Christmas Island is a fascinating place and now that our kids are old enough to appreciate the natural beauty and experience everything there is on offer, we couldn’t wait to take them. We booked our flights according to the moon and tides for the annual red crab spawning but as this occurs over a two-day period only once a year, getting it right was always going to be a gamble.
As luck would have it, the wet season was late so our January school holiday trip was going to coincide with one of the most amazing natural events on the wildlife calendar. We were thrilled about seeing the crabs and felt very fortunate to arrive the night before spawning. It meant for an early evening as we all had to be out of bed by 3 am. It was like the night before Christmas as everyone was excited about the prospect of seeing millions of red crabs flooding the beaches on their mission to release their eggs into the ocean.
I tossed and turned all night, not wanting to sleep in but when the clock finally hit 2.45am, I got up and woke the kids. They jumped out of bed like I have never seen before and we quickly got dressed, grabbed some breakfast and ate it in the car on the way to Ethel Beach. This was touted as one of the best places to view the migration but as we had a 3km walk, it meant our day started even earlier. The road was closed to protect the crabs, which are easily squashed by cars on their journey back to the forest. The crabs release their eggs before dawn so it was important we were on the beach by 4 am to catch the climax of the crab spawning.
At the “Road closed, red crab migration” sign we parked our hire car, sprayed ourselves with copious amounts of insect repellent and turned on our torches. Booby birds screeched in the overhead trees and we dodged crabs on the roads and made way for the huge robber crabs than can grow to 1m in width. I never expected the hike to the beach to be so such a thrill, it made me think I should drag the kids out of bed more often at 3 am just to experience the nightime forest.
After a good 30-minute walk, the beach was just below us and all we had to do was carefully negotiate a single set of stairs, which the crabs had already commandeered. We shone our torches over the beach to see an incredible sight. The beach was almost unrecognisable under the mass of female crabs that were clambering to release their eggs and return to anonymity in the rainforest. It was absolutely spectacular.
The kids were familiar with crabs yet they were nervous to tread on the beach in fear of squashing one or being mobbed by the crazed creatures. We carefully made our way to the beach and watched as the females dipped their abdomen into the ocean and released their eggs when waves washed over them. Looking for a safe haven to keep upright, crabs attached themselves to my shoe. They did their special shake and let their eggs drift into the ocean that was becoming blacker by the minute with the next generation of red crabs.
An hour passed too quickly and as the sun’s glow began to penetrate the darkness, the sandy beach slowly appeared. The kids and I found some space on the sand to have a rest and the crabs viewed us as just another obstacle to conquer on their way home to the forest. The crustaceans never nipped as they clambered over our legs and we laughed as their prickly appendages brushed against our skin.
The crabs stopped releasing their eggs and the cliffs were now a blood red, filled with shiny carcasses taking cover before the day’s heat intensified. The night walk through the forest cumulating with the amazing crab migration was one of the best experiences we have shared as a family. It was a one-in-a-lifetime event and one we will treasure and recount for years to come.