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Christmas Island returns Part 2

Continues from Christmas Island Part 1

There was initially one quite distressing thing which you couldn’t ignore… Something which unfortunately is becoming more common globally as ocean temperatures rise. Coral bleaching. Not just a few but probably close to 25% of the corals where stark white. This occurs when the coral is in a water temperature higher than it can handle and becomes distressed. As a result the algae which keeps the coral alive by providing food starts to die off. The colour of the coral is generally white but the different algae present different colours. It is sad to see such dramatic changes since the last time I was there and we were told it all happened within the last 3 months. The people at Christmas Island are hopeful that some of the coral will come back as the water temperature drops. We were thankful that we were able to witness exactly that in some areas where corals were actually coming back. The deeper you went, the cooler the water got. Only to about 26 degrees but those 4 degrees are the difference between life and death of this amazing reef. The cooler waters are due and with the monitoring of corals at different stages of distress and repair, by the Curtin University and Parks Australia, there is a lot more effort going into working out the impact of the bleaching this time. Christmas Island is no stranger to this activity with occurrences back in 1983 and again in 1998.
It was still great to see that there was still an abundant amount of coral growing well into the deeper water and with that we are all very hopeful that it will continue to be amazing reef structure for years to come.
Our surface interval was fantastic. We were taken to an area just around from Flying Fish Cove – the hub of the harbour area of CI. We jumped into the water with our snorkelling gear on to be greeted by a dozen of the biggest Giant Trevally I have ever seen. They were huge and not shy. They did try to separate the group by swimming in between us and herding one of us away from the group one by one… It’s a hunting thing that they tend to do and whilst they were huge, I was still bigger and it seemed like they were just working on instinct. (Or at least I hoped).
We played with the GT’s for about half an hour and then headed back out for our next dive. Dropping into water where there is an abyss below is awesome. The light beams head off into the depths forming a vanishing point giving you a feeling that you are the centre of the universe. The visibility was around 30 metres. Our first couple of dives gave us sharks, a turtle, lots of trevally, fish galore and some fantastic corals. We even saw a Nudibranch.
Our trip consisted of 10 boat dives and 10 shore dives. The shore dives are a bit of a challenge due to tidal movement so you really had to pick your times. Needless to say, our timing needs a bit of work and some of us got battered a bit by the rugged boulders just below the surface. It was character building and shin destroying stuff but well worth the battle when we did time it wrong. We all came back in one piece so that was a bonus. The great thing about shore diving in CI is that once you are underwater, the diving is every bit as good as the boat dives. Steep drop offs, great corals and plenty of marine life.
Every day and every dive gave us all something different to talk about. From being visited by a pod of Spinner Dolphins who were very playful doing their Spinning thing and coming very close to check us out, to being circled by curious sharks from the deep water, there was always something cool to see.
The nights back at the pool were fun with the Baileys Comet cocktails flowing every night at a rate of knots. Christmas Island is a duty free island too which makes a 1 litre bottle of Captain Morgan’s spiced rum, just $16.50! Living here would be dangerous!!
The other really cool thing about CI was the range of surface interval activities Hummer had in store for us which included walking into and swimming through caves which led back hundreds of metres under the island. These caves were full of stalegtites and stalegmites and without torch (and Adrian talking) were the quietest, darkest place on earth… It was amazing. We dived on a Norwegian Wreck from World War II and again this showed the involvement CI had during the war when the Japanese invaded the island. Hamma told us his Grandad put the wreck there for him to run his business later down the track but he still lost the war… He is a funny guy.
One of the highlight dives we did was Thunderdome cave which once under the ledge of the cave entrance, there was no daylight and lots of fantastic cave formations leading back a long way under the island. There were areas we were able to surface and talk and see the formations from millions of years of dripping water and continue deeper into the cave. There were some cool critters in the cave and thankfully a guide who knew where he was going because after the first 7 or 8 turns I was lost. We dropped into a sink hole and played with some groovy little crab things on the bottom and got a real chance to experience something that we know not many have been able to experience. Hamma has dived much further into the cave but couldn’t be bribed into taking us further at a later date.
So many cool things to tell you all about with so little time… Thundercliff cave was my favourite as we dived for 15 minutes first and then swam into a hole in the wall which eventually opened up into a huge cavern where we could get out of the water and take our dive gear off. (hoping the tide wouldn’t rise) we walked through the cave into a rock pool where we all sat with our feet in the water. We turned off our torches and after a few minutes of pitch black… There were small glows starting to appear in the water… One… Then 2 then a whole bunch of them started to light the place up. They were lantern fish. Very cool to see and when Hamma finally let us turn our torches back on… It was only to catch a look at these really cool fish. Another highlight of the cave in the Rockpool was while the lights were off, there was a tickling sensation on your toes and legs. Then in your nail beds. More so in your nail beds… It was a bunch of time shrimps apparently eating dead skin on us. I must be almost there because I had loads of them nibbling away at me. It was a funny feeling. Unfortunately we had to leave there in case the tide came in before we had got into our gear again. It was an experience I’m unlikely to ever forget.
We had some very funny stories along the trip which are mostly “had to be there” moments, but for the benefit of those who were… We all enjoyed our “nudies” especially when they were fresh out of the microwave! And don’t the Chinese love just their rice? A Special thank you to our Navigation superstar who preached his 20 years as a Navy engineer who used to navigate ships all over the world… And managed to get us lost on our way back from an hour of 4wd track driving as soon as we hit the main road (There aren’t that many of those in Christmas Island) had it not been for the Boobie Chicks by the side of the road, we would have been worried, but they made us laugh… A lot!
Thank you to the people of Poon Town who kept mixing up the opening times of the general stores so we were able to play grocery roulette. Tess unfortunately was proving to be elusive however we did find Ivan Milat’s relation “Milly” who after a few drinks at the pub offered one of our crew a ride up to the pool hall (a couple of k’s away from the pub)… Sounds innocent enough… Until she added that he had to jump in the boot to get there as the car was full… Needless to say… The generous offer was turned down saving us all a search through Christmas Island’s version of the Balengelo  forest. Whew! One last comment which we all thought was amusing… Probably more than it should have but the cocktails helped… ‘It gets dark here once the sun goes down Enough said…
If you are considering a trip to Christmas Island to dive, make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to do the other activities on the island. A visit to the Grotto is a must – it’s off the main road and is a pool which leads out to the ocean through a cave (all under water) the crabs there love Pringles and the mozzies love Perth Scuba blood so make sure you take some Rid!!
The beaches (Ethel beach was nice but too rough for a swim) are great. No visit to Christmas Island would be complete without a visit to the detention centre… The Christmas Island casino which is such a waste (it’s closed due to the Burswood being the only casino license in WA), Open air theatre, we saw Junglebook… The famous lookout (where I proposed to Joey a few years ago) and the big gun that overlooks Flying fish cove. The 4wd tracks are great and every hire car on CI is a 4wd… Well… They were for us :)
We missed out on playing golf on the most scenic golf course in Australia but we did visit the hidden blowholes which were very funny and finally… Crabs! Not only billions of red crabs… But also the big Coconut crabs which grow to be as big as the average family dog. One of our crew was a bit worried about them because his head was the size of a coconut – the favoured food of the “robber” crab and he figured they might be like drop bears… We didn’t tell him otherwise.
Overall – Christmas Island is a great destination for both divers and non divers. Don’t for a second think that your non diving partner wouldn’t have a great time there. They would keep themselves busy and probably not even notice you were there… well at least that’s what happened to me!!
Trips to Christmas Island run twice a week and can be booked through Virgin Airlines. if you would like to go and would like assistance with where to stay, who to see and the rest, please call Me at the shop, I’ll be more than happy to point you in the right direction.  I can even tell you more of the stories that can’t be put into this blog.
After leaving Christmas Island… Out crew headed to Cocos Island where we left 4 of our dive hard faithful for another 4 days of diving… But that’s another story for later…

written by Lee Johnson Perth Scuba Tour Leader & Manager

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