Christmas Island is described by many as Australia’s Galapagos
If there’s one silver lining in this locked-down cloud of a year, it’s been the discovery (or rediscovery) and appreciation of the diving right here in Australia. Places like Christmas Island, Cocos Keeling Islands, Lord Howe Island and Rowley Shoals have never been so popular.
Christmas Island, described by many as Australia’s own Galapagos, is one such diving destination that has suddenly been thrust into the spotlight (for all the right reasons).
Accessible from Perth via a 3.5-hour flight that also drops in on Cocos Keeling Islands, the island is the tip of an extinct volcano – its near-vertical sides slope down to the seabed 3000 metres below. A magnet for pelagics including whale sharks and mantas, and home to a plethora of colourful reef fish on its fringing reefs.
The island is just as interesting top side, with several endemic bird species including the Christmas Island Frigate, Abbott’s Boobie, and of course its world-famous population of land crabs. The annual red crab migration sees over 50 million crabs make their way from rainforest to sea to spawn, an event described by Sir David Attenborough as “one of the 10 greatest natural wonders on Earth”.
As for the underwater world? I can say in all honesty it’s is on my Top 5 diving destinations – in the world.
Diving Christmas Island, you’ll see pristine coral, picturesque sea caverns, schooling sharks, mantas, eagle rays, dolphins and the world’s largest fish: the whale shark. The water temperature hovers between 27 – 29 degrees, visibility is normally at least 30 metres and most dive sites are a short 5 to 15-minute boat ride away.
To give you an idea of the diversity of diving on Christmas Island, here are my top ten favourite dives on the island.
This dive starts off in a shallow cave with red fans foresting the sea floor. Swim out to a wall where hundreds of black triggerfish and pyramid butterflyfish swarm together, picking algae off the wall. The wall then plunges into the blue but there is usually a massive school of friendly batfish that sit around 32 metres. After playing with the batfish as long as your no-deco limit will allow, it’s a gradual ascent along the wall, looking at corals, reef fish, and also out into the blue as there is a strong possibility of manta rays, whale sharks and other large pelagics.
The entrance to Thundercliff Cave is submerged, so to get in, you descend six metres to a rippled sandy bottom and swim into the gloom, and once inside you can surface, as there is a large air pocket. The cavern is large with spectacular stalactites dripping down from the ceiling. A smaller tunnel then opens out into a second large chamber where you can also surface. At all times the faint blue of the exit is reassuringly visible.
Flying Fish Cove
Arguably the world’s best shore dive, diving Flying Fish Cove is a great way to add to your double boat dive days. Grab a tank from the dive shop and enter by the boat ramp. Follow the line of the ramp straight out until you hit the drop off. Turn towards your left and work your way down the drop off to about 18 metres just following the slope along. A very easy dive – you really can’t go wrong, and you’ll see more fish and coral types in that one dive than you’ll see in a week at other places.
The Eidsvold Wreck
The Eidsvold was a Norwegian phosphate ship that was struck by a Japanese submarine during World War II. It was scuttled in Flying Fish Cove and later transported to its ultimate resting place on the other side of Smith Point. Today, the Eidsvold sits between five and 18 metres. Because of the ship’s age, she is now home to coral colonies and squadrons of the colourful tropical fish that Christmas Island is known for.
The wreck is not intact, and mainly looks like a series of metal pipes on the sea floor. There is some structure that still stands up off the sea floor, but nothing for divers to penetrate. The anchor and chain can still be found. Schools of yellow goatfish, surgeonfish and black triggerfish surround the wreckage and all around, large healthy hard corals can be seen.
It’s a curious name, and actually named for the abundance of feral chickens on the adjacent land. This is a wall that plunges down into the blue. It’s covered in beautiful hard corals, and there are some spectacularly large gorgonian fans below 33 metres (it was worth going to that depth to see them).
Thunderdome’s entrance is hidden by a large rock. You swim through a split to enter this smaller dome shaped cave, with sandy bottom and walls encrusted with colourful growth.
West White Beach
Adjacent to the actual ‘White Beach’ dive is a large sea cavern. Enter through a large opening which leads to a massive cavern chamber. The sides of the cave walls are home to whips, fans, and electric clams. Time can be spent exploring around the inside of the cave, as its not too deep (12m). Outside the cave a wall drops down into the blue, with nice hard corals, a good place to hang in the blue and look for “big stuff” on the safety stop.
Rhoda Wall has a very interesting terrain: gentle slope leads to a more vertical wall falling off at 20 m. On the slope there are some beautiful coral stacks, and large plate corals. We were keeping the reef on the right until we came to another part of the wall in front of us that pushes further out into the sea. In the corner between the two, there is a slope that falls away at about 45° – a bit like a ramp down into a quarry. On the Wall itself, there are some beautiful royal blue hydrocorals and ever present yellow and pink Fusiliers schooling up and down the wall.
A wall dive with a drop-off to 50 metres. Big healthy boulder corals, fans along the wall, with crevices and overhands to explore. Looking out in the blue, look for manta rays, eagle rays and grey reef sharks cruising by.
A beautiful dive. The cave extends above water-level and is large enough for a small boat to shelter in (hence the name). The floor of the cave is 8-10m, and totally covered in plate corals which angle themselves towards the sunlit cave entrance. Red, pink and yellow whip corals grow from the cave wall.
Written by: Deborah Dickson-Smith
Photo Credit: Scott Portelli, Rosie Leaney
Click here for Scuba Diver ANZ issue 31