Christmas Island has been described as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean, thanks to its remote location and the diversity of wildlife found here. It actually shares a few species in common with its Pacific namesake, such as boobies, mantas, eagle rays and migrating whale sharks, however many are unique to this remote Australian territory.
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 (9800 feet) below. A magnet for pelagics including whale sharks and mantas, and home to a plethora of colourful reef fish on its pristine fringing reefs.
The island is just as interesting top side, with several endemic bird species including the Christmas Island Frigate, Christmas Island Goshawk, Abbott’s Boobie, and of course its world-famous population of land crabs. As for the underwater world? It is on my Top 5 diving destinations – in the world.
Diving Christmas Island, you’ll see colourful hard and soft coral, sea caverns, schooling sharks, mantas, eagle rays, dolphins and the world’s largest fish: the whale shark. The water temperature is between 27 – 29 degrees year round, visibility 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.
Flying Fish Cove
Possibly the world’s best shore dive, Flying Fish Cove is also very easily accessed. Enter by the boat ramp and follow the line of the ramp straight out until you hit the drop off, about 50 metres away. 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. In season, it’s common to see whale sharks cruising by the drop off.
The entrance to Thundercliff Cave is submerged, so to get in, you descend six metres to a sandy bottom and swim into the gloom, and once inside you can surface into a large air pocket. The cavern is festooned 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.
This dive starts off in a shallow cave with red fans foresting the sea floor. Swim out to a wall where you’ll find 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 30 metres, from there, 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.
Thunderdome’s entrance is hidden by a large rock, swim through a split to enter this 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 it’s not too deep (12m). Outside the cave a wall drops down into the blue, with nice hard corals.
Rhoda Wall has a very interesting terrain: a 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. Keeping the reef on the right you’ll come to a part of the that pushes further out into the sea. On the Wall itself, there are some beautiful royal blue hydrocorals with schools of yellow and pink Fusiliers flitting up and down the wall.
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. 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.
Named for the abundance of feral chickens on the adjacent land, this is a wall that plunges down into the blue, 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).
A wall dive with a drop-off to 50 metres. Big healthy boulder corals, fans along the wall, with crevices and overhangs to explore. Looking out in the blue 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.
Who to dive with…
There are two dive centres on Christmas Island, Extra Divers and Wet’n’Dry Adventures, both conveniently located in Settlement, nearby accommodation choices such as the VQ3 Lodge or Sunset Motel. Extra Divers also offer accommodation in their Divers’ Villa.