The Australian territory of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean gets plenty of attention due to its festive name … but the 135-kilometre-square island is not the only game in town.
A lot further south is a lesser known, uninhabited, 63-hectare granite island, also called Christmas Island.
Lying off the north-west coast of Tasmania in the Great Australia Bight, this island can actually claim more seasonal relevance due to its close proximity to the 100-hectare New Year Island.
While neither is populated by – or often visited by – humans, both islands are busy little places. They form part of the King Island Important Bird Area, due to the regular presence of large numbers of breeding seabirds and waders.
Researchers say that species include Little penguin, oystercatcher, black-faced cormorant, and short-tailed shearwater.
Other wildlife present includes tiger snakes, lizards and mice. Christmas Island and New Year Island were both discovered by Europeans a few days earlier than their larger neighbour, King Island, which is thought to have been first spied by Captain William Reed in 1799 as he hunted seals in the schooner Martha.
Sadly, not many grey nomads will get the opportunity to bring their binoculars to either of Tassie’s festive islands, but those determined enough might just seize the opportunity to visit King Island … although it might mean leaving the van behind.
It may not be part of the traditional Big Lap, but those with the budget and desire to see a more remote and more rugged island visitors can fly to King Island from Melbourne, Launceston or Burnie-Wynyard.
Most visitors choose to hire a car and navigate their way around the island, which is located about 80 kilometres north-west of mainland Tasmania, and is 64 kilometres long and 24 kilometres wide. There are a few bitumen roads but the majority of the driving by those seeking to explore will be along dirt tracks.
While these days, there are a couple of top-notch golf courses and some luxury accommodation options (as well as campsites), King Island is – at heart – a tough and rugged place with a tough and rugged history. The first permanent European settlers arrived on the island in the mid-19th century and gradually brought in cattle and sheep, but it was the endless succession of shipwrecks that made King Island famous.
The biggest of them all was the Cataraqui, which went down in 1845 with the loss of 406 lives.
It all meant that five lighthouses were built around the island’s coastline, including the imposing one constructed at Cape Wickham in 1861. Today, the population of King Island is around 1600.
The largest town and administrative centre is Currie, which boasts a great museum and cultural centre. On the east coast, approximately 32 kilometres south east of Currie, is the township of Grassy which has been in something of a decline since a tungsten mine, which once employed 500 people, closed in 1999.
About 20 kilometres from Currie is the village of Naracoopa which is well known for its great fishing, jetty and beach.
King Island, of course, is also famous for its butters, cheeses and creams, and a visit to the King Island Dairy just north of Currie is pretty much a must. Other than the cheese and the history, it really is the wildlife and the landscape that are the star attractions here, though.
There are a number of places to see Little penguins, with Grassy Harbour on the east coast probably the best viewing location. Other lucky visitors might catch a glimpse of platypus or orange-bellied parrots.
Then there’s the blowhole at Naracoopa, the stunning Martha Lavinia beach, the calcified forest, and the incredible views from the Seal Rocks lookout and Copperhead Cliffs Walk … and so much more.
The coastline and the sheer sense of wilderness and isolation make for an unforgettable experience on this incredible island.
And Christmas and New Year are so close you can nearly touch them.