Hotspot Christmas Island

December 28, 2008|By Carla Correa

There are two Christmas Islands - one is an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, and the other is a Pacific Ocean atoll that is part of Kiribati. Explorer Capt. James Cook landed on the latter on Christmas Eve in 1777. The island, officially called Kiritimati ("Christmas" in the nation's native tongue), is perhaps best known for being the site of Cold War-era bomb tests, but its more recent claim to fame is that it's the first inhabited locale to celebrate the new year. But it wasn't always so. In 1995, Kiribati, which was spliced by the International Date Line, decided it should be in only one time zone - so it effectively zigzagged that line and moved up Jan. 1 by a day. So, who should ring in 2009 here? Fans of diving, fishing and peace and quiet. Here are five things to do:


Relax in isolation: If you want luxurious comfort, head elsewhere. Christmas Island is home to only about 5,000 people, and amenities are basic. Finding a deserted beach framed by clear water and coconut palms, however, should be a piece of cake.


Scuba dive or snorkel : Christmas Island is the Earth's largest coral atoll (a ring-shaped isle with a central lagoon), which makes it an ideal place to explore unexploited and colorful aquatic life. Professional scuba-diving and snorkeling guides are available.


It's a bird, probably not a plane : There are only a couple of flights a week to the island, so millions of birds belonging to 18 species usually have the blue yonder to themselves. The country's official tourism Web site says there are waterfowl-watching tours.


Go fish : Fly fishing is popular. The pace in Kiribati is slow, so there's ample time for bonefish to bite. Pittsburgh-based Frontiers Travel offers fishing packages starting at $2,200 plus flight. If you're not into angling but you enjoy eating seafood, tourism Web sites say shellfish and tuna are served at the island's few restaurants .


Island hop: Kiribati is home to 33 islands, 21 of which are inhabited and many of which hardly climb above sea level. Visit open-air markets or enjoy traditional dancing on various isles.

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