02112018 – VK9ARH in Christmas Island National Park (Commonwealth) (VKFF-0098)
WWFF Christmas Island National Park (Commonwealth) (VKFF-0098)
Christmas Island is an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, lying south of Java, Indonesia. My wife has wanted to see the crabs for a while now we booked 7 days from 30th November 2018 (30/11 to 7/12) timed to see the red crab migration.
The crab migration starts when the wet season rains have established. The crabs’ breeding timetable is fixed around the phases of the moon. Spawning (the dropping of their eggs into the sea) must occur before sunrise on spring tides during the last quarter of the moon. We booked for the start of December hoping to see either a late migration or a times spawning.
Passports and visas are not required when travelling to Christmas Island from the Australian mainland for Australians. You can use photographic identification such as a drivers licence. You are processed through international customs at Perth and Cocos Keeling Islands. We did see a couple using WA drivers licence and it required the assistance of additional customs officers to process. Never keen on attracting attention from such officials so we took and used our passports.
Looking forward to the trip as the island is a prime site to play radio;
- SOTA – VK9/CH-001 – Murray Hill
- WWFF – VKFF-0098
- IOTA – OC-002 Christmas in Christmas Island
- DXCC – OC / VK9X
- Grid Square OH29
Whilst a contact from the hotel balcony would qualify for IOTA and DXCC I was keen on the SOTA and WWFF sites. The island is 135 square kilometres in size with the Christmas Island National Park accounting for 85 square kilometres. So whilst the National Park makes up almost two thirds of the territory, it is thick monsoonal rainforest so provides challenges finding suitable operating positions. Any cleared area is likely mining lease so has to be avoided. Several beaches on offer to the east would provide suitable places for activations with a clear view to mainland Australia.
Secured the callsign VK9ARH for use whilst there.
There is a top map available (https://data.gov.au/dataset/christmas-island-1-30-000-scale-topographic-map) which you can buy from the Christmas Tourist information centre for $15. I downloaded, printed then imported into basecamp and studied in advance.
This is a good as map as any to gain an understanding of the layout of the island. Both Google maps and Garmin Birds eye are less than useful as they are aerial views and show clouds in the areas of interest. Murray Hill is to the left in thick vegetation, National parks covers the bulk of the island except for township. Two roads with an interconnect give access to all corners.
Additional information for amateurs visiting Christmas Island can be obtained from the Christmas Island Amateur Radio Club (VK9XX). Doug, VK9XD was happy to assist during planning and crucial with verifying access to Mt Murray.
I don’t understand why is is an Australian territory as was there a definite lack of venomous creatures there but is an naturalists paradise with the abundant unique crab, bird and marine life.
There are a few things to watch out for;
This was a tourist visit not a high end DX-Expedition, as a result my equipment had to fit within normal passenger luggage requirements. A Pelican 1485 AIR was used to protect;
- Elecraft KX3
- Mac Air
- iPad running VK5AYL iOS ParksnPeaks app
- 1/4 wave 20/30/40 QRPGuys Vertical (with additional radials)
- 10/80m end fed
- 20m end fed
- 5m mini pole
- Chargers, power supply, coax, spares and log.
which came in at 9.5Kg. The SOTABEAMS Compact heavy-duty 7 m mast was included in the larger bag which doubled role of also taking clothes and other stuff apparently needed for a holiday.
So after 24hrs including a stop in the middle of nowhere for additional fuel we arrived on Christmas Island via Perth and Cocos Keeling Islands.
We had a unit in Mango Tree Lodge in Settlement off Gaze Road. The National Parks boundaries were on the other side of the road (20m away) and whilst clear undergrowth, was a vertical cliff wall and thick with trees. Contacts from unit would not qualify as VKFF. Operating from the area between road and cliff also not desirable.
Christmas Island has 2G Telstra mobile phone coverage but no 3G. This sucked and reminded me how fortunate we are with the coverage we experienced in VK from parks and from peaks. There was wireless from the unit via a private provider and at $20@G used as needed.
UTC 2018-12-02 0145 & 2018-12-06 0420 – FT8 IOTA – OC-002 Christmas in Christmas Island & DXCC – OC / VK9X
After a last minute discord conversation it was decided to downloaded FT8 software onto my computer. The idea was to operate from the unit providing contacts for VK9 and giving me an propagation indication. Contacts were secured as far away as Russia with ASIA being the dominate area. Not surprising as using a 20m end fed from second floor balcony. This proved to be interesting but did not spend a lot of time chasing as there were better activities to be had.
UTC 2018-12-09 0400 – WWFF VKFF-0098 Christmas Island National Park (Commonwealth) (VKFF-0098)
Located a spot further around Gaze road where a shoulder clearing would qualify for WWFF.This was a parking spot for access to the cliff.
Setup the vertical and started calling CW WWFF. The ground was as hard as concrete but given basalt rock, not suprising.
It was slow going but secured VK and then as the sun dropped the EU CW started coming in. Too fast and marginal for contacts. Had a 6:30 booking for tea (limited sites and spots) so packed up happy to secure 6 CW and 5 SSB contacts with VK, HS and VU over the hour. This proved that 15w into the vertical was going to do the job.
UTC 2018-12-05 0930 – SOTA VK9/CH-001 Murray Hill
Ok here we go, the real McCoy. Checked out access to the start point as were in the area to access Martin Point, Hugh’s Date waterfall and the Dales the day before. First view of the foliage to be navigated
I had a track provided by Doug who approached Christmas Island Phosphates (CIRP) to clarify access. Murray Hill had been mined for an extended period. The track was 850m to the summit from behind the mining site through the thick vegetation. We parked the car 200m higher as the Winifred track was closed due to crab movements. A small goshawk came out and perched in the tree watching us why we got ready to go not at all concerned by us.
It took 2hrs to make it to a ‘clearing’ in the activation zone. That not because we decided to have a coffee on the way but the foliage. Whilst it may look clear to the left, the area contained ferns and regrowth taller than I. It was cleaner to navigate the ferns.2018-12-06 10:57:22 I went through the foliage first bashing a path for Michele who was behind me dodging the ferns. We were dressed head to foot and had even sourced gardening gloves to protect hands. It is tough going.
Once in the zone I selected a ‘clear’ site and setup the vertical.
Could not spot. So called on 20 and 30m
A robber crab came out and checked us out. He had an impressive set of antenna but no valid callsign no no contact made.
Could hear FT8 and several ‘intruders’. Could not hear any conversations with callsigns to crash so kept calling. After calling on 14.062 and 10.110 with no response decided to drop the vertical and run up the 20m end fed. I was not groin g to get the 10/80 up. Not enough room. Hoping for some NVIS as desperate for a contact. Unbeknown to us at the time I was picked up in Singapore (9V). It was 16:30 local and we had to pull out as only 2hrs before sunset and it would get darker quick out here and we were already pushing our luck
2018-12-06 10:57:222018-12-06 10:57:22UTC 2018-12-05 9:29:02 SOTA VK9/CH-001 (VKFF-0098) – VK9ARH/P on 14.062 cw (VK9/CH-001) *[RBNHole] at 9V1RM
So with no contacts and no time left pulled the antenna down and headed back.
Could not maintain a GPS fix on the way back. Believe due to the combination of thick foliage and now menacing clouds. It was back to old school compass and follow bearing. Given I had spent too much time studying the maps knew where the roads were knew what direction to head but the foliage was madness and knew we were heading off course.
It was a tough trip back. I’m use to such a task but Michele not. She kept up not complaining as we pushed on and with the aid of torches finally a GPS fix we hit the road only 50m from our starting point. Headed back to the car and back to town.
It was a two beer night with fish and chips for tea.
This site whilst only 850m from tracks will be a challenge to activate.
Apparently in 1857 the crew of the Amethyst attempted to reach the summit but failed. We reached the summit but failed to contact anyone. Doing better than them.
UTC 2018-12-06 1050 – WWFF VKFF-0098 Christmas Island National Park (Commonwealth) (VKFF-0098)
I had noted a couple of potential sites off Murray Road that were clear and not a mining site. Off we went to have our plans crushed by road closures. The crabs were moving and as a result more closures. This was not unexpected as spent the day before down at the Dales and there were crabs on the move everywhere. Decided to activate from the beach off to the east. Clouds were developing and it had been forecasted to rain all week. There was a section on the road to Dollys Beach that I did not want to be negotiating in the wet so checked the map and headed back up and then out to Lilly Beach.
First time operating near the ocean for me. Setup the vertical and was rewarded with great reports. Clear view to VK. 15m and 20m worked. 22 contacts in the hour including DX. Stayed until sunset as intended to be out before dawn to watch crab spawning.
Great trip. It didn’t rain until we were on the plane leaving so no mass migration or spawning. Saw enough crabs moving, several spawning and birds to keep us happy.
24hrs later we were home. Whilst we were gone there were fires again near Scotsburn. No impact to us but back to the real world.