In May 2016 I was commissioned to travel to Christmas Island to host a social media photography meet up as well as to capture the island photographically. I travelled there with 2 travel journalists who were writing stories about the trip and Linda from the Tourism Association. I was also commissioned to capture some 360 degree video for Facebook, YouTube and VR applications.
First impressions on coming into land on Christmas Island was one of arriving “home”. I’d never visited Christmas Island before but the friendly and warm (both literally and figuratively) welcome just made you feel immediately part of the community and completely at ease, not something you experience everywhere. The tourism industry is not huge for Christmas Island at this stage, so the tourism infrastructure is a little on the simple side of things, but I felt like I was getting a much more “authentic” experience as a result. I’ve never been a fan of huge tourist destinations where experiences are “manufactured” and targeted at tourists, preferring to meet with the community and locals and find the real experiences of a place.
Flying Fish Cove is the main cove of Christmas Island is a beautiful spot, definitely somewhere you could photograph regularly and get new photos every time, there are some great rock formations as well as a nice little beach and palm trees. The snorkelling from there is exceptional on a calm morning (most mornings I was there).
One of the first things you notice when travelling around Christmas Island is the wildlife, it is everywhere, on the roads, in car parks, amongst the houses and nearly completely unafraid of humans. Christmas Island’s first recorded sighting was only in 1643 on Christmas day, but it wasn’t until 1688 that people actually set foot on the island. It remained largely devoid of humans until it was annexed by the British in 1888, as a result the wildlife has not really been hunted or trapped so it hasn’t developed the instinct to steer clear of humans. The crabs are all protected species and not at all any good for eating anyway.
Christmas Island has been on my “list” since I was a small child, I watched a documentary that showed the red crab migration where literally millions of crabs migrate to the ocean around the beginning of the wet season for spawning. I’m aiming to get back to Christmas Island this year, hopefully for 2 trips, one to photograph some of the places I missed this trip and another to just cover the migration. Aside from the red crabs that Christmas Island is famous for, there are 13 other species of land crabs, the ones I found the most amazing where the robber / coconut crabs. They are absolutely enormous, the largest land crab in the world actually. They can grow up to 1 meter wide (3 feet, 3 inches) and weigh up to 4 kgs! (9 lb). We spent some time on Dolly Beach having a bit of a picnic and the robber crabs super keen sense of smell brought them out of the undergrowth to inspect what we had for food.
Through out the trip I had many opportunities to get up close with nesting birds, they were completely unintimidated by my presence and I was able to photograph them for quite some time. I am not a wildlife photographer, but this trip definitely sparked an interest in the genre and I was able to capture some images that I was very happy with. It was fascinating to be able to get so close to them and not have them fly off or even act wary. On the morning that we had the photography meet up there was a group of us in and around the birds and they were largely unfussed by all the attention.
Aside from the incredible wildlife, Christmas Island is a seascape / landscape photographers heaven, there are so many “secret” beaches, coves, rock formations and caves to explore and photograph. I spent a week on the island and felt like I needed at least a month or two to cover everything I wanted to cover, maybe even more. I photographed several sunrises during my week there, mostly on the eastern coast of the island, but also photographed one in Flying Fish Cove. Being a former volcano, the coast of the island is nearly entirely rocks, quite sharp ones at that, so some care needs to be taken while out exploring. The swell along the coast can pick up pretty suddenly at times too. The consistent swell makes for some excellent blow holes right along the coast.
On one of the days we visited a “secret” beach, that isn’t really much of a secret, but it is a little difficult to get to, requiring a fair bit of rock scrambling. There is also a bit of local etiquette associated with this beach, basically if you see another car in the parking space for the beach, you come back another time or day and leave the beach to be a private visit. The beach itself is actually quite tiny, but has a nice out look on the Indian Ocean and some great caves just next to it.
The snorkelling and scuba diving on Christmas Island would have to be amongst some of the best I’ve experienced, the visibility is crazily good and there are many caves you can just swim straight into from the ocean. I’ve long enjoyed snorkelling and I’m planning on getting my scuba ticket before I head back to Christmas Island just so I can get into more of the caves from the ocean.. it also makes underwater photography far easier… always a bit of a hassle having to come back up for air.
The Grotto is a cave that is very easily accessible and makes for an excellent swim if the seas are fairly calm, when there is a bit of a swell the cave becomes almost a blow hole, making a roaring noise as the air flows through. It is quite the experience to swim in it while the air is rushing through. Another spot that was worth the hike was The Dales. The Dales has a freshwater waterfall that flows down through some mangroves and eventually into the ocean. It is worth while heading up there in clothes you can get wet in, it is a decent hike, mostly up hill, but once you are there you can walk under the waterfall for a refreshing “shower”. For most of the major hikes on the island there are boardwalks that are (mostly) covered with grating or chicken wire to help you get around above the mud and to aid with grip.
Christmas Island faces 2 main issues locally from what I could see, the first and foremost is resources. At present nearly 100% of the electricity generated on Christmas Island is done by shipping in huge amounts of diesel and using that to fuel generators. I think Christmas Island would be a prime candidate for a few different renewable options to reduce their dependency on diesel, there are some solar panels on the island, but not a huge amount, the other main option would be wind, there were very few days where there wasn’t at least some breeze while I was there. I think once wave technology has “come of age” it would work quite well on the island too. They also have to ship in nearly all of their food supply, very little grows on the island in terms of crops and what does grow becomes a target for the millions of crabs. No idea on how to combat or work around this one, except maybe more greenhouses with strict quarantine regulations, both to protect the crops but also to protect the island from anything becoming a pest. After I posted this blog I was informed that there are two new horticulture businesses that are now providing produce to the locals (Thanks Lisa Preston of Indian Ocean Experiences).
The other main issue, which I found particularly confronting, is pollution in the form of disposable & single use plastics as well as rubber flip flops and toothbrushes. The pollution isn’t at all generated locally, Christmas Island is an incredibly clean island over all, but the way the ocean currents work, quite a bit of trash washes up on Dolly Beach (recently named in the top 10 beaches in Australia) and Greta Beach from Indonesia. The locals told me that at times the rubbish can be nearly knee deep, it was fairly bad while I was there but not knee deep. Dolly Beach is an amazing beach and one that needs protecting somehow from the pollution. Definitely makes you stop and think about single use plastics and makes you want to reduce the amount you use.
The locals have put in collection bags at the beginning of the hike with the idea of everyone who visits the beach collects a bag or two of rubbish from the beach. We collected some while I was there and they are disposed of with the rest of the island’s rubbish. The bags aren’t always available so if you want to help, please bring your own along. Other than these two beaches, everywhere else I visited was spotless!
Over all my visit to Christmas Island was amazing and far too short, as I mentioned previously, I’m working on plans to get back there. I’m also going to be taking a small group of photographers there for a photography tour / workshop at some point. There are some awesome people on the island, I want give a particular shout out to Lisa Preston of Indian Ocean Experiences, if you are heading to Christmas Island and need anything organised or want to do a tour or get to the less easily found places, Lisa is the person to speak to. She drove us around, showed us places and as well as organised food and other experiences for us.
It is essential you organise things like car hire and accommodation before you arrive on Christmas Island as there is no 4G or 3G internet available on the island, most of the accommodation places have Wifi available though. Mobile /cell coverage is limited and only provided by Telstra, if you are with any other provider, you’ll not get any coverage at all.
While I was paid to do the trip to Christmas Island, I’ve done my best to give my honest opinion and reflections on my experience there, if I had hated the trip or had any major issues, I would have outlined them in this post. I’m always very clear with clients that I’ll be honest about my experience in their location or with their products & services. The Christmas Island Tourism Association were more than happy for me to come on those conditions and didn’t try to hide any of the issues the island faces. They were the ones that organised the trip to Dolly Beach and were very upfront about it.
I’m in the process of planning out the logistics and the best times to visit. If you’d like to be kept informed of the details of this trip, head on over to the workshops page and sign up to be notified.