It’s not often you get asked to be a bit of ‘crash test dummy’ trying out a new product, but when Chris & Jess Bray offer a night out at Swell Lodge to test out their new eco-lodge, you find yourself willingly answering “yes please!!’.
It might look like this tent popped up overnight in the remote wilderness on Christmas Island, but it was in fact a project seeded by this amazing couple during their first photographic safari hosted on the island in 2013. The stars aligned with the Bray’s seeing the potential for a unique tourism venture coinciding with the imminent release of the National Park Expression of Interest for a development in the park.
Late 2016 they received confirmation they were the successful applicants with their development proposal, and 2017 saw a lot of jungle exploration, planning, designing and engineering to bring this fully ‘off-grid’ eco-lodge to life. And whilst at times this has led to angst, stress and all the challenges that building in a remote location on a very remote island brings, that planning and attention to detail has paid off in spades.
The experience starts when you leave town, following the shiny new ‘Swell Lodge’ signs out to the remote North western point of the island, where our spectacular Dales are nestled, a RAMSAR protected wetland boasting a number of springs and a waterfall. A padlocked gate makes you feel like you are entering an exclusive location, half expecting to see paparazzi pop out of the forest to capture your photo before heading into the private tree-filled zone – the gate sporting a sign to remind you to go very slow, as your vehicle will be sharing the road with the prolific crab life present in the rainforest.
A winding unsealed track leads you to the tent – a gabion wall, your first indication of any human development for kilometres in any direction. A very handy trolley allows you to load up your luggage for the short saunter to the tent, hidden most of the time due to the dense vegetation lining the trail – a small decline in the landscape and you have dropped to the lower terrace, on which the tent is perched.
A futurist electronic door lock winds back once you have pressed the code and you enter another world – the first thing that grabs your attention is the ‘wall to wall’ sliding doors that maximise the view of the rugged coastline – the light – the atmosphere. Outside is immediately inside – and you can’t forget the fact that you are way out of town, in a pristine wilderness – but the surrounding luxury of the lodge messes with your senses – in a good way!
As a long term resident of Christmas Island, over the years I have camped out at Dolly & Lily Beaches, even South Point. We have carried our gear, sometimes for a couple of kilometres to enjoy the locale and make the most of being ‘away from it all’. Contending with robber crabs pinching you through the tent whilst trying to steal your food, sand getting in everything and of course – not being able to treat yourself to a fresh brewed coffee without the possibility of getting third degree burns from your fire pit, or not realising the sand settled at the bottom of your mug until you upend the remnants of your drink down the hatch.
This…. This is something entirely new! I am not sure I can explain it, but will give it a go.
Most of Christmas Island is undeveloped – the main township, spread over a few of the geologically-formed terraces, houses the community, a defunct resort/ casino on an Eastern point, a declining detention centre, a few plots of land hosting the phosphate export industry – effectively 10 minutes’ drive from Settlement and you are in wilderness, open and in some cases impenetrable tropical forest.
A number of tracks and trails allows visitors to venture to some of the most spectacular places on the island – with my tours allowing morning or afternoon tea at a lovely location, or a self-arranged picnic with visitors using the opportunity to take a dip in the ocean at a remote beach – an opportunity to relax at a location and take in the surrounds, but always with the plan to head back to the township to enjoy the services of their accommodation and local restaurants.
Swell Lodge means that you no longer have to head back to town – you stay out there, immersed in the wilderness of the Christmas Island forest. Civilised living – away from civilisation! Listening to the sounds of the rhythmic ocean waves, feeling the breeze, watching the moon rise as the prolific bird life wheels around you whilst sipping something chilled as the sun sets and just knowing that you have absolutely nowhere else to be – but to just ‘be’.
The tent is well- appointed – comfy bed and linens, lovely ensuite, bbq, good quality crockery and cookware, kettle and most importantly – a coffee machine! We made the most of it – trying to experience what we could during our stay. Eating our dinner and breakfast on the deck, enjoying a mid-morning coffee and a game of cards after an early morning dip at nearby Merrial Beach. Everything we needed to grab for – it was there! A torch supplied after we realised we had left something in the car, a reasonable sized freezer for our ice cream, a selection of good quality teas and my favourite – Vittoria coffee – to either use in the machine for a cappuccino, or with the plunger, also supplied.
Our time out at Swell Lodge passed way too quickly for my liking. You kind of wish it stood still so you could just keep drinking in the nature and the view. We were blessed to witness a few passing dolphins, and the occasional local fishing boat drifting past, looking for bigger catches at Egeria Point.
And with the end our of stay came the realisation that we had this amazing opportunity to stay on a part of the island that we wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance to – and also that I just don’t think our old tent pitched at a remote beach is going to ‘cut it’ again for our ‘off-grid’ experience!