Our vision for Swell Lodge is to create a set of elegant, solar-powered, eco-embracing, glass-fronted, raised, luxury ‘eco-chalets’ gazing out over the ocean, offering a tranquil, private, nature-retreat where visitors to the island can relax and engage with the island’s spectacular natural beauty.
Starting small with just a couple of self-contained eco-chalets and a central space suitable for yoga classes or other group activities, the end vision for Swell Lodge is for eight eco-chalets, complete with on-site staff, a lounge area and a small restaurant.
Guests will then be able to either relax, explore the surrounding highlights independently, or experience everything this astonishing island has to offer on a private 3, 4 or 7-day tour.
Swell Lodge will open early 2018, subscribe to find out when!
“Chris's Swell Lodge proposal is a win-win for Christmas Island National Park and tourism to the island. He has passed all the stringent environmental requirements to operate within the national park and we look forward to sharing the world famous conservation values of Christmas Island with his guests.”
JUDY WEST, ACTING DIRECTOR NATIONAL PARKS
Being inside a National Park, Swell Lodge is bound by strict regulations that ensure our development will not effect the pristine environment that our guests come to experience.
A comprehensive, 141 page, independent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been carried out on the area including ecologist flora and fauna surveys (undertaken both day and night) and Swell Lodge’s use of the land is conditional on our adhering to the EIA’s extensive recommendations, which include that during red crab migration when the last section of the road in will be carpeted by crabs, guests will have to either cycle or walk in to Swell Lodge. It’s all part of the experience.
Completely off-grid, we have designed each Swell Lodge eco-chalet to be 100% solar powered with their own 1kW roof-mounted solar array linked to state-of-the-art battery technologies and each en-suite bathroom features a luxurious solar-heated hot water shower, ph-neutral soaps, a modern, odourless composting toilet and a greywater treatment system underneath.
We selected the site not only for it’s gorgeous ocean sunset views and tranquility but also because there was already a disused 4WD Parks access road running parallel which will serve as our access road along which guests can drive and park in the forest opposite their eco-chalet and easily walk the remaining 50-75m out to the coast, without us having to clear any forest trees to create roads.
The coastal terrace contains no endangered plant species, and is primarily vegetated by Pandanas and Scaevola (which are not conservationally significant) and the eco-chalets themselves are pole-mounted, below which vegetation will still be able to grow.
In addition to our eco-lodge assisting the National Park with their mandates to ‘Provide opportunities for high quality, safe, rewarding, educational and diverse nature-based recreation experiences’ and ‘Contribute to the island’s socio-economic and environmental sustainability’ (which is why Parks put out the public call seeking commercial enterprises keen to create something like this), included in every night’s accommodation fee at Swell Lodge is a head-tax that we pass to Parks Australia to help fund critical conservation projects.
2,600km northwest of Perth lies Australia’s best-kept secret – Christmas Island: ‘The Galapagos of the Indian Ocean’ – a stunning tropical paradise full of rare and unusual birds, incomprehensible numbers of crabs, waterfalls, turtle-nesting beaches, caves, blowholes and some of the world’s best snorkelling and diving above crystal-clear, warm, tropical reefs with dolphins, manta rays and even whale sharks! This is the home of Swell Lodge.
Made famous by Sir David Attenborough’s documentaries featuring the annual red crab migration (which he described as one the 10 greatest natural wonders on Earth), 63% of this incredible island is National Park. Although the temporary creation of an immigration detention centre distracted public perception over the last decade, Christmas Island is once again gaining the international reputation it deserves as the astonishing wildlife mecca that it’s secretly always been.
Getting to Christmas Island
Virgin Australia flies to Christmas Island twice a week from Perth (Currently on Tuesdays and Saturdays, $1,100 AUD return) and there’s a weekly charter flight from Jakarta every Saturday (operated by Garuda Airlines, $780 AUD return, book via Indian Ocean Experiences, Christmas Island).
Obtaining a visa from most countries is now as easy as buying your ticket – your travel agent can assist you.
For Australian immigration information, go to: www.immi.gov.au.
Swell Lodge Location
Perched along a 500m section of sea cliff on the remote and uninhabited western coastline of Christmas Island just north of (though not visible from) Martin Point Lookout and ‘The Dales’ RAMSAR wetland, the Swell Lodge site, inside the National Park, commands a breathtaking view of sunset over the Indian Ocean. While sheltered from the prevailing winds, an underlying ocean swell usually rolls in to foil spectacularly against the coral reef drop-off just 100m offshore. Birds soar overhead and nest on the cliff, and in the forest, thousands of red and blue crabs (and giant Robber Crabs) meticulously groom the jungle floor.
We selected the site for Swell Lodge not only for it’s gorgeous views and tranquility but also because there is already a disused 4WD Parks access road running parallel which will serve as our access road along which guests can drive and park in the forest opposite their eco-chalet and easily walk the remaining 50-75m out to the coast, without us having to clear any forest trees to create roads. The coastal terrace where the eco-chalets will be situated contains no endangered plant species, and is primarily vegetated by Pandanas and Scaevola (which are not conservationally significant) and the structures themselves are pole-mounted, below which vegetation will still be able to grow. Read more details about our eco-friendly approach Eco-Friendly.
Even before you get to your Swell Lodge eco-chalet, wandering along the trail from your private car space in the beautiful forest, you’ll fall in love with the ‘lost-word’ jungle landscape of limestone pinnacles and lush green plants, all meticulously tended to by a workforce of both red and blue land crabs. Seabirds call overhead and in the trees, and the rhythmic breathing of the ocean will grow louder as you take the last few steps up to the door of your eco-lodge and swing it open… Ignoring the luxurious, modern interior and King bed, your eyes will be instantly mesmerized by the spectacular expanse of sapphire-blue ocean filling the ceiling-to-floor, wall-to-wall glass front, the swell foiling just beyond your expansive front deck.
Looking to the left from Swell Lodge you can see the swell explode onto jagged coastline stretching out to Egeria point with a waterfall cascading into the sea part way along, and to the right, out to the sculptured, overhanging cliffs of Northwest Point. Frigatebirds, Red-footed and brown boobies, terns and even the endemic Golden Bosunbird soar out the front, while anything from Dolphins to bat balls of fish or even Manta rays can surface from the ocean’s depths. It’s a million-dollar, ever-changing view that you could watch forever.
Christmas Island has long been referred to by many as ‘The Galapagos of the Indian Ocean’ and it’s easy to see why – not only are there many endemic species unique to the island (such as the Abbot’s Booby that nests nowhere else on Earth), but the wildlife experiences bare up close and personal. With no native predators on-island and with humans only settling here just over 100 years ago, the wildlife is completely relaxed and unafraid of humans. Some birds nest right on the ground and simply squawk at you if you get too close, others fly over and circle curiously a few times before heading on, and driving along, you’re likely to have to stop and get out to coax giant coconut crabs off the road, and even then they often stay put and just flick a leg at you in mild irritation. Similarly snorkeling in the crystal-clear, 28 degree ocean, the turtles are remarkably unperturbed, the resident wild dolphins often cruise past for a look, and in the right season, whale sharks hang around for hours. Christmas Island really is a wildlife mecca.
Endemic species include the Christmas Island Red Crab, Giant Gecko, Abbot’s Booby, Golden Bosun, Christmas island Goshawk, Christmas island Emerald Dove, Christmas island Imperial Pigeon, Christmas island Thrush, Christmas island White-eye, Christmas island Hawk Owl, and the Christmas Island Blue Crab. You’ll also see plenty of Coconut Crabs (AKA Robber Crabs – Christmas Island has the world’s largest and densest population of these, the largest land crab in the world), Brown Booby, Red-footed Booby, Red-tailed Tropicbird, a reasonable chance of Hawksbill & Green Turtles, and if you’re lucky, Manta Rays, Sunfish and Whale Sharks (usually Nov-Feb).
The Dales RAMSAR Wetland
Just up the road, walkable from Swell Lodge is ‘The Dales’, Australia’s first RAMSAR recognised wetland, a beautiful modern boardwalk through the tropical rainforest to number of pristine, permanent watercourses, including Hugh’s Dale waterfall.
Busy with crabs and adorned by stands of enormous, buttressed rooted Tahitian chestnut trees, this tranquil, relaxing wetland also feeds down to the ocean forming several beautiful gullies with tiny, secluded beaches and even a natural, sea-side spa pool (good weather only!).
Walking & Hiking
While there’s plenty to see and enjoy in the forest surrounding Swell Lodge, for those keen for a longer walk, in the opposite direction from ‘The Dales’, a track leads from Swell Lodge North towards and around Northwest Point, from where we’re looking to more clearly define a trail onwards to the beautiful sands of the remote West White Beach – a great place for a day-hike or even a snorkel if the ocean’s calm enough.
Elsewhere on the island there’s a number of other hikes and trails down to various lookouts and hidden beaches, and while we aim to develop an interactive guide app to allow guests to explore on their own, we also provide packages with local tour operators guided trips.
Snorkeling & Diving
With colourful coral reefs and a kaleidoscope of fish and other marine life surrounding the Island in crystal clear, 28-degree water, Swell Lodge and Christmas Island boasts some of the best snorkelling and scuba diving in the world. The island rises dramatically from the edge of the Java Trench (Indian the Ocean’s deepest point) creating kilometres of spectacular drop-off diving walls (some of the longest on Earth), most just 20 metres from shore.
While an organised dive or snorkel boat trip will get you out to even more extraordinary sites and a better chance to swim with resident dolphins, and in the right season, manta rays and even whale sharks, simply sliding into the water from the wharf at Flying Fish Cove finds you in the middle of possibly the best ‘house reef’ in the world, complete with drop-off wall, clown fish, harmless reef sharks, turtles, clams and more.
Christmas Island is a blissful mix of Chinese, Malay and other cultures, with a colorful history involving which includes the island being bought and sold for its valuable phosphate deposits, captured and abandoned by the Japanese, reborn briefly as a casino and even briefly nurturing plans for a private space program. There are Buddhist and Chinese temples and cemeteries, mosques and a comprehensive museum on the island too.
Golf is one of the favourite pastimes of Islanders and the Golf Course is well worth a try for professional golfers or first timers.
The 9-hole golf course is situated amongst palm trees and tropical rainforest with a magnificent view of the Indian Ocean.
Green Fees of $15 per round (9 or 18 holes) are payable for non-members. Clubs are available for hire from the Christmas Island Visitor’s Centre and visitors are most welcome. Christmas Island Frigates nest inland from the course and land crabs can be a local hazard.
The creation of Swell Lodge is a hugely exciting project, not only setting the standard for eco-operations within a federally managed National Park, but also fostering the Christmas Island economy towards a more sustainable, tourism based future. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement, where guest’s fees provide Parks Australia funding for their critical conservation projects as well as helping visitors appreciate the island’s unique flora and fauna, and we also aim to engage various local businesses to help facilitate not only the construction of Swell Lodge, but also run tours and other facets of our ongoing operation.
We love the Christmas Island community (so much that we’re moving here in September to live for the next few years at least while we start the eco-lodge), and we’re keen to link-in with as many local businesses as we can.
If you have skills or run a business that you feel could work well with Swell Lodge, please do contact us to let us know.
Chris Bray first visited Christmas Island as a boy of seven back in 1990, growing up sailing around the world with his family on a homemade sailboat for five years. He remembered it as a lush, green tropical paradise crawling with brightly coloured crabs, surrounded by warm, crystal-clear water with amazing snorkeling, and the trees, rocks and skies filled with all manner of seabirds.
Chris went on to become an adventurer leading world-first cart-hauling arctic expeditions and untracked hikes in Tasmania before becoming an award-winning Australian Geographic photographer, Lowepro ambassador and Canon’s Australian ambassador for 5 years. Chris’s work has appeared in National Geographic and Discovery Channel along with Australian Geographic, TIME Magazine and many more. He’s also an accomplished writer, with feature articles published around the world and even a successful book ‘The 1000 Hour Day’ (now an award-winning documentary ‘The Crossing’), sits on the advisory committee for The Australian Geographic Society and is founder and CEO of Conservation United, a not-for-profit charity hoping to crowd-fund the world’s critical conservation projects.
In 2010 Chris and his then girlfriend (now wife) Jess started Chris Bray Photography, running 1-day photography courses around Australia then small-group, luxury photography tours taking guests to the most extraordinary wildlife, landscape and cultural experiences on Earth, including Alaska, Antarctica, Iceland, Galapagos, the Amazon, Greenland, Africa, Tasmania, Kangaroo Island and more each year. (see www.ChrisBrayPhotography.com)
Over the next few years, between rebuilding a little wooden 29-foot sailboat together and becoming the first people to sail a junked-rig sailboat through the infamous Northwest Passage in the arctic above Canada and Alaska (see www.YachtTeleport.com), Chris and Jess built their photography tour company into one of the largest and most respected in Australia with a growing international reputation. With more than 75% of their tour guests returning for more, the Bray’s were researching new tour locations when Chris remembered Christmas Island.
In 2013, Chris returned to Christmas Island with Jess to see if the island was as good as he remembered, and to their delight, it was better! The next year they ran the island’s first, week-long photography tour which proved to be a sell-out success, and they’ve been running them here every May since then. The Bray’s totally fell in love with the island, not only its astonishing natural beauty but also its friendly community.
After running tours for just one year, in early 2015 Chris mentioned in passing to Christmas Island Tourism Association (CITA) that it was a shame there wasn’t any luxury or nature-focused accommodation on the island like those their photography tour guests enjoy around world. CITA said they thought it was an excellent idea and mentioned it to Parks who said my timing was uncanny, as they were actually in the middle of putting together a public call for ‘Expressions of Interest’ (EOI) for enterprises ‘such as an eco-lodge’ inside the National Park! What an amazing opportunity!
In the year it took the EOI guidelines to be finalised, Chris visited the island twice and scoured the island looking for potential sites for a small, luxury eco-lodge. He went out with park rangers and local guides, poured over maps, pondered the idea and began looking into what kind of eco-designs might be best suited to the island including using modern composting toilets, greywater treatment options, and powering the whole lodge 100% from solar power. In early 2016 Parks Australia put out the public call for Expressions of Interest, and Chris emailed his application for Swell Lodge, citing the coastline north of Martin Point as the best spot. Just a couple of months later in May that year, just before the duo returned to Christmas Island to run another sold-out photography tour, Chris got a letter from the Director of Parks Australia, congratulating him on his successful application and explaining the steps required to proceed! OMG!
Over the next six months while running tours to Iceland, Greenland, Alaska and Kenya, the Bray’s chewed it over, trying to decide to go ahead or not. Still undecided, they flew over again in December and spent Christmas on Christmas Island (witnessing the largest baby crab return ever recorded) and spent January 2017 re-scouring the island with drones, rangers and other Park staff, before ultimately deciding that yes, they would commit to building this Swell eco-lodge, and that the coastline just north of Martin Point was definitely the best site, and Parks agreed.
Next began the lengthy process of designing and defining exactly what we wanted to build, putting together a business plan and then having an independent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) carried out on the site (141 pages). This EIA included ecologist flora and fauna surveys (undertaken both day and night) and ultimately resulted in pages of recommendations and impact mitigation strategies, including that during red crab migration when the last section of the road in will be carpeted by crabs, guests will have to either cycle or walk in to Swell Lodge. It’s all part of the experience!
Drawing on advice from many entrepreneurs and helpful eco-lodge owners and managers around the world, in June 2017, having finally negotiated the final pieces of the land lease and license, the agreement between Chris Bray Photography Pty Ltd and Parks Australia to create Swell Lodge was signed.
Stay tuned for updates from this ultimate ‘Grand Designs’ story as the duo prepares to share their behind-the-scenes experience of building this exceptional eco-lodge on this extraordinary island.
“Eco Structures is thrilled to be supplying the deluxe custom made ‘eco-chalets' for Swell Lodge, featuring full glass frontage, ensuite bathrooms and generous deck and balcony areas. The remoteness of the location, coupled with steep cliffs, surrounding rainforests and positioned on top of steep limestone cliffs makes this by far one of the most unique and exciting projects we've seen our eco structures purchased for and it's got our entire team buzzing!”
TOM BUTTERFIELD, MANAGING DIRECTOR, ECO STRUCTURES AUSTRALIA
Environmental record and experience
Chris Bray Photography Pty Ltd has seven years of experience running commercial tours within national parks Australia-wide without incident, successfully gaining commercial tourism operators licences in Tasmania, South Australia, New South Wales and elsewhere around the world. For Christmas Island specifically, Chris Bray Photography commenced photo tours here in 2014, completing an environmental risk/impact assessment for Parks Australia and have run tours to the island every year since, developing an affinity for the island and its unique environment, as well as earning the respect and trust of local Parks staff.
Chris and Jess have won similar respect around the world, for example, in Alaska they charter research vessel ‘Island C’ to take guests into remote, sensitive wildlife areas. When they’re not being chartered by Chris Bray Photography, the ship’s passionate, environmentally-focused team engage in environmental clean up operations and the like, and their owner and captain had this to say of the company: “I can attest that Chris Bray Photography demonstrates an outstanding knowledge of local flora and fauna, environmental ethics, sensitivity to wildlife viewing protocols, and wilderness risk management. Their administrative practices are equally sound.”
Chris Bray Photography Pty Ltd has been awarded the strictly controlled tick of approval from the Accredited Tourism Business Australia, Australian’s national symbol of tourism quality.