This festive season, adventure photographers Chris and Jess Bray spent Christmas on Christmas Island and found a whole new way to celebrate…
Swapping the festive family feast for something a little less frenzied, my wife Jess and I decided we’d spend Christmas on Christmas Island last year. More than just a corny cliché, our holiday hideaway, decorated with the largest return of baby red crabs ever seen, turned out to be both remarkably refreshing and utterly unforgettable:
Growing up sailing around the world, I first visited this tropical paradise as a seven-year-old kid in 1990. Memories of snorkeling in crystal-clear water, nesting seabirds, blowholes - and of course the famous red crabs - drew me back almost 25 years later to start running the island’s first photography tours. For several years now, Jess and I have been running small-group photo tours to many of the world’s most extraordinary places including Africa, Galapagos, Alaska and the Amazon. We added Christmas Island to our range of destinations in 2014, and it has quickly cemented its place as my favorite Australian destination.
Every May since 2014 Jess and I have run sold-out photo tours to Christmas Island, and while the famous red-crabs are ever abundant, I had a yearning to witness what Sir David Attenborough describes as one of his top 10 experiences: the annual migration of more than 50 million of these critters from their jungle homes down to the sea to spawn. Dictated by the lunar cycle and rain, all indications were this spawning would occur at 4am on Christmas morning, so we booked to fly in a few days early.
As is often the way though, nature had other plans and, following unusually heavy rains, the crabs marched a month early. Although we were initially devastated, this cloud had a silver lining: the billions of tiny red crab babies drifting out at sea started to return to the island just as we flew in.
It is one of the most amazing spectacles I’ve ever seen. Every morning for days on end, the shoreline of the cove (and elsewhere around the island) was painted red with a seething carpet of baby crabs all clambering ashore on top of one another – often inches deep - heading inland. The roads, pavements, even the walls were covered. Divers were reporting great swirling clouds of baby crabs underwater – something never before seen, and even the locals agreed this was one of the biggest – if not the biggest – baby red crab return ever. What luck!
On Christmas morning, Jess and I (along with our friends Amy & Paul who joined us for Christmas on Christmas Island) went down to Flying Fish Cove at 4am and watched a handful of adult red crabs that didn’t get the change of date memo, come down to release their eggs into the sea, while simultaneously millions of baby crabs were crawling out. Incredible. After a leisurely Christmas breakfast of salmon and poached eggs on toast overlooking the ocean from the verandah of the house we were minding, we then enjoyed a glorious snorkel in the gin-clear waters of the cove surrounded by the usual kaleidoscope of fish.
Later in the day, while lazing in the shade of a coconut palm with frigate birds soaring gracefully overhead, we skype-called our family, busy with their own Christmas celebrations back home. “Wish you were here…” we said (certainly not wanting to be anywhere else ourselves). After a quick evening jog, a refreshing plunge into The Grotto’s blue water cave and a tasty dinner, Paul and I concluded the best Christmas day ever with a night-snorkel in the Cove finding many nocturnal fish, some small reef sharks and even some corals that fluoresced a brilliant green under my UV dive torch.
It was the best Christmas I’ve ever had, and we stayed on for another 4 weeks, completely enchanted by this island paradise. In fact, we love it so much that Jess and I are going to move to Christmas Island in October this year to start an exciting new project… details soon.