PCT Prequel Part 1: Christmas Island

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Part 1 of Jacob and Lorelei’s pre-Pacific Crest Trail adventures (read part 2).

Once upon a time our dear friend Maggie asked what country Jacob and I most wanted to visit (that we hadnt been to before). Jacob’s answer was Kiribas, more specifically Christmas Island.

Kiritimati (pronounced “Christmas”) or “Christmas island” of the remote and widespread country of islands, Kiribati (pronounced “Kiribas”) attracted Jacob due to it’s remote surfing opportunities….beautiful water with NO CROWDS! 

Few tourists visit Kiritimati each year, in fact, most people I discussed our trip with had never even heard Kiribati. Those that do come, come for the remote tropical fishing bliss, 1,200 miles south of Hawaii. World class fishing that the island’s remoteness, small population, and large reef system and lagoon afford it.  In fact, it is the world’s largest coral atoll, with abundant sea life to match its geographic largess. Our first sign of this was glimpsed as our flight prepared to land: huge boats anchored off the shore that are part of the tuna fishing industry. I later learned these boats travel to Ecuador, destined for a cannery.

This was our 1st stop on our epic journey….well technically our 2nd. To get to Kiritimati is challenging. There is one commercial flight a week which travels between Fiji and Hawaii, stopping at Christmas Island on the way. Before 2010 there were no commercial flights. One had to charter a plane. It also turns out Fiji Airways is a really weird airline that does stuff like cancel your flight, put you on one a day earlier, and doesn’t tell you about. Luckily we happened to figure this out before it was too late. The bad news was that we had to panic a bit more to move out of our flat. The good news was that after waiting patiently outside the Fiji Airways Office at Nadi Airport, we were eventually put up in a place with a sweet waterslide for our now 36 hour layover. Sweet.

So anyway,  back to Christmas Island. Upon stepping off the plane we knew we were in a whole new world. The sign for the airport was faded and the customs etc zone were a little ‘casual’ and there were certainly some language problems.  

Cassidy International Airport

Our surf camp guide Ray picked us up at the airport and off we went. We stopped at a shop on the way to get some water. Ray said it was the biggest shop and supplied all the other shops on the island. I became a bit terrified. There was no fruit or veggies and the selection was a bit weird. What were we going to be eating? Turns out we’d be fine, so long as we were happy to eat meat and rice and lots of it. This was supplemented mainly by ‘Tang’ cordial, coconuts and a few papayas we harvested.

Our juice fuelled lifestyle was weird.

The surf was up when we arrived, a nice perk from hurricane Pam, a perk that contrasted the massive destruction more westerly pacific islands experienced. Despite tiredness from our midnight departure from Nadi Jake managed two surfs in front of the hotel on day one. At one point a local even came out and joined him, this was the only other surfer he would see during the entire 2 week stay.

Jake dropping into a gem at Henry's

The next day we went out in the boat and checked out some of the other surf breaks: ‘Cooks’ a break by Cook Island (an amazing bird sanctuary) and ‘Paris Anchorage’, a break off the abandoned village of Paris. While Jake enjoyed the waves I swam to the shore to find the Paris ruins. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the ruins, but did find a coconut, the de-husking of which kept me entertained.

When the tide went out and surfing over coral reef became extra treacherous I tried to ‘fish the flats’ for the famous bonefish. I saw lots of fish but they were easily spooked and seemingly not interested in my flies or poor casting technique. We hung out for ages waiting for the tide to come back in a bit, once it did Jake caught some super fun waves at Cooks while I just sat flabbergasted at the number of birds flying around Cook Island. 

Boat days tended to be a bit like that: some surfing, lots of fishing, oh and lots of sun. We got a few bad sun burns including on our lips on the 1st big boat day that have led us to get a bit loose with zinc going forward, much to the amusement of the locals. There are very few white tourists here anyway, nevermind white tourists with white lips and noses.

After our first week at Kiritimati we both got very sick, possibly from drinking untreated rainwater. This period of our trip inspired us to make a movie called “Sleep, Shit, Spew”. A film about a young woman’s journey of self discovery. This will be followed by a sequel called “Diarrhoea Freaks”. A film about two people whose struggles with their inner demons, that want to come out frequently, bring them together.

The cover photo of Sleep, Shit, Spew

During this time a new swell finally arrived and despite a pounding dehydration headache Jacob managed another surf at Cooks. Although it was inconsistent, when the waves did come they were incredible.

The successful surf at Cooks proved to be a false dawn, and the stomach bug continued. Things got so bad that our housekeeping lady suggested we go to the ‘hospital’. It was very busy as dengue fever had recently broken out on the island. And it was….well….very different to hospitals in Melbourne! The good news was once I said I needed a toilet ASAP to avoid puking in ‘the waiting area’, we got seen real quick. They just gave us some electrolyte powder and said to try to stay hydrated as they don’t have an IV drip. Luckily we didnt have any real commitments and the new swell had dropped away again.

Once we got better and the ocean remained flat, we decided to check out the flats fishing that seems to attract most of the tourists. To ensure a successful outing we even paid for a guide for the day. Within no time at all the guide, nicknamed Matt, proved to be worth every cent as I reeled in my first Bonefish on my fly rod. Despite Jake’s appalling casting technique he even reeled one in. After I caught two more the sky clouded over, making it almost impossible to see the ghostly bonefish, so we decided to head to a place called ‘the Pancake’.

Lorelei with her triggerfish.

The Pancake was a small round patch of shallow lagoon that was frequented by massive bonefish, stupid take any bait queenfish, and had trigger fish lurking on the edge in deeper water. Ultimately the Pancake proved a frustrating place to fish, mostly because we had a seriously understrength rod for catching 10 pound bonefish and huge trigger fish. The line snapped at least 10 times and many other times the fish managed to disengage from the hook and escaped.

After some unsuccessful flats fishing with the fly rod we went to try fishing at the Pancake’s sister, which for the purpose of discussion I will call ‘the Waffle’. Things started to fall into place a little better at the Waffle, where I caught a couple of decent sized bonefish and a big triggerfish, and Jake caught a big bonefish and a nice trevally (delicious!).

Jake's bonefish of the day.

With still no real swell on offer we took the boat out with Ray yet again, but this time tried out ‘skurfing’. After a few tries, and a change of approach, Jake got up and skurfed until his arms and legs were almost falling off. I did not have so much luck, and nor did Matt (the fishing guide) who was joining us on his day off. After Jake had a couple more sessions and had skurfed himself silly I decided to have one more try…and with a little luck and advice from Jake I stood up!

Lorelei's tasted skurfing success

After skurfing we headed back to Cooks to catch some fish and hopefully some waves. The surf remained pretty flat so provided a great opportunity to teach Matt the basics of surfing. Meanwhile Ray and I stayed on the boat reeling in loads of fish.

Our last evening on the island involved a huge feast of lobster, put on by the hard working cooks at the Sunset Hotel. After dinner Ray also came by with a bottle of coconut toddy, the alcoholic beverage of choice among the locals. We helped him drink it as we contemplated future trips to Christmas Island and our early morning flight to Hawaii.

Lorelei's favourite meal of the trip.

Despite a few setbacks and a lack of swell we had great fun on Christmas Island. Lorelei caught tonnes of fish on her fly rod (having never caught any before), while Jake enjoyed what waves there were and became genuinely interested in fishing for the first time. Our guide Ray was also a constant source of positivity, which helped keep us going even in the toughest times.

Our guide and friend Ray – the man!

Thank you to Ray and all the staff at the Sunset Hotel. We can’t wait to come back.

We only hope the council starts collecting rubbish again, because the waste management issues were a real downer.