FOR MANY Australians, Christmas Island is synonymous with the notorious Immigration Detention Centre which opened its doors a decade ago and has been surrounded by controversy ever since.
But now tourism operators on the tropical island, 2600km north-west of Perth, hope to attract more holidaymakers following the Australian government’s decision to close the detention centre in early October.
The last 35 detainees were taken from the facility at the beginning of the month, and transferred to mainland facilities.
The centre, which opened in 2008, will scale back to “hot contingency” status, which means it will be closed to detainees, and will be only operational should the need arise.
The island was the scene of a mass tragedy in 2010, when 50 asylum seekers drowned when their boat sank after hitting rocks near Flying Fish Cove.
But operators now hope the spotlight can once again be shone on the island’s extraordinary natural wonders.
The closure of the detention centre has been welcomed by several tourism developments on the island, including Swell Lodge, a luxury cabin perched on a cliff that is attracting visitors from as far as Europe, and Extra Divers, a global diving conglomerate which has opened its first Australian dive centre on the island.
The island has stunning marine life (you can swim, snorkel and scuba dive with whale sharks), glorious deserted beaches and wildlife that exists nowhere else on the planet.
Aussie adventurer and entrepreneur Dick Smith is a big fan. “I've been to many places on this Earth and Christmas Island is one of the most fantastic,” he said.
Meanwhile, celebrated naturalist Sir David Attenborough describes the annual march of the island's endemic red crabs as “one of the most spectacular migrations on the planet”.
There are twice-weekly Virgin Australia flights from Perth.