Our last week on Christmas Island!

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In between packing nappies, wet wipes and extra bug spray and sunscreen for a baby, I keep forgetting to pack our camera so that he can one day look back and know he was actually here on Christmas Island!

For example, I would have loved to have shown Owen pictures one day of himself at seven months old, strapped to his dad’s back, sloshing down one of the Christmas Island ‘dales’ – under sporadic rain and morning light filtered through the rainforest canopy, past robber crabs not much smaller than him, clinging on while Paul scrambles over fallen tree trunks and limestone outcrops; to have a photo of Paul sliding down a wall of tangled tree roots next to a small waterfall… That was yesterday morning, on our walk to Anderson’s Dale, which finished abruptly at the coast, at a towering, narrow gorge that peeks out at the big blue Indian Ocean.

However, as I forgot the camera he’ll have to make do with our stories instead to remind him – and no doubt those crabs and rocks and scrambles will become a little bigger and more treacherous with each telling…

We finally snorkelled Flying Fish Cove!

We’ve now reached the last week of our time here, and this morning we achieved something of a milestone for the trip – the swell finally calmed down enough for us to snorkel Flying Fish Cove. Owen stayed home with his new good mate Jess, and we set out at 6am, swimming from the boat ramp out to the immense ‘drop off’ at the edge of the reef. The diversity of fish, water clarity and colourful coral was beautiful – we swam until our fingers were wrinkled and we actually started to get a little cold which is pretty rare in this environment. Paul spotted a giant trevally and a lion fish, I got to see schools of tiny ‘Nemo’ clownfish in the corals, plus a bizarre looking pipefish and several beautiful technicolour parrot fish – plus countless other species that I’m afraid I couldn’t name.

By now, I feel like we’ve established a pleasant routine here – often swimming or exploring in the early mornings (sometimes Paul and I take turns having quiet mornings at home with Owen depending on the activity). This is followed by a day on the site for Paul helping to build Swell Lodge and me at home with Owen (we’ve also swapped on two occasions), and then either a swim or activity in the afternoon, or maybe just drinks and snacks down by the water as the Sun sets.

One of the highlights has definitely been the strong sense of community on the island, so it’s easy to see how Chris and Jess will be able to make a life here for the foreseeable future while they build and run Swell Lodge.

For example, tonight I’ll be participating in our third weekly ‘Hash House Harriers’ run, which happens at 4.30pm every Thursday – usually a roughly 5km run (or walk) with a drink stop that includes beers, and finishing with a BBQ, along with some obscure rituals that feel like a cross between maybe the Masons and college ‘hazing’ initiation ceremonies.

Another regular outing has been the Island’s outdoor cinema on a Saturday (and sometimes Wednesday) evening, which usually involves pulling on your rain jacket at some point as a rain shower passes over, and on Australia Day we went along to a community sausage sizzle – the upshot of all this (plus getting to meet Chris and Jess’s lovely circle of friends) is that already we’re waving hello to familiar faces when we walk down the street or at the local pub.

Tomorrow is our last day for exploring and the conditions will inform how we spend it – there’s another underground freshwater pool we’ve been meaning to visit, or we may hike to a new beach or an existing favourite (Dolly Beach is on my list as a highlight – and another place I failed to pack the camera for!).

In the meantime, here’s a few pics from when we did actually remember to take a camera!

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Snorkelling at Flying Fish Cove.

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Fellow volunteer Hamish bravely demonstrating the true scale of the robber crabs.

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Sundowners on the deck with Owen.

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Paul went on a caving adventure while I stayed home with Owen. At least I got to see the photos!

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Robber crab chowing down on a coconut.

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Ethel beach with my human cargo.

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Luckily, Owen seems to enjoy hanging out in his backpack carrier!

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Holding hands with dad ❤

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The work site where Swell Lodge is being built.

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Grotto swim at high tide!

Christmas Island: first impressions

“Don’t they have to see the landing strip to land? Those clouds are very low,” my husband, Paul, unhelpfully commented from the seat next to me.

“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” a woman intoned from a few rows behind us.

On my lap, Owen gurgled and cooed, happily oblivious in his infant’s seatbelt strapped to my own. I clasped my arms around his waist and took deep breaths, while our Virgin passenger jet wafted side to side in the wind as it stepped towards the seemingly invisible runway.

On the ground our friends and hosts for the three weeks ahead, Jess and Chris Bray, were at home and unprepared for our arrival, certain the weather would prevent our plane from landing. It’s not uncommon for planes to be turned around – and for the previous few days they’d been hit by the outer edges of Tropical Cycle Joyce, which was battering the north-west coast of Western Australia almost 2000km away.

But land our pilot did, and the passengers exhaled a collective sigh of relief before we disembarked into the grey, humid tropical air of our destination.

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Our home (and view) for the next three weeks.

Welcome to Christmas Island, a 135sq.km island of jagged limestone rock and mature rainforest in the Indian Ocean – technically an Australian territory, but closer to Indonesia by a long shot. The island is famous for the red crabs that carpet the streets during migration season, and infamous for its immigration detention centre. Settled in 1888, its approximately 1800-strong population is multicultural, made up of Chinese, Malaysian and Western residents, home to a Buddhist temple and Islamic mosque. The island’s main industry for most of its history has being phosphate mining, supported by tourism – an aspect which Chris and Jess hope to help grow. (I’ve embedded a video at the bottom of this post with more about their exciting project.)

Paul and I, with our seven-month-old son Owen, will be spending the next three weeks on this remote, tropical wilderness while Paul pitches in a helping hand for our friends’ ambitious project building a luxury ecolodge in the island’s national park – while I take my current day job of changing nappies, breastfeeding and facilitating naps to somewhere new and exotic, hopefully interspersed with some world-class snorkelling, rainforest walks, and wildlife spotting.

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Checking out the uncharacteristic swell at Flying Fish Cove.

Snorkelling and swimming are on hold for the first few days, however. On our way from the airport we pulled into Flying Fish Cove – usually idyllic and calm, we watched enormous waves pound the coral beach and crash against the infrastructure of the island’s phosphate mine. It was apparently the biggest swell the island had seen in years.

Insect-sized baby red crabs crawled over our sandals and palm fronds and coconuts littered the roads. We drove through the township (called Settlement), past ramshackle houses, shops and apartment blocks, paint flaking off in sheets and metal rusting from the constant salty air. The town’s prized open air cinema was cancelled as the screen had torn in the wind. We arrived at our friends’ house (actually their friends’ – they’re house sitting), which is one of several 1940s weatherboard Queenslander-style homes lining the island’s north, with servants’ quarters from the colonial days, lofty ceilings and perpetually open windows and spinning ceiling fans. From the front deck we watched and listened to waves explode against the cliffs and seabirds ride the winds.

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Paul, Owen and one of Christmas Island’s iconic red crabs.

Paul and Chris wasted no time heading out to check the site – Paul saw his first robber (or coconut) crab, enormous, forest-dwelling land crabs which can weigh up to 4kg (making them the world’s largest land invertebrate) and can climb trees. I stayed home and gave our tired little traveller a cool bath and managed to get him to sleep in his travel cot under the whirring fan. The boys eventually made it back, a little later than expected as they walked roads closed by carpets of baby crabs and the odd fallen tree, and we settled onto the deck for obligatory gins and tonic.

I’m writing this now back at the house, having breakfasted on egg roti and sweet coffee in the island’s Malaysian quarter (a weekend ritual of Chris and Jess that I’m excited to adopt while we’re here), while the others strategise the weeks ahead building Swell Lodge.

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Buying egg rotis for breakfast in Kampong, the island’s Malaysian enclave.

 

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Post storm harvest: papaya, mangoes, avocados and bananas

It’s been a long while since my last travel blog – there’s been a pregnancy and an infancy in between, and now a little boy who’s starting to look more and more like a toddler.

But now, the slow pace, humid air, and the vantage point offered in the ocean-facing deck here has alighted the spark for getting back into writing and it feels good.