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“How’d ya like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island? “How’d ya like to hang a stocking on a great big coconut tree? “How’d ya like to stay up late, like the islanders do? Wait for Santa to sail in with your presents in a canoe.” If only the real Christmas Island were as festive as the Jimmy Buffett song. Aside from a handful of storefront decorations, there isn’t a whole lot of yuletide pageantry on this dot in the Indian Ocean. Many of the residents who do celebrate Christmas travel to Australia, the country that has administered the territory since 1958. The island’s name owes to nothing more than the fact that Captain William Mynors of the East India Ship Company sighted it on Christmas Day, 1643. Geographically and culturally, Christmas Island is closer to Southeast Asia (an hour’s flight from Jakarta) than to Australia (four hours from Perth). Chinese Buddhists and Malaysian Muslims make up the majority of the population. For a traditional Christmas abroad, go to Rome or Salzburg. But if you want to experience one of the world’s most unusual subtropical ecosystems, then cross the date line and head to this remote, solitary land defined by sea cliffs, rainforest, coral reefs, and phosphate mines. Formed by the blunt tip of an ancient volcano rising 400 feet above the ocean surface, Christmas Island brims with dozens of species of wildlife and vegetation found nowhere else. A national park covers 70 percent of it, but the abundance of fauna knows no boundaries. Play a round at the Christmas Island Golf Club, for example, and you may have to fend off the Christmas Island frigatebirds, who tend to steal hats, balls, and even clubs for their nests. Sit on the balcony at the Rumah Tinggi Tavern & Restaurant and watch a robber crab crack open a coconut while a Christmas Island thrush trills in the background. And travel anywhere on the island at this time of year, and you’ll see millions — yes, millions — of red crabs. During the November and December breeding season, some 120 million of these click-clacking crustaceans migrate from the highland rainforest to the northeastern shoreline to procreate, then return. In their path lies The Settlement, Christmas Island’s capital, whose roads, residences, and resorts are carpeted by this vibrating red swarm. Should you find a crab in your room, don’t think about killing it. You’ll risk a fine if you do. They’re a protected species — even though they outnumber their protectors by 150,000 to one. Crab rarely makes an appearance on menus here. You will, however, find plenty of prawns, wahoo, yellowfin, and dogtooth tuna, mixed in among the asam laksa served at Malay restaurants like Sudi’s and Sukaramai, or at the Silver Birch Garden, the best Chinese venue in The Settlement. Simple pub fare — burgers, fish and chips, fried chicken, and pizza — predominate at the Anglo eateries, although the chef at the Christmas Island Club occasionally chalks up a winner on the Wednesday night blackboard menu. Most Christmas Islanders are better at catching fish than cooking them. Within a mile of the shoreline, ocean currents transform the perimeter of the island into a veritable speedway, with schools of tuna and wahoo racing one another, and fishing boats in hot pursuit. Charter one from J’s or Shorefire, and you could even land a monstrous sailfish or marlin. Or you could just swim with them. A narrow tropical reef laced with unspoiled corals and abundant species of marine life rings Christmas Island, creating a paradise for snorkelers and divers. Suit up with any one of the several outfitters at Flying Fish Cove and be dazzled by the technicolor riot of reef-dwelling anemones, gobies, and butterfly fish. Scuba to the reef’s edge for some sheer drop-off dives, and don’t be surprised by a curious dolphin or whaleshark. Until recently, sharks of a different kind appeared on the island, mostly at The Christmas Island Resort and Casino, long a fixture in the news coverage of Indonesian corruption allegations. But the casino closed in May 1998. With the high rollers gone, the Christmas Island Resort now mostly greets ecotourists, bird-watchers, divers, and anglers — all of whom hit the jackpot just by experiencing this redoubt of natural treasures. HOW TO GET THERE You can fly to Australia’s Christmas Island directly from Perth, Jakarta, or Singapore. For current flight information, as well as details about all activities on the island, contact the Christmas Island Tourism Association (011-61-89164-8382; http://www.christmas.net.au/) In addition, New York-based Absolute Australia (888-285-6094; www.absoluteaustralia.com) will create a custom package that can include scuba diving, fly-fishing, snorkeling, bird-watching, rainforest touring, water sports, and village visits. Note: There is more than one Christmas Island. The other, also known as Kirimati Atoll, lies about 1,300 miles south of Honolulu and forms part of the nation of Kiribati. Between 1957 and 1962, the British and Americans staged nuclear tests there.

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