Christmas Island

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Christmas Island attracts grey nomads
The back roads of Christmas Island. PIC: Magnus Manske

It’s fair to say that Christmas Island doesn’t feature too prominently on many grey nomad travel itineraries … but could that be about to change?

For a decade or so now, the Australian external territory with the perfect festive name has been associated with negative headlines surrounding the immigration detention centre set up there in 2008. However, the Federal Government has just closed the facility down and, for the first time in many, many years, no asylum seeker or immigration detainee is imprisoned on the island.

While there are many who won’t be sad to see it go, there is no doubt that the facility did help the local economy … and alternative income sources are being explored. For such a stunningly beautiful island with such an incredibly diverse range of flora and fauna, boosting tourism is an obvious option.

While the recent proposal to re-open a casino there is designed to attract Asian high-rollers, it is the 4WD tracks, beaches, birdlife and walking trails that are most likely to persuade grey nomads to leave their caravans and motorhomes on the mainland.

Located in the Indian Ocean, Christmas Island is approximately 1,550 kilometres northwest of the closest point on the Australian mainland and the only practical way for travellers to get there is to take a Virgin Australia flight from Perth.

With the trusty rig left behind in storage, most will choose to explore the extensive network of roads and tracks on the 135-square-kilometre island by hiring a 4WD. It’s hard to believe, but Christmas Island was uninhabited until the late 19th century which goes some way to explaining the incredible diversity and sheer uniqueness of its flora and fauna.

The headline act is the tens of thousands of red crabs which make for an unforgettable sight as they migrate from rainforest burrows to the ocean every October to December. In fact, more than 180 species of crabs have been found here, including huge robber crabs.

Around 80,000 seabirds also nest on the island, among them the red-footed booby, the brown booby, and the endangered Abbott’s booby.

Two thirds of Christmas Island – which was named by Captain William Mynors when he sailed past it on December 25, 1643 – is national park. It boasts 80 kilometres of shoreline, numerous caves, and some lovely beaches, although the steep cliff faces make many of them difficult to get to.

When you then take into account the areas of rainforest and the superb bushwalking tracks, you can understand why tourism is being heralded as the next big thing here. But it’s more than just nature.

This is an interesting, culturally diverse place with a population of around 1,500 made up of people of Chinese, Malay and European heritage. There’s also a range of accommodation options and some great restaurants, cafes and shops.

For grey nomads looking for a break from the mainland Big Lap, a trip here could make them feel like all their Christmases have come at once.

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