning a journey to a particular destination.

Many of the destinations featured on my website are far off the regular beaten tourist trail. Often, these countries are hidden gems which remain undiscovered, mostly because they are remote and difficult to reach. I enjoy exploring and showcasing these ‘off-the-radar’ destinations, which will, hopefully, inspire others to plan their own adventure to a far-flung corner of the planet.

I’m also a fan of travel trivia and if you are too, you’ll find plenty of travel quizzes on the site.

Photography has always been a passion and all the photos appearing in these galleries were taken by me.

If you have any questions or queries, please contact me via the contact page.

I hope you this gallery and my website.

Safe travels!

Darren


Follow me on Instagram: 

Comoros Travel Guide

A view of Lac Salé, where the water colour fluctuates between blue, brown and green.

Comoros Travel Guide

This is a Comoros Travel Guide from taste2travel.com

Date Visited: February 2024

Introduction

Tucked away in the azure waters of the Indian Ocean, off the coast of east Africa, the Comoros Islands beckon travellers with their untouched beauty and captivating allure.

An octopus collector on Grand Comore, hunting for octopus at low tide.

An octopus collector on Grand Comore, hunting for octopus at low tide.

Largely undeveloped and totally off the tourist radar, this unknown and hidden archipelago is a tapestry of volcanic landscapes, vibrant culture, and warm hospitality, waiting to be discovered.

The Comoros Islands, consisting of Grande Comore, Mohéli, Anjouan, and Mayotte, each offer a unique charm waiting to be explored.

The French administered Mayotte separately from the remainder of the Comoros beginning in 1975, when the three northernmost and predominantly Muslim islands of the Comoros declared independence, and the Muslim and Christian inhabitants of Mayotte chose to remain with France.


Mayotte Travel Guide

Mayotte, which is the most easterly of the four islands of the Comoran archipelago, is an overseas department of France, which is still claimed by the government of Comoros.

Having an outpost of the European Union located in close proximity to one of the poorest countries on the planet ensures that Mayotte is beset by a plethora of social issues which are the result of numerous Comoran refugees who travel illegally to the island by boat.   

You can read more about this French outpost in my Mayotte Travel Guide.


The main island. Grande Comore, is home to the capital, Moroni, and the only international airport in the country.

The island is dominated by the towering Mount Karthala (2,361 metre / 7,746 feet), an active volcano which occasionally erupts, covering the island in jet-black lava boulders.

A view of Maloudja Beach on Grand Comore.

A view of Maloudja Beach on Grand Comore.

In between the black lava flows lie stunning, white sand beaches, which are lapped by the azure waters of the Indian Ocean.

Comoros is a true paradise which still remains largely undeveloped. While the neighbouring island nations of Seychelles and Mauritius have fine-tuned their tourism offering, tourism remains undeveloped on Comoros. There are just five hotels listed on Booking.com on the main island of Grande Comore.

Comoros is home to many large Baobab trees.

Comoros is home to many large Baobab trees.

Beyond the natural beauty of the islands lies the heart of the Comoros – its people.

Comoros is a safe and welcoming destination.

The warm smiles of locals welcome you as you delve into the rich tapestry of Comorian culture, which has been influenced from centuries of trade with Africa, Arabia and Asia.

Despite the entire island being covered in black volcanic lava, there are plenty of white sand beaches on Grand Comore.

Despite the entire island being covered in black volcanic lava, there are plenty of white sand beaches on Grand Comore.

The Comoros Islands offer an authentic Indian Ocean travel experience that is as captivating as it is unforgettable.

It’s a destination which is ideal for intrepid travellers who seek to get off the well-worn tourist circuit, and of course for the country-counters who are determined to visit all 193 UN countries.


Location

Moroni, Comoros

The Comoros Islands are located about 320 km (200 mi) off the eastern coast of Africa, in close proximity to Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar.

An archipelago nation, the Comoros consist of four main islands.

  • Grande Comore
  • Mohéli
  • Anjouan
  • Mayotte (an overseas department of France, geographically part of the Comoros but politically distinct)
A view of Grande Comore Island, which is covered in black lava.

A view of Grande Comore Island, which is covered in black lava.

The islands are of volcanic origin, with Mount Karthala on Grande Comore being an active volcano and one of the tallest peaks in the Indian Ocean.

People

The people of the Comoros, known as Comorians (population: 820,000) are a diverse and culturally rich population with a unique ethnic blend of African, Arab, and Malagasy, which reflects the islands’ history of trade and settlement.

The official languages of the Comoros are Comorian, French, and Arabic. Comorian is widely spoken among the population, with different dialects spoken on each of the main islands.

Islam is the dominant religion in the Comoros, with the majority of Comorians adhering to Sunni Islam. The practice of Islam plays a central role in daily life, culture, and traditions.

Flag

The flag of the Comoros.

The flag of the Comoros.

The flag of Comoros was officially adopted on January 7, 2002, following a national referendum. The current design was chosen to better reflect the unity, history, and aspirations of the Comorian nation.

A souvenir Comoran flag.

A souvenir Comoran flag.

The flag design consists of a white crescent with four white five-pointed stars inside of a green triangle.

The flag has four stripes, representing the four main islands of the nation: yellow for Mohéli, white for Mayotte (a French department claimed by the Comoros), red for Anjouan and blue for Grande Comore.

The four stars on the flag also symbolise the four islands. The star and crescent, as well as the colour green on the flag, symbolise the main religion of the country – Islam.

Currency

The Comorian franc is the official currency of the Comoros.

The Comorian franc is the official currency of the Comoros.

The official currency of Comoros is the Comorian franc (FC), which has the currency code of KMF. 

The Comorian franc is issued and regulated by the Central Bank of the Comoros, which is the country’s central monetary authority.

It is used for all financial transactions within the country, including daily purchases, business transactions, and banking operations.

Credit cards are rarely accepted on the Comoros.  

A view of the obverse side of Comoran franc banknotes, which feature Arabic script.

A view of the obverse side of Comoran franc banknotes, which feature Arabic script.

Banknotes, which are printed by the Bank of France, are issued in denominations of  500 FC, 1,000 FC, 2,000 FC, 5,000 FC, 10,000 FC.

Coins are issued in denominations of 25 FC, 50 FC, 100 FC, 250 FC.

Credit Cards

In the few places on Comoros where credit cards are accepted, only Visa card is accepted.

In the few places on Comoros where credit cards are accepted, only Visa card is accepted.

Like so many countries in Africa, credit cards are rarely accepted on the Comoros. Cash is king!

This lack of credit card acceptance is due to the fact that 95% of Africans do not have a bank account and hence, do not own any plastic bank cards. All transactions are conducted in cash!

The only businesses which accept credit cards are a couple of the better hotels which deal with foreign tourists.

Throughout Comoros, whenever credit cards are accepted, only Visa card is accepted.

If you are using Mastercard, American Express or any other card, you will find your card is not accepted.

A very frustrating experience!

BFC bank in Moroni provides the one ATM in the Comoros which accepts Mastercard and American Express.

BFC bank in Moroni provides the one ATM in the Comoros which accepts Mastercard and American Express.

The one lifeline, for non-Visa card holders, is the single ATM which is installed at the Moroni branch of Banque Fédérale des Commerce (BFC), which is the main commercial bank on the Comoros Islands.

Because they are the main business bank for the country, they feel it is appropriate that they accept all major credit cards.

The only ATMs on Grand Comore are located in downtown Moroni.

There are no ATMs at the airport. It is essential to arrive on the Comoros with either EUR or USD cash!

Costs

Travel costs on Comoros are the highest of any country in eastern Africa! 

Sample costs: 

  • Cappuccino? – I found nowhere on Comoros which offered barista-made coffee.
  • Can of Coke/ Sprite: €1.50
  • Small bottled water: €0.50
  • Imported Beer: €7.50
  • Meal at a mid-range restaurant: €10
  • Meal at the Golden Tulip Hotel: €15
  • Hotel room at the Golden Tulip Hotel: €130
  • Daytrip tour with Adore Comore tour company: €80 per person (minimum of 2 people)

Tour Companies

My guide, from Adore Comore, at Lac Salé.

My guide, from Adore Comore, at Lac Salé.

While on Grand Comore, I toured the island with an excellent guide from the Adore Comore tour company.

The company offers a range of daytrips which are priced from €80 per person (minimum 2 pax).

As a single pax, I had to pay €160 for a day trip which makes for an expensive outing.

During our day trip, our car suffered a punctured tire which was not surprising considering the terrible condition of the roads.

During our day trip, our car suffered a punctured tire which was not surprising considering the terrible condition of the roads.

Sightseeing

Grand Comore, also known as Ngazidja, is the largest and most populous island in the Comoros archipelago. It offers a diverse range of sights and attractions for visitors to explore.

The island is dominated by Mount Karthala, an active shield volcano and the highest point in the Comoros. It stands at approximately 2,361 metres (7,746 feet) above sea level.

Moroni

A view of Moroni harbour and the historic Friday Mosque.

A view of Moroni harbour and the historic Friday Mosque.

Moroni, the capital of the Comoros, lies in the shadow of Mount Karthala, on the west coast of Grand Comore.

The iconic view of Moroni is of the (heavily polluted) harbour and the Friday Mosque (Mosquée de Vendredi), which was constructed in 1427, without a minaret. It wasn’t until 1921 that a minaret was finally added.

As the main commercial centre on the Comoros, chaotic Moroni is home to a bustling market.

Lac Salé (Salt Lake)

A view of Lac Salé, where the water colour fluctuates between blue, brown and green.

A view of Lac Salé, where the water colour fluctuates between blue, brown and green.

A highlight of Grand Comore is Lac Salé, or Salt Lake, a unique geological formation located on the north coast of Grand Comore.

The lake’s high salinity creates striking contrasts of colors, with the water colour fluctuating (throughout the day) between blue, brown and green.

The colour of the lake water contrasts strongly with the turquoise waters of the adjacent Indian Ocean.

Dos du Dragon

"Dos du Dragon,” or the dragon’s back, looks like a mythical creature, resting by the sea.

“Dos du Dragon,” or the dragon’s back, looks like a mythical creature, resting by the sea.

Located a short drive beyond the Salt Lake, Dos du Dragon, or the “dragon’s back” is a rocky protrusion jutting out into the Indian Ocean.

Mitsamiouli Beach

A view of beautiful Mitsamiouli Beach.

A view of beautiful Mitsamiouli Beach.

Located on the northwest coast of Grande Comore, beautiful Mitsamiouli Beach is home to a pretty stretch of white-sand, surrounded by black volcanic lava and backed by a line of palm trees.

A Comoran family, enjoying a day out at Mitsamiouli Beach.

A Comoran family, enjoying a day out at Mitsamiouli Beach.

The government of Qatar, through the Qatar National Hotels Company, is currently building a new beachside resort in Mitsamiouli.

For this reason, the road between the airport and Mitsamiouli has been completely resurfaced and is currently the best road anywhere in the Comoros.

Sada Beach

A view of Sada Beach at low tide.

A view of Sada Beach at low tide.

Sada Beach is home to a small community of expat holiday houses.

Most of the large homes that line the coast are boarded up since most of the residents are only in-country for a few weeks at a time.

Giant Baobab Tree

The giant Baobab tree.

The giant Baobab tree.

Located near the airport, a huge, hollow, Baobab tree makes for an interesting stop while driving along the west coast.

My guide, from Adore Comoros, providing a sense of scale for this giant Baobab tree.

My guide, from Adore Comoros, providing a sense of scale for this giant Baobab tree.

A large opening at the base of the tree allows access into a lofty, hollow, chamber which provides an interesting perspective on the world.

A view inside the hollow of the giant Baobab tree.

A view inside the hollow of the giant Baobab tree.

Accommodation

There is a very limited number of accommodation options on the Comoros, with bookimg.com listing just 5 properties on Grande Comore.

Golden Tulip Hotel

The Golden Tulip Hotel offers the best accommodation on the Comoros.

The Golden Tulip Hotel offers the best accommodation on the Comoros.

The only international chain hotel on the Comoros is the Golden Tulip Hotel which offers the best accommodation in the country.

The hotel is located on the west coast of Grande Comore, 10 km south of the airport and 10 km north of the capital, Moroni.

A public taxi from the airport to the hotel costs 5,000 KMF (€10) while the hotel charges 15,000 KMF (€30) for an airport shuttle.

Apart from its comfortable rooms, the hotel offers a very good restaurant which attracts both guests and visiting locals who come for all sorts of functions and events.

The hotel offers the best restaurant on the island and the only conference/ meeting room facilities, which ensures a steady stream of corporate guests.

My spacious and comfortable room at the Golden Tulip Hotel, Comoros.

My spacious and comfortable room at the Golden Tulip Hotel, Comoros.

A standard room on booking.com costs around US$130 with payment options at the hotel limited to cash or Visa credit card.

The hotel does not accept Mastercard or American Express.

One way to stay at the hotel, and pay with any credit card, is to book a room through expedia.com and select the option to ‘Pay in Advance‘. This will allow you to pay with any credit card via Expedia.

The hotel offers spacious and comfortable, albeit slightly dated, rooms which overlook the palm-tree studded garden and unbeatable views of the Indian Ocean.

A view of the garden, and the Indian Ocean, from my room at the Golden Tulip Hotel.

A view of the garden, and the Indian Ocean, from my room at the Golden Tulip Hotel.

The hotel also features its own private beach and a family of giant tortoises which act as lawn mowers, gradually grazing their way around the hotel lawn.

The lawn at the Golden Tulip Hotel is kept in good order thanks to a family of grazing tortoises.

The lawn at the Golden Tulip Hotel is kept in good order thanks to a family of grazing tortoises.


Reverse Money Exchange:

Comoran francs cannot be exchanged outside of the country and it can be difficult to change excess francs back into hard currency at the end of your trip. 

I was able to exchange excess francs, for both EUR and USD, at the reception desk at the Golden Tulip Hotel.

A great service for departing guests.    


Hôtel La Grillade

A view of the Hôtel La Grillade, which is located a short drive north of Moroni.

A view of the Hôtel La Grillade, which is located a short drive north of Moroni.

Also located on the west coast, 1 km north of Moroni, the mid-range Hôtel La Grillade offers very average rooms for about €80 per night.

I would rate the hotel as 1-2 stars and not worth the money that is being charged.

Payment is either cash or Visa card only! 

The hotel has a decent restaurant which offers reasonable food.

A public taxi from the airport to the hotel costs 5,000 KMF (€10) while the hotel charges 10,000 KMF (€20) for an airport shuttle.

Eating Out

Every day at low tide, hordes of locals search for octopus in tidal rock pools.

Every day at low tide, hordes of locals search for octopus in tidal rock pools.

The cuisine of Comoros reflects influences from Africa, Arabia, Madagascar and beyond. As can be expected on an island nation, seafood dominates the diet with fish, octopus and lobster especially popular.

Golden Tulip Hotel

Breakfast, with a view of the Indian Ocean, at the Golden Tulip Hotel.

Breakfast, with a view of the Indian Ocean, at the Golden Tulip Hotel.

The outdoor, ocean-front, restaurant at the Golden Tulip Hotel is one of the most popular restaurants on Grande Comore.

The best breakfast, anywhere on Grande Comore, is served on the balcony of the restaurant, with a front-row seat overlooking the azure waters of the Indian Ocean.

A delicious, seared-tuna, salad, served at the Golden Tulip Hotel.

A delicious, seared-tuna, salad, served at the Golden Tulip Hotel.

Specialties include lobster and a very tasty seared-tuna salad which is made from freshly caught tuna.

Hotel La Grillade

The restaurant menu at the Hotel La Grillade features locally caught lobster, which is very affordable at €12.

The restaurant menu at the Hotel La Grillade features locally caught lobster, which is very affordable at €12.

While the rooms at Hotel La Grillade are very average, the food served in the restaurant by the friendly staff is anything but average!

Their lobster meal, which costs just €12, is an absolute bargain.

I also recommend their fillet steak, which is served with a creamy pepper sauce! Delicious!

Highly recommended!

Sada Beach Restaurant

My lunch stop at Sada Beach during a trip to the north of Grande Comore.

My lunch stop at Sada Beach during a trip to the north of Grande Comore.

During a trip to the north coast of Grande Comore with Adore Comoros, I had lunch at a rustic beachfront restaurant at Sada Beach.

My tasty, and spicy, freshly caught, tuna curry lunch at Sada Beach.

My tasty, and spicy, freshly caught, tuna curry lunch at Sada Beach.

Owned by a Comoran couple, the husband used to work as a chef in a nearby resort, until the resort closed.

I was treated to a beautiful tuna curry with salad, rice, plantains and more. Very nice!

Visa Requirements

My Comoros Visa-on-Arrival (VOA) which was issued without fuss at Moroni International Airport.

My Comoros Visa-on-Arrival (VOA) which was issued without fuss at Moroni International Airport.

The Visa Policy of Comoros is wonderfully simple.

All nationalities require a visa which can be purchased on arrival at Moroni International Airport.

Visas cost €30, or US$50, for stays of up to 45 days.

Free of charge visas are issued to transit visitors with a stay for a maximum of 24 hours

All visitors must hold a passport valid for 6 months and return or onward tickets.

My visa was issued, without fuss, by friendly immigration officers in about 10-minutes.

Getting There

Ethiopian Airlines flies daily from Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) to Moroni, via Dar es Salaam (Tanzania).

Ethiopian Airlines flies daily from Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) to Moroni, via Dar es Salaam (Tanzania).

Air

All visitors arrive at Moroni International Airport, aka Prince Said Ibrahim International Airport (IATA: HAH), the only international gateway to the Comoros.

The airport is located on the west coast of Grande Comore, 20 km (12 mi) north of Moroni.

The following airlines provide service to/ from Moroni:

  • Air Austral – flies to/from Saint-Denis de la Réunion
  • Air Madagascar – flies to/from Antananarivo, Majunga
  • Air Tanzania – flies to/from Dar es Salaam
  • Egyptair – flies to/from Cairo, Dar es Salaam
  • Ethiopian Airlines – flies to/from Addis Ababa, Dar es Salaam
  • Ewa Air – flies to/from Dzaoudzi
  • Kenya Airways – flies to/from Nairobi–Jomo Kenyatta
  • Precision Air – flies to/from Anjouan, Dar es Salaam

Airport Transport

Most hotels provide airport shuttle services, although they charge from €20-30.

Taxis meet all flights with a ride into Moroni costing €10 (5,000 KMF).

Getting Around

Roads on Comoros are generally diabolical.

Roads on Comoros are generally diabolical.

Public transport on Comoros consists of shared taxis which charge around 500 – 1,000 KMF for trips along the west coast.

Taxis, which are old, dirty and in poor condition can be hailed on the side of the road.

A Comoran License plate.

A Comoran License plate.

Roads on the island are in terrible condition with no investment being made in infrastructure at any stage since independence was gained in in 1975.


That’s the end of my Comoros Travel Guide.

If you wish to comment on this guide or contact me, you can do so using the comment form below or via the ‘Contact’ page.

Safe Travels!
Darren


Further Reading

Following is a list of my travel content from the region:

 

Cocos (Keeling) Islands Photo Gallery

The frontrunners in the monthly Jukong race on Home Island.

Cocos (Keeling) Islands Photo Gallery

This is a Cocos (Keeling) Islands Photo Gallery. To read about this destination, please refer to my Cocos (Keeling) Islands Travel Guide.


All images are copyright! If you wish to purchase any images for commercial use, please contact me via the Contact page.


 

 


About taste2travel!

Hi! My name is Darren McLean, the owner of taste2travel. I’ve been travelling the world for 33 years and, 209 countries and territories, and – seven continents later, I’m still on the road.

Taste2travel offers travel information for destinations around the world, specialising in those that are remote and seldom visited. I hope you enjoy my content!

Ever since I was a child, I have been obsessed with the idea of travel. I started planning my first overseas trip at the age of 19 and departed Australia soon after my 20th birthday. Many years later, I’m still on the road.

In 2016, I decided to document and share my journeys and photography with a wider audience and so, taste2travel.com was born.

My aim is to create useful, usable travel guides/ reports on destinations I have visited. My reports are very comprehensive and detailed as I believe more information is better than less. They are best suited to those planning a journey to a particular destination.

Many of the destinations featured on my website are far off the regular beaten tourist trail. Often, these countries are hidden gems which remain undiscovered, mostly because they are remote and difficult to reach. I enjoy exploring and showcasing these ‘off-the-radar’ destinations, which will, hopefully, inspire others to plan their own adventure to a far-flung corner of the planet.

I’m also a fan of travel trivia and if you are too, you’ll find plenty of travel quizzes on the site.

Photography has always been a passion and all the photos appearing in these galleries were taken by me.

If you have any questions or queries, please contact me via the contact page.

I hope you this gallery and my website.

Safe travels!

Darren


Follow me on Instagram: 


 

Christmas Island Photo Gallery

The Abbott's booby is only found on Christmas Island.

Christmas Island Photo Gallery

This is a Christmas Island Photo Gallery. To read about this destination, please refer to my Christmas Island Travel Guide.


All images are copyright! If you wish to purchase any images for commercial use, please contact me via the Contact page.


 

 


About taste2travel!

Hi! My name is Darren McLean, the owner of taste2travel. I’ve been travelling the world for 33 years and, 209 countries and territories, and – seven continents later, I’m still on the road.

Taste2travel offers travel information for destinations around the world, specialising in those that are remote and seldom visited. I hope you enjoy my content!

Ever since I was a child, I have been obsessed with the idea of travel. I started planning my first overseas trip at the age of 19 and departed Australia soon after my 20th birthday. Many years later, I’m still on the road.

In 2016, I decided to document and share my journeys and photography with a wider audience and so, taste2travel.com was born.

My aim is to create useful, usable travel guides/ reports on destinations I have visited. My reports are very comprehensive and detailed as I believe more information is better than less. They are best suited to those planning a journey to a particular destination.

Many of the destinations featured on my website are far off the regular beaten tourist trail. Often, these countries are hidden gems which remain undiscovered, mostly because they are remote and difficult to reach. I enjoy exploring and showcasing these ‘off-the-radar’ destinations, which will, hopefully, inspire others to plan their own adventure to a far-flung corner of the planet.

I’m also a fan of travel trivia and if you are too, you’ll find plenty of travel quizzes on the site.

Photography has always been a passion and all the photos appearing in these galleries were taken by me.

If you have any questions or queries, please contact me via the contact page.

I hope you this gallery and my website.

Safe travels!

Darren


Follow me on Instagram: 


 

Christmas Island Travel Guide

Cover Photo: Christmas Island Red Crab.

Christmas Island Travel Guide

Welcome to the taste2travel Christmas Island Travel Guide!

Date Visited: February 2021

Introduction

An emerald-coloured jewel in the Indian Ocean, Christmas Island is a remote, rugged, unspoilt natural paradise.

A relatively young, volcanic island which rises up 5,000 metres from the floor of the Indian Ocean. An island ringed by razor-sharp, limestone cliffs, the result of ancient geological uplifts, which is topped by a high, jungle-clad plateau.

A view of Flying Fish Cove during rough weather.

A view of Flying Fish Cove during rough weather.

Over the course of eons, many unique, endemic creatures have evolved in remote isolation on the island. Christmas Island is a veritable paradise for nature enthusiasts, bird watchers and scuba divers, with an amazing reef system lying just offshore.

The rarest of booby species, Abbott's booby is only found on Christmas Island.

The rarest of booby species, Abbott’s booby is only found on Christmas Island.

Just 100’s of metres offshore, underwater cliffs plunge 1000’s of metres into the abyss, to the floor of the Indian ocean.

With just a few beaches, which consist of tiny patches of coral-sand and shallow, onshore rocky reefs, Christmas Island isn’t a destination for those looking for a beach holiday.

What is lacks in terms of tropical beaches, it more than compensates for with a dazzling array of natural attractions which make this a compelling destination.

A view of the rugged north coast of Christmas Island.

A view of the rugged north coast of Christmas Island.

The island is 19 kilometres (12 mi) in length and 14.5 km (9.0 mi) in breadth, with a total area of 135 square kilometres (52 square miles). Of this, the small population of 1,843 are confined to a small urban settlement, actually called ‘Settlement‘, at the northern tip of the island.

Settlement is divided into three main precincts: Poon Saan, Kampong and Settlement. Each area houses, respectively, the island’s Chinese, Malay and European communities.

An island favourite, a Golden bosun, flying over Flying Fish Cove on Christmas Island.

An island favourite, a Golden bosun, flying over Flying Fish Cove on Christmas Island.

The main draw of the island, the Christmas Island National Park, covers roughly 63% of the total land area. It’s here you’ll encounter landscapes straight from a Jurassic park movie set and the funkiest of creatures.

The Robber crab (aka Coconut crab) is the largest crustacean in the world, weighing up to 4 kg and measuring 1-metre from leg tip to leg tip

The Robber crab (aka Coconut crab) is the largest crustacean in the world, weighing up to 4 kg and measuring 1-metre from leg tip to leg tip

If you dream of exploring a lush, jungle clad volcano which is crawling with millions of Christmas Island red crabs, and the very intimidating-looking Robber crab (aka the Coconut crab), if you dream of observing the rarest of bird species – including Abbott’s booby, which can only be seen on Christmas Island, then you will be rewarded for making the journey to this far-flung corner of the world.

The stars of Christmas Island are the 44 million Christmas Island red crabs.

The stars of Christmas Island are the 44 million Christmas Island red crabs.

Location

Flying Fish Cove Shire of Christmas Island, Christmas Island

Christmas Island is located in the Indian Ocean, 1500 km west of the Australian mainland and 2600 km from Perth.

Although it’s an Australian territory, Christmas Island’s nearest neighbour is Indonesia, which lies 350 km to the north. The distance from Christmas Island to Jakarta is about 500 km.

Its second-nearest neighbour is the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (click to read my travel guide), another Australian territory which is located 985 km to the west.

Geologically, Christmas Island is the peak of a volcanic basalt seamount which rises up 5000-metres from the ocean floor. The island is very young at about 60 million years old.

The result of geological uplift, the coastline of Christmas Island features a series of towering limestone cliffs.

The result of geological uplift, the coastline of Christmas Island features a series of towering limestone cliffs.

Over the course of millions of years, several geological uplifts occurred. At each stage, erosion of the coral reef by the ocean has resulted in cliffs which now form stepped terraces which rise from the sea to the central plateau.

During each uplift, coral reefs built up on the basalt core, creating a limestone cap over the island that remains today. This cap contains rich phosphate deposits which have been mined since 1900 (see the ‘Phosphate Mining‘ section below for more details).

History

Uninhabited, and lying in obscurity for most of its history, Christmas Island was first sighted in 1615 by Richard Rowe, of the Thomas. He laid no claim to the island!

The island was named by Captain William Mynors of the British East India Company, who sailed past it on Christmas day of 1643.

The first Europeans to set foot on the island did so in March of 1688, as part of a landing party travelling with the famed English navigator, William Dampier. It was during his visit to the island that Dampier investigated the sea around the island, however no settlement was established.

The first attempt at exploring the rugged island took place in 1857, when the crew of the Amethyst tried to reach the island’s summit but found the steep cliffs to be impassable.

In 1886, Captain John Maclear of HMS Flying Fish, discovered a safe anchorage in a bay which he named Flying Fish Cove. While on the island, a landing party gathered a small collection of flora and fauna from the island.

A year later, Pelham Aldrich, on board HMS Egeria, visited the island for 10 days, during which time his crew gathered a larger biological and mineralogical collection. The British naturalist, John Murray analysed the mineral specimens and found that they were nearly pure phosphate.

In 1888, the island was annexed by Great Britain and the first settlement was established at Flying Fish Cove by George Clunies-Ross, the owner of Cocos (Keeling) Islands (click to read my Travel Guide), which lie 900 km to the south-west.

Britain granted a 99-year lease to George Clunies-Ross and John Murray, to mine phosphate and harvest timber. Mining commenced in 1899, using indentured labourers from Singapore, Malaysia and China. Eventually, Ross and Murray established the Christmas Island Phosphate Company, Ltd.

In 1900, the island was incorporated into the British colony of the Straits Settlements, which was administered from Singapore.

During WWII, the Japanese, who desired the island’s rich phosphate reserves, occupied the island from the 31st of March 1942 until it was liberated in October of 1945. During this time, much of the population was sent to POW camps in Surabaya (Indonesia).

Christmas Island was managed from Singapore until 1958, when Britain, at Australia’s request, transferred control to Australia. At the time, the decision to hand the island to Australia was hugely unpopular in Singapore and resulted in the Chief Minister, Lim Yew Hock, losing the 1959 General election. This ushered in a new era for Singapore – under the visionary leadership of Lee Kuan Yew!

Today, Christmas Island is a territory of Australia, and is administered as a shire of Western Australia.

People

Artwork on the wall of the Chinese Cultural Heritage Museum in Settlement. Two-thirds of the population of Christmas Island claim Straits-Chinese ancestry.

Artwork on the wall of the Chinese Cultural Heritage Museum in Settlement. Two-thirds of the population of Christmas Island claim Straits-Chinese ancestry.

From the beginning of the 20th century until 1957, Christmas Island was a British colony, administered by Singapore. Many of the Chinese and Malays which inhabit the island today trace their ancestry back to the days of Singaporean administration.

As of the 2016 Australian census, Christmas Island had a population of 1,843 with almost everyone living on the northern tip of the island. At the time of the census, the most common ancestries were Chinese, Malay and Australian, with around two-thirds of the island’s population estimated to have Straits-Chinese ancestry.

Of the three population centres, Settlement is home to many of the Australian ex-pats, Kampong is home to the Malays, while the Chinese dominate the plateau neighbourhood of Poon Saan.

Public Housing

Singaporean HDB-style housing in Kampong.

Singaporean HDB-style housing in Kampong.

When I first arrived on the island, one of the things that struck me was how much the public housing looked like HDB housing in Singapore.

There is good reason for this! Almost all of the public housing on the island was built by the Singapore Improvement Trust, the predecessor of the current Housing and Development Board, during Singapore’s period of administration.

Wildlife

A juvenile Abbott's booby on Christmas Island.

A juvenile Abbott’s booby on Christmas Island.

 

Due to its isolated location, many species found on Christmas Island are endemic and, due to their small number, listed as endangered. Of the bird species, Christmas Island is home to the rarest of the six species of booby birds – Abbott’s booby – which can only be found on Christmas Island.

Likewise, the rarest of frigate birds – the Christmas Island frigatebird, can only be found on Christmas Island.

Birds

Golden bosun

A magical sight, a Golden bosun soaring over Flying Fish Cove.

A magical sight, a Golden bosun soaring over Flying Fish Cove.

A sub-species of the White-tailed tropicbird, the Golden bosun is an icon of Christmas Island, appearing on the territorial flag.

While the White-tailed tropicbird can be found on many tropical islands around the world (one is featured on the cover of my Bermuda Travel Guide), the Golden bosun is endemic to Christmas Island.

The best place to view the Golden bosun is from the Territory Day park lookout, the lookout at the Golf course or from the streets of Settlement.

Abbott’s booby

A juvenile Abbott's booby on Christmas Island.

A juvenile Abbott’s booby on Christmas Island.

A highlight of Christmas Island is the chance to observe the rarest of all booby species – Abbott’s booby. Originally discovered by American naturalist, William Louis Abbott, in 1892, Abbott’s booby is the only booby restricted to a single location, although its former distribution covered much of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

A threatened species, Christmas Island is the only place where the Abbott’s booby nests, with the island supporting an estimated 3,000 breeding pairs.

Red-footed booby

A Red-footed booby on Christmas Island.

A Red-footed booby on Christmas Island.

No prizes for guessing where this bird gets its name from!

With its conspicuous red feet and pale-blue bill, the noisy Red-footed booby is easily spotted as it perches in trees around the island, with many seeming to enjoy perching next to the roadside.

A curious Red-footed booby on Christmas Island.

A curious Red-footed booby on Christmas Island.

A good place to see the Red-footed booby is along the road which leads to Ethel and Lily beach, where you’ll hear them before you see them!

Unlike Brown boobies, who are ground dwellers, the Red-footed booby prefers to live and nest in trees. Christmas Island is home to an estimated 12,000 breeding pairs.

Brown booby

A not-so-shy juvenile Brown booby on the boardwalk at the blow holes.

A not-so-shy juvenile Brown booby on the boardwalk at the blow holes.

I first photographed the Brown booby on the Cayman Islands while island hopping through the Caribbean. I’ve since had the opportunity to photograph this adorable booby on many other tropical islands.

Unlike the Abbott’s and Red-footed booby, the Brown booby prefers to nest on the ground and is easily spotted around the blow holes on the remote south coast.

During my visit, one juvenile Brown booby had decided to take up residence on the blow holes boardwalk – right next to one of the sitting benches! Typical behaviour for this gregarious species of booby.

Great Frigatebird

A male Great frigatebird, with a deflated red gular sac, on Christmas Island.

A male Great frigatebird, with a deflated red gular sac, on Christmas Island.

Christmas Island is home to the widely distributed Great frigatebird and the endemic Christmas Island frigatebird.

The male Great frigatebird is easily recognisable thanks to its striking red gular sac which it uses to dramatic effect during mating rituals when it forces air into it, inflating it like a huge red balloon.

A Great frigatebird on Christmas Island, chasing a Golden bosun for its catch.

A Great frigatebird on Christmas Island, chasing a Golden bosun for its catch.

A peculiar feeding habit of the frigatebird is that it doesn’t dive for its own food, but rather chases other seabirds, forcing them to regurgitate their catch which the frigatebird then steals. A real pirate of the seas!

A male Great frigatebird, with an inflated red gular sac, flying over Christmas Island.

A male Great frigatebird, with an inflated red gular sac, flying over Christmas Island.

On Christmas Island, the frigatebird can be seen chasing the Golden bosun and various booby birds, all of whom are expert fish divers.

Frigatebirds flying over Flying fish Cove on Christmas Island.

Frigatebirds flying over Flying fish Cove on Christmas Island.

Christmas Island Frigatebird

A juvenile Christmas Island Frigatebird on Christmas Island.

A juvenile Christmas Island Frigatebird on Christmas Island.

An endangered species, the Christmas Island Frigatebird can be seen flying over Settlement and Flying Fish Cove. The world’s rarest frigatebird, there are an estimated 1,200 breeding pairs on Christmas Island.

Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon

A Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon feeding off the fruit of a papaya tree.

A Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon feeding off the fruit of a papaya tree.

Endemic to Christmas Island, the Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon is one of only two fruit-eating animals on the island, the other being the Christmas Island flying fox.

With a breeding population estimated to be around 5,000 – this beautiful pigeon, which features purple and green plumage, inhabits the plateau region of the island, feeding in the forest canopy or anywhere else fruit trees can be found.

A Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon, in the Christmas Island National Park.

A Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon, in the Christmas Island National Park.

Although often heard, with their distinct cooing sound ringing out over island neighbourhoods, the Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon is often hard to find. At about twice the size of a regular domestic pigeon, this imperial pigeon spends most of its time hidden away in the high forest canopy.

The favoured habitat for the Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon is the evergreen inland plateau, and it was here, after much searching, I happened upon a large flock of them feeding on the fruit of several isolated papaya trees.

Christmas Island Thrush

A sub-species of thrush, the Christmas Island Thrush is endemic to Christmas Island.

A sub-species of thrush, the Christmas Island Thrush is endemic to Christmas Island.

Another endemic species, the Christmas Island Thrush is easily spotted on Christmas Island, where it feeds off the ground, mainly eating insects, seeds and earthworms.

While they are plentiful on the island, due to its limited area of distribution, the Christmas Island Thrush is listed as endangered.

Feral Chickens

Feral chickens surround my rental car on Christmas Island.

Feral chickens surround my rental car on Christmas Island.

One other bird which deserves a special mention is the feral chicken. Introduced to islands around the world by early sailors, Christmas Island is home to a countless number of feral chickens.

While they can be observed all over the island, scratching around in the rich volcanic soil, one place where they seem to be especially prolific is in the cemetery section of the island, just north of Settlement.

Crabs

Christmas Island Red Crab

The star of the show! The famous and iconic, Christmas Island red crab, is endemic to the island, and rules over it, with a population of 44 million occupying most parts of the island.

The Christmas Island red crab is a very common sight on Christmas Island where they number around 44 million.

The Christmas Island red crab is a very common sight on Christmas Island where they number around 44 million.

It’s hard to walk anywhere without looking out for these red critters who always seem to be scurrying around your feet. Driving on the island also requires attention as you need to keep an eye out for the numerous crabs which seem to love dawdling across the roads.

A road sign in Settlement indicates road closures during the Red Crab migration season.

A road sign in Settlement indicates road closures during the Red Crab migration season.

For most of the year, red crabs can be found within Christmas Islands’ forests. However, at the beginning of each wet season (usually October/November), the crabs migrate en masse to the coast where they breed by laying their eggs in the ocean. During this time some of the roads on the island are closed to traffic.

A unique piece of infrastructure! The Christmas Island red crab bridge allows crabs to cross this road safely.

A unique piece of infrastructure! The Christmas Island red crab bridge allows crabs to cross this road safely.

This migration was made famous by Sir David Attenborough who featured it in one of his epic documentaries. He described it as one of the “ten greatest natural wonders on Earth”.

My rental car, waiting for a Christmas Island red crab to cross the road.

My rental car, waiting for a Christmas Island red crab to cross the road.

Due to the huge numbers of red crabs on the island, some unique infrastructure has been developed by Parks Australia to help protect them.

This includes a red crab bridge, which is located on Murray road, just beyond the island’s only high school. The road is used by phosphate mining trucks which necessitated a higher bridge, with a clearance of 5.5 metres. Quite a climb for the little crabs!

Metal barriers line the roads inside Christmas Island National Park, preventing red crabs from meandering onto the road.

Metal barriers line the roads inside Christmas Island National Park, preventing red crabs from meandering onto the road.

Inside the National Park (which covers most of the island), Parks Australia have constructed small, metal barriers which run alongside the road, preventing the crabs from entering the road.

How are they to cross the road?

Cattle grids on an island with no cows! Grids on Christmas Island allow for red crabs to pass safely under the road.

Cattle grids on an island with no cows! Grids on Christmas Island allow for red crabs to pass safely under the road.

On an island where there are no cows, it’s strange to be passing over so many cattle grids. The grids have been installed to allow the crabs to pass safely under the road, with the metal barriers herding the crabs into tunnels which pass under the grids.

On Christmas Island, it’s all about the crabs and rightly so!

Christmas Island red crabs, feasting on a recently fallen mango.

Christmas Island red crabs, feasting on a recently fallen mango.

While the Christmas Island red crabs have no predators, they are under attack from the yellow crazy ant which was accidentally introduced to the island from South-east Asia. The ant is believed to have killed 10–15 million red crabs in the last years.

Christmas Island Blue Crab

A Christmas Island blue crab, hiding in his burrow near Hughs Dale waterfall.

A Christmas Island blue crab, hiding in his burrow near Hughs Dale waterfall.

One of my favourite creatures on Christmas Island is the Christmas Island blue crab. Endemic to the island, and found in only one small area, this shy and elusive, sky-blue, crab can be found in the fresh water stream which flows down from Hughs Dale waterfall.

Reliant on fresh water, and living off a diet of fallen leaves and fruits, the blue crab builds its burrow alongside the stream and can often be found submerged in the stream itself, where it keeps cool during the heat of the day.

Coconut Crab (aka Robber Crab)

A robber crab on an asphalt road on Christmas Island. You always give way to these giants when they're crossing the road.

A robber crab on an asphalt road on Christmas Island. You always give way to these giants when they’re crossing the road.

The truly massive, Coconut crab, which is known on Christmas Island as the Robber crab, is the world’s biggest land crustacean. Adult crabs can weigh up to 4 kg and measure 1 metre across, from each tip to tip of the leg.

The Robber crab is capable of climbing the trunk of the coconut tree to select a coconut and cut it free using its pinchers. Its claws are so powerful it can remove the husk from the coconuts. The Robber crab uses coconut husk as bedding in its burrow.

The name Robber crab has existed for centuries and refers its habit of carrying off any foreign items it comes across. It especially likes shiny objects!

A Robber crab climbing out of the Blue grotto on the north coast of Christmas Island.

A Robber crab climbing out of the Blue grotto on the north coast of Christmas Island.

My first encounter with a Robber crab was while I was photographing, the much smaller, Christmas Island Red crabs inside the Blue grotto on the island’s north coast.

Out of the corner of my eye, climbing slowly up a rock face, I noticed something truly bizarre – a huge, colossal, and terrifying looking, creature, the likes of which I had never seen before. This was something that could have played a starring role in a science fiction film.

It was my first sighting of a Robber crab and, during my 8 days on Christmas Island, I had the pleasure of seeing many more of these gentle giants.

Often while walking along lonely jungle trails on Christmas Island, Robber crabs can be seen lurking menacingly in the bushes. They are however completely harmless!

I once saw a local expat stop his car and pick a Robber crab up, holding it carefully by its large abdomen, removing it from the road, placing it out of harm’s way in some nearby bushes.

A road sign on Christmas Island, where the Robber crab is protected.

A road sign on Christmas Island, where the Robber crab is protected.

Christmas Island has the world’s largest and best protected population of Robber crabs, with road signs on the island reminding motorists to drive around them.

While the crabs were once distributed on islands throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans, hunting by humans has resulted in the crab becoming extinct in certain locations. Where they do exist, they are often much smaller since adults are killed for their meat.

Thanks to their protected status, the crabs are thriving on Christmas Island and often grow to their full (enormous) adult size.

A robber crab crossing the road on Christmas Island.

A robber crab crossing the road on Christmas Island.

The crabs on Christmas Island can be found on the highest points of the island and live in burrows which they line with fibres from coconut husks which is used as bedding.

Robber crabs can be seen on most parts of the island, where they forage for food on the floor of the forest. They are most easily spotted while crossing the road and can even be seen climbing trees. The crabs are considered one of the most terrestrial-adapted of crustaceans and will actually drown if they spend too long in sea water.

Despite their intimidating looks, they are not threatening and are very gentle and, at times, comical.

Reptiles

The tiny, Blue-tailed skink, is endemic to Christmas Island.

The tiny, Blue-tailed skink, is endemic to Christmas Island.

Blue-tailed skink

Endemic to Christmas Island, and once found all over the island, this tiny skink had almost become extinct as a result of introduced predators, who ravaged the population.

Thanks to a captive breeding program, which is being conducted by Parks Australia, at their Pink House Research Station, these skinks are making a slow recovery.

You can join one of their lizard feeding tours by registering through the Christmas Island Visitor Centre.

One place where the lizards have been successfully re-introduced back into the wild is on Pulu Blan, on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. You can visit Pulu Blan as part of a Motorised Canoe tour, which are conducted by Ash and Kylie of Cocos Islands Adventure Tours.

Flag

The flag of Christmas Island.

The flag of Christmas Island.

The flag of Christmas Island, which was officially adopted in 2002, consists of a green and blue background, split diagonally, with the blue representing the sea while the green represents the land.

The Southern Cross constellation appears in the bottom left corner, while the top right corner features a Golden bosun bird in flight. At the centre, a golden disc features a map of the island in green.

The flag was originally designed in 1986, following a competition which offered a prize of A$100! The design was created by Tony Couch of Sydney, who had formerly been resident on the island.

Currency

https://www.taste2travel.com/cocos-keeling-islands-travel-guide/

The Australian dollar is the official currency of Christmas Island.

The official currency of Christmas Island is the Australian dollar (A$), which trades under the international currency code of AUD.

Having the distinction of being the world’s first polymer currency, the dollar is issued in bank notes of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 and is divided into 100 cents (c), with coins being issued in denominations of 5c, 10c, 20c and 50c, $1 and $2.

All bank notes are printing in Melbourne by Note Printing Australia (a division of the Reserve Bank of Australia), who also print polymer bank notes for Central banks around the globe.

Like mainland Australia, most transactions on Christmas Island are cashless with credit cards being widely accepted.

To check the current exchange rate between the Australian dollar and the US dollar, click here.

Banking Services

The Westpac bank branch on Christmas Island.

The Westpac bank branch on Christmas Island.

Westpac are the only bank to maintain a branch on Christmas Island, although there is no ATM available. The adjacent post office acts as an agent for all other Australian banks and is able to provide cash advances.

There are no ATMs on Christmas Island.

Costs

With the exception of duty-free alcohol, Christmas Island isn’t a cheap destination with everything imported from Australia. Air freight charges add an additional A$9 per kilo to everything with a lettuce at the supermarket fetching A$18!

Like neighbouring Cocos (Keeling) Islands, the two major expenses are flights and accommodation, with the latter being slightly cheaper on Christmas Island.

Some sample costs:

  • Return Virgin Australia airfare to Christmas Island from Perth: $A1,100 (US$842)
  • Room (per night) at CI Apartments: A$160 (US$123)
  • Cappuccino/ Cafè latte at Smash Cafe: $A5 (US$3.80)
  • Bottle of beer at the Golden Bosun tavern: $A6 (US$4.60)
  • Eggs on Toast at Smash Cafe: $A17 (US$13)
  • Chinese dinner at Lucky Ho restaurant: $A30 (US$23)
  • Car Rental with Kiat Car Rental (per day): $A65 (US$50)
  • 1 litre of petrol: $A2.28 (US$1.75)

Philately

The stamps of Christmas Island feature the rich fauna and flora of the island.

The stamps of Christmas Island feature the rich fauna and flora of the island.

Christmas Island issues its own stamps which are produced by Australia Post. Stamps feature the fauna and flora of the island and also include subjects relevant to the local (mainly Chinese) community, with Chinese New Year stamps being a popular issue.

Christmas Island stamps featuring views from the National Park.

Christmas Island stamps featuring views from the National Park.

Like neighbouring Cocos (Keeling) Islands, the number of stamp issues produced each year has been dramatically reduced. Stamps can be purchased from the one post office on Christmas Island or online from the Australia Post website.

The Christmas Island post office.

The Christmas Island post office.

Phosphate Mining

A view of the (beige-coloured) Phosphate storage sheds and the cantilever on Christmas Island.

A view of the (beige-coloured) Phosphate storage sheds and the cantilever on Christmas Island.

Introduction

Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) is taken very seriously in Australia, so it’s not surprising that the phosphate mines on Christmas Island are strictly off-limits to visitors.

What can be seen are the conveyors, which transport the phosphate down the cliff face from the central plateau, to the port, and the cantilever which is used to load the phosphate onto export ships.

Like Christmas Island, phosphate mining has also been an important export earner for the Pacific island nation of Nauru, an island which is a lot more casual about mine access, with mines operating openly by the side of the road on Topside (Nauru’s phosphate-rich plateau).

Some of the text in this section has been extracted from my Nauru Travel Guide which includes a more detailed section on phosphate mining, including photos of the mining process.

Apart from phosphate, the two islands also share something else in common – they both host an Australian Refugee Detention Centre.

What is Phosphate?

Blackened limestone rocks, such as these on the plateau at Christmas Island, are the tell-tale sign of a former Phosphate mine.

Blackened limestone rocks, such as these on the plateau at Christmas Island, are the tell-tale sign of a former Phosphate mine.

Phosphorite, or phosphate rock, is a sedimentary rock that contains high amounts of phosphate minerals. The two main sources for phosphate are guano, formed from bird droppings, and rocks containing concentrations of the calcium phosphate mineral.

Christmas Island’s phosphate deposits are the result of thousands of years of bird droppings. Guano is a highly effective fertiliser due to its exceptionally high content of all three key fertiliser ingredients – nitrogen, phosphate and potassium.

Following the discovery of processes which allow for the creation of synthetic fertilisers, the demand for naturally occurring phosphates has declined.

How is Phosphate Used?

Phosphate is one of three key ingredients which are used in fertilisers. Normally, fertilisers are labelled with an ‘N-P-K’ rating, with phosphate being the ‘P’ component; nitrogen being the ‘N’ and potassium being the ‘K’.

An NPK value of ’10-5-5′ means that the fertiliser contains 10% nitrogen, 5% phosphate and 5% potassium.

Phosphate is a key component for plant food and plants are key for human survival.

Phosphate on Christmas Island

Phosphate was first discovered on Christmas Island by a British expedition which arrived on the island in 1887. The purpose of the expedition was to collect plant and animal specimens. It was during the expedition that rich reserves of phosphate were discovered. This led the British to annex Christmas Island in 1888, to claim its valuable phosphate deposits.

The British offered George Clunies Ross, the owner of the neighbouring Cocos (Keeling) Islands and John Murray a joint 99-year lease in return for a small royalty. They began exporting phosphate in 1895, establishing the Christmas Island Phosphate Company in 1897. The first major shipment of phosphate was exported in 1900.

The proceeds from phosphate mining proved to be much more lucrative for the Clunies-Ross family than the proceeds from their Copra operation on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

As there was no Indigenous population on Christmas Island, a workforce had to be imported from Europe, Singapore, China and Malaysia. Working conditions in the early days were appalling with an estimated 500 Chinese workers dying in the first 5 years due to vitamin deficiencies.

During WWII, the island came under attack from the Japanese who wanted to disrupt shipments of phosphate. In 1948, the Australian and New Zealand Governments purchased the Christmas Island Phosphate Company which they worked in partnership with the British Phosphate Commissioners.

Due to dwindling reserves, a decision was made to close the mine in 1987. With the island’s main employer shutdown, locals were not happy.

In 1990 the mine was purchased by local union workers (many of whom used their own savings to fund a feasibility study) and reopened as Christmas Island Phosphates.

Since 1990, Phosphate Resources Limited (now a part of CI Resources – ASX: CII) has operated the mine, which has since been granted a license to continue mining until 2034. The main market for CI phosphate is South-East Asia.

Sightseeing

Sightseeing on Christmas Island is all about the incredible fauna and flora, which can be observed on every inch of the island, but especially inside the boundaries of the Christmas Island National Park which covers two-thirds of the island. Within the small populated area of the island are a few man-made sights of interest.

This sightseeing section starts with sights around Settlement, then radiates out to cover each section of the island.

Flying Fish Cove

A view of Flying Fish Cove in the foreground with The Settlement in the background, the main population centre on Christmas Island.

A view of Flying Fish Cove in the foreground with The Settlement in the background, the main population centre on Christmas Island.

The first settlement on Christmas Island was established by George Clunies-Ross, the owner of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands at Flying Fish Cove in 1898.

Flying Fish Cove is the one beach on Christmas Island which allows swimming - but only on calm days.

Flying Fish Cove is the one beach on Christmas Island which allows swimming – but only on calm days.

While the coastline of Christmas Island is almost entirely fortified by towering, razor-sharp, limestone cliffs, Flying Fish Cove offers the only break in this line of defence, making it the only reasonable landing site on the island.

A view of Flying Fish Cove from the Territory Day park lookout.

A view of Flying Fish Cove from the Territory Day park lookout.

Flying Fish Cove is also home to one of the few beaches on the island, which is very exposed and only safe for swimming in calm weather.

Christmas Island Port

A container ship being unloaded at sea at Christmas Island port.

A container ship being unloaded at sea at Christmas Island port.

Flying Fish Cove is one of the main centres of activity on Christmas Island, being home to the only port, post office, bank and the administrative buildings for the IOT (Indian Ocean Territories of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands).

Port facilities are a real issue for the island at the moment. With almost everything being imported on one container ship, it’s critical that the ship is able to arrive and unload on schedule.

At the time of my visit, in March of 2020, the ship that was due in December of 2019 still had not been able to land any containers due to rough seas.

The following day, the ship arrived and was able to offload 15 containers, one at a time, onto a barge, which then transferred them to the shore where a crane lifted them onto the dock.

Shipping containers at Christmas Island are offloaded onto barges and then transported to shore.

Shipping containers at Christmas Island are offloaded onto barges and then transported to shore.

Of the 100 containers scheduled to be ‘landed’, only 15 made it ashore before a cyclone warning and increasingly rough seas meant the ship had to return to the Australian mainland. It would be seven weeks before the ship would return to continue offloading the cargo which was due in December. This included the islands’ supply of aviation fuel, which had just run out!

Locals told me that they had Christmas presents waiting to be offloaded in one of the containers. Another container, which had been packed with fresh produce in December, had to be dumped since its contents were completely spoilt. Meanwhile, the supermarkets on the island have bare shelves and desperately wait for containers to be landed.

Masjid At-Taqwa

Located in Kampong, the Masjid At-Taqwa is the one mosque on Christmas Island.

Located in Kampong, the Masjid At-Taqwa is the one mosque on Christmas Island.

Lining the cove is the small village of Kampong which is home to a predominately Malaysian (Muslim) population who live in Singapore-built HDB-style housing.

It is here that the one mosque on the island, the Masjid At-Taqwa, and two Malaysian restaurants, are located.

Tai Jin House

<i>Tai Jin house</i> is the former Administrator's House, a heritage-listed former official residence and now the Christmas Island museum.

Tai Jin house is the former Administrator’s House, a heritage-listed former official residence and now the Christmas Island museum.

Located atop a sea cliff beyond Flying Fish Cove, the historic Tai Jin house once served as the residence of the British Administrator of Christmas Island.

A museum display at Tai Jin house.

A museum display at Tai Jin house.

With the current administrator living in Settlement, Tai Jin house is today used as a function centre for official ceremonies and houses the island’s only museum on its 1st floor.

The museum tells the story of the development of Christmas Island and is the best place to gain an understanding of the history of the island from its early discovery and European settlement in 1898 to the present.

WWII Gun Emplacement

The WWII gun emplacement on Christmas Island.

The WWII gun emplacement on Christmas Island.

The island’s rich phosphate deposits and strategic location made it a target for the Japanese during World War II. In order to defend the island, a gun emplacement was established on a cliff, overlooking the Indian Ocean, a short walk from Tai Jin House.

SIEV 221 Memorial

The SIEV 221 memorial on Christmas Island.

The SIEV 221 memorial on Christmas Island.

Located on the grounds of Tai Jin house is a memorial which commemorates those who lost their lives in the sinking of the asylum seeker boat, known as SIEV 221.

On the 15th of December 2010, a boat carrying around 90 asylum seekers, mostly from Iraq and Iran, sank off the coast of Christmas Island, killing 48 people while 42 survivors were rescued.

This tragic incident took place in front of the residents of Settlement, with the flimsy, wooden, Indonesian boat being smashed up against the limestone cliffs at Rocky Point. Settlement sits atop these sea cliffs with access to the sea near impossible, however locals were able to throw life jackets and other floatation devices into the water.

Shocking video images of the disaster were broadcast around the world. The boat was later named SIEV-221 by the Australian authorities who use SIEV as an operational term meaning “Suspected Irregular Entry Vessel“.

The memorial plaque reads:

“We will reflect on this day with sadness. The loss of each person`s life diminishes our own because we are part of humankind.

As you read this please remember all asylum seekers who have attempted this treacherous journey.”

Settlement

The coast at Settlement is lined with razor-sharp limestone cliffs.

The coast at Settlement is lined with razor-sharp limestone cliffs.

The main town centre on Christmas Island, Settlement is home to a supermarket, the one pub on the island, the one police station, a few accommodation options, a couple of dive shops, the Chinese Cultural centre and a Chinese temple.

It’s also home to Wild Papaya which offers the one good shopping opportunity on the island (see the ‘Shopping‘ section below for more details).

A whale shark, frigatebirds, a booby and more feature on a newly installed, community-made, tile mosaic in the park in Settlement.

A whale shark, frigatebirds, a booby and more feature on a newly installed, community-made, tile mosaic in the park in Settlement.

Chinese Cultural and Heritage Museum

Displays at the Chinese Cultural and Heritage Museum in Settlement, on Christmas Island.

Displays at the Chinese Cultural and Heritage Museum in Settlement, on Christmas Island.

Christmas Island has a long history of settlement by the Chinese, who first arrived on the island as indentured labourers to work in the phosphate mines.

Located in a small house, opposite the CLA restaurant in Settlement, the one-room Chinese Cultural and Heritage Museum includes displays which highlight the cultural heritage of the Chinese who have been instrumental in the development of Christmas Island.

Access during the day is free, with the museum normally unattended.

Tai Pak Kong Temple

Tai Pak Kong Temple serves the Chinese community at Settlement on Christmas Island.

Tai Pak Kong Temple serves the Chinese community at Settlement on Christmas Island.

With two-thirds of the population of Christmas Island being Straits-Chinese, there are a number of Buddhist temples spread around the island. Located in the heart of Settlement, Tai Pak Kong Temple serves the local Chinese population.

Located adjacent to the temple is Wild Papaya, a great place to shop for local arts and crafts.

European Cemetery

The original European cemetery on Christmas Island.

The original European cemetery on Christmas Island.

The first European cemetery on Christmas Island is located on an overgrown hill behind the Westpac bank in Settlement.

The last person to be buried here was a young sailor whose dead body was recovered from a Royal Australian Navy life raft which drifted ashore on the 6th of February 1942.

It is believed the sailor was from the HMAS Sydney which was sunk off the coast of Geraldton, Western Australia in November of 1941, after a battle with a German cruiser. The unknown body was buried in the cemetery in an unmarked grave.

Chinese Cemetery

A gravestone at the Chinese cemetery on Christmas Island.

A gravestone at the Chinese cemetery on Christmas Island.

Located north of Settlement, along Gaze road, is a large Chinese cemetery.

Muslim Cemetery

Gravestones at the Muslim cemetery on Christmas Island.