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 our very own Christmas Island, described by many as Australia’s own Galapagos.
Accessible from Perth via a 3.5-hour flight that also stops in on the Cocos Keeling Islands, the island is the tip of an extinct volcano – its near-vertical sides drop 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 world’s rarest seabird, the Abbott’s Booby, 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? You’ll see pristine soft and hard corals, picturesque undersea caverns you can dive into, schooling sharks, mantas, eagle rays, spinner dolphins and the world’s largest fish: the whale shark. The water temperature hovers between 27 – 29 degrees, visibility is normally around 30 metres and most dive sites are a short 5 to 15-minute boat ride away from Flying Fish Cove.
Offering plenty of diverse dive sites, there are two all-time favourites.
The ‘Perpendicular Wall’ 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, enjoying corals, reef fish, but also keep an eye out into the blue as there is a strong possibility there will be manta rays, whale sharks and other large pelagics about.
The entrance to ‘Thundercliff Cave’ is submerged making access exciting. Divers descend six metres to a rippled sandy bottom and swim forward into the gloom, through a school of cave sweepers, and then, once inside, surface into a large air pocket. The cavern is lined 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.
Without doubt, Christmas Island delivers 10 out of 10 as a diving destination and earns itself a well-deserved place in the spotlight for all the best reasons!
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Top Image (c) Scott Portelli, courtesy of Christmas Island Tourism Association
Images below L > R. Whale shark (c) Kirsty Falkner, Swell Lodge (c) Chris Bray, Crab Rider (c) Kirsty Faulkner