Travel guide to Christmas Island for families. With a name like “Christmas Island”, this Australian protectorate has all the makings of a memorable family holiday destination. If your kids love the great outdoors and active family holidays, here you can get very close to rare wildlife, explore the reefs and cliff edges and just run wild and free. There are no manufactured tourist attractions or resorts (just loads of nature to discover) which means you will feel like you are the only visitors on the island – and that is a very rare experience indeed. Here are the suitcases&strollers travel tips to Christmas Island with kids.
Located far out
into the Indian Ocean, Christmas Island (or “C.I.” as it is known to the
locals) makes for a truly unique family travel adventure. This is a place where
you arrive in shorts and flip flops, walking shoes in hand, to discover
deserted beaches, climb rocky jungle paths and follow crabs down the street.
Christmas Island is known for its famous annual red crab migration and this is a good indication of what you can expect from the island. If you’re looking for boutique shopping and resort entertainment these are definitely lacking; but if you want your kids to run in the sun all day and get to see some rare animals in their natural environment, this is hard to beat.
The cultural make
up of Christmas Island is also fascinating. Small, modern townhouses of
expatriates sit alongside kampong style housing blocks, reminiscent of
Singapore in the 1960s. The locals are a mix of Malay, Chinese and white
Australians, all co existing in a truly multicultural community.
With all the advantages of being an Australia protectorate – Australia currency, English speaking and Australian healthcare services including a hospital – but the ambience, weather and culture of tropical Southeast Asia, Christmas Island with kids makes for a very special family holiday destination.
The Activities on Christmas Island For Kids
Wildlife on Christmas Island For Kids
Christmas Island is most famed for its amazing red crab migration which occurs between October and January every year. This is when the 40 to 50 million red crabs of Christmas Island leave the forest and cover the island like a huge red moving carpet to spawn at sea, before returning home again.
Later, the young crablings, new hatched from the ocean, will make their way to the forest to join their parents.
The crab migration is a very special time on the island and entire public roads can be closed if the crabs choose this pathway. Look out for the signs around the island to tell you which roads are open and which roads are inaccessible.
Outside of crab migration season, Christmas Island has several places you can spot the crabs. Red crabs can often be found down on the beaches or at the many walking trails in the jungle. The well camouflaged spider crabs climb all along the rocky terrains of the beaches and cliff walls while tiny hermit crabs hide amongst old coral.
And at night alongside the side of the road (or even crossing the roads!) you can often seen robber crabs too – a much larger crab known to raise his legs and wave at you if you get too close.
A great place to spot the bigger Christmas Island crab with kids is to head to The Dales. Here there is a walkway that you can easily negotiate into the forest where you can observe red crabs, robber crabs and the more elusive blue crabs all interacting and moving about their daily business.
The huge trees with their lush foliage and spectacular giant tree roots hanging are quite spectacular and in the early morning or late afternoon when the temperature is cooler this is an ideal place to hang out as the crabs are more likely to be moving about.
Afterwards continue climbing a short staircase up to the small Hugh’s Dale waterfall which covers a rocky plateau. It is possible to climb right in behind the waterfall and have a little bathe before hiking back down the staircase to your car.
Many birds are endemic species to Christmas Island and ones of particular interest are the golden bosun, Christmas Island frigates and Abbot’s boobies.
Take the time to stop every now and then a look up especially if you are on a coastline as you can often see the many species interacting, chasing and attacking each other wildlife documentary style.
It is worthwhile driving the road to Ethel and Lily Beaches from the township as along the way you will see many baby red footed and brown boobies perched in amongst the trees overhead.
At Lily Beach there is also a boardwalk along the cliff where you can get an even closer inspection of the nests.
Beaches at Christmas Island For Kids
If you’re picturing idyllic sandy beaches, think again, especially if you have very young kids. Christmas Island is rustic and rugged. After all, this is primarily a phosphate mining island. As such the most accessible beaches are covered in coral – rather than sand – or may have very little beach at all during high tide. Provided everyone has reef shoes, this makes for excellent exploring, shell collecting and rummaging around.
The best beaches for little children who can’t walk far are Ethel and Lily Beaches. Ethel is quite a long beach and good for wading around rock pools and exploring.
There are plenty of interesting things to discover – look out for the moray eels in the shallows. At the top of the stairs near the carpark is a shower where you can rinse off before heading home.
Lily Beach is better for swimming as – when the tide is out – the reef creates it’s own natural mini swimming pool. Be careful when the tide is coming in as it rises rapidly and it could be easy for little ones to be swept away. There is a handy gazebo for when you need to get out of the sun and also a public toilet (BYO toilet paper).
If you have older kids, Greta Beach is a few minutes walk through a rainforest and also boasts some interesting rockpools. Here you will find plenty of hermit crabs and sometimes turtles and spawning crabs.
Dolly Beach is more of a classic, picturesque sandy and is very often deserted. You will a 4WD car to get there and then plan for at least a 45 minute boardwalk rainforest walk before you hit the sand. If you are lucky you can see turtles nesting their babies.
West White Beach is much harder to get to and, as such, not really suitable for children. The walk is difficult and includes a roped cliff descent.
Christmas Island famous for its spectacular coral reef and it is well worth doing some snorkel practice at home first so the kids really get the most out of the experience. The best place to snorkel with kids on Christmas Island is Flying Fish Cove right near Settlement.
If you have small kids, put them in a life jacket and a floating ring and you can easily take them within the more shallow buoyed area to see the very active reef with trumpetfish, parrotfish and regal tang fish (a.k.a. Dory from Finding Nemo).
If you want to take the kids further out or try out some SCUBA diving with kids, the buoys denote the drop off where you can see large schools of fish just hanging about.
From November to April whale sharks around Christmas Island are not an uncommon sight.
Flying Fish Cove is more of a boat ramp with a narrow rocky shore rather than a beach for digging sandcastles so it is not worth bringing toddlers or children who can’t swim. You will have to be wary of boats coming in and out of the water.
For a quieter spot to snorkel, Winifred Beach also has good snorkeling but it is approximately a 30 minutes walk (via boardwalk) from the carpark.
Other Activities on Christmas Island For Kids
Another fascinating swimming spot is to head to The Grotto, a natural swimming pool inside a mini cave. It is a short walk from the roadside to get to The Grotto.
The Blow Holes provide an amazing outlook to the ocean with the contrast of green foliage, black reef rock and big blue water.
Unlike a geyser, the Blow Holes spray regularly and can be easily negotiated along the boardwalk with small kids.
Hike up the cliff from the Territory Day Park Nature Trail near Tai Jin House and there are fantastic views right across Flying Fish Cove. This is a tough climb up vertical stairs on a cliff face through the jungle and, while it is not rock climbing, it is only suitable for older children who like to be active and don’t tire easily.
The Christmas Island Outdoor Cinema is a charming, fun and inexpensive way to spend a couple of hours in the evening. The cinema screens all the latest hits under the stars and there is a kiosk selling snacks and ice creams.
All around the island you will also see plenty of small playgrounds. While these look a little tired and can be hot in the middle of the day, they are useful for early mornings or evenings if you need the kids to be entertained for a little while.
Food on Christmas Island With Kids
Christmas Island has a surprising number of eateries for such a small population. There is a good combination of Eastern and Western food types to suit most palates.
Rumah Tinggi Bar & Grill has a modern Australian menu of seasonal produce (think salads, steaks, lamb cutlets and fish) and is a nice mixture of restaurant and family friendliness. It is perched on a breathtaking cliff with a brilliant ocean outlook.
If you go at lunchtime you can watch the sea birds diving and soaring. In the early evening the restaurant is still casual enough for the kids to run around on the open lawn – if you prefer to dine later, this could also be a romantic spot for a date night without the kids.
The Golden Bosun Tavern and Restaurant, just down the road, has more of a casual pub feel to it but still with spectacular views. This can get pretty crowded and raucous in the late evenings, especially if there is a sports game on, but in the late afternoon/early evening it is still suitable for kids.
For an Asian restaurant with a similar ocean view, try Le CLA in Settlement. There is a good mixture of stir fry and noodle dishes on offer and the balcony out the back offers a nice shady spot to sit outdoors and check out the ocean.
Lucky Ho Chinese Restaurant is also a good staple serving family style Chinese meals for sharing. You can order decent fried rice, noodles and other Eastern favourites for the kids.
Or if you prefer Malay food, the Halal restaurant in the Malay kampong does fresh roti chanai and the local coffee equivalent – kopi – for parents needing a caffeine fix.
Because Christmas Island is so isolated, you can expect to pay Australian, rather than Asian, prices for restaurant dishes. Fresh food (especially fruit and vegetables) and incredibly expensive so it’s worth bringing some fruit and veggie pouches for the kids if you are worried about their nutrition.
Family Friendly Accommodation on Christmas Island With Kids
There are no large scale resorts or luxury international hotels on Christmas Island. Instead, accommodation tends to be small units available for short term rentals for small groups and couples or small motel-like rooms. The upside of opting for a unit versus a hotel room is that you generally will have kitchen, dining room, lounge and laundry facilities rather than being stuck in a small room as there isn't much to do once the sun goes down.
The Retreat is a 3 bedroom unit conveniently located in Settlement that has verandahs that offer views of the Indian Ocean.
Hibiscus House is a 2 bedroom unit offering that can sleep up to 4 people and has a large deck with a barbecue.
If you prefer a hotel, The Sunset also has a swimming pool to entertain the children during downtime at home.
The Practicalities of Christmas Island With Kids
The wildlife on Christmas Island is precious and, therefore, protected. This means you should not touch anything you see – including crabs – and it is illegal to try to capture or eat any of the animals. Even the road rules are dictated by the wildlife – if you see a crab in the middle of the road you must drive around it, especially if it is a robber crab. You are not allowed to “straddle” the crabs (drive with your tyres on either side) in case the crabs raise their arms and are killed as a consequence. Road rules are strictly enforced by the Australian Federal Police so be wary of observing all the road rules at all times.
You will need to hire a car to move around Christmas Island and it is best to request a 4 wheel drive. There is plenty of off roading to many of the far away spots so you don’t want to miss out.
Mobile phone and internet reception are patchy and unreliable. Especially in the off-the-beaten track locations, expect to be completely without communication with the rest of the world.
It is essential that everyone wears reef shoes at all times when on the beaches and swimming in the waters of Christmas Island. Stonefish are hard to spot and can cause a real problem if you step inadvertently on one. The coral can also be uncomfortable and sharp for soft little feet.
Christmas Island is an isolated place and while it is well stocked, not everything is available at all times. If you have particular necessities that you rely upon (for instance, prescription snorkeling mask or specific types of nappies or wipes you like to use), bring them with you just in case.
While Christmas Island is an Australian territory, you do still need to clear immigration in Perth to enter. The easiest and fastest way to do this is to bring everyone's passports. All non Australians must present passports to exit and then re-enter Perth; Australian families traveling to Christmas Island with kids can bring your drivers' license (for adults) and Medicare cards (for kids) instead but the process will take a little longer.
Images: suitcases&strollers, Linda Cash, Christmas Island Tourism Association, Glen Cowans, Justin Gilligan, Leila Jeffreys, Gunter Noack, Max Orchard, Tony Palliser, Karren Singer, Inger Vandyke, Tracy Wilson