The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are a group of coral islands situated northwest of Perth in the azure waters of the Indian Ocean. Travel writer Fiona Harper brings you the best of this unspoilt paradise.
It takes all of 10 minutes to fall in love with Cocos (Keeling) Islands. That’s about the amount of time between leaving the airport (and I use that word very loosely) and digging my toes into beach sand the texture of talcum powder. The ocean is clearer than gin. Further out in the lagoon it deepens to an exquisite turquoise. Shaded by coconut palms swooshing gently overhead, the beach resembles the photos I’ve drooled over for 30-odd years. It’s perfect. No, in fact it’s better because this one embraces all the senses.
On an island literally littered with fallen coconuts you’d think there would be abundant opportunities to devour nature’s miracle food. But alas, there is nary a coconut juice on offer, despite West Island being home to a former coconut plantation now gone wild.
Home Island on the north east side of the lagoon is home to around 400 Cocos Malay people who speak a unique version of the old Trading Malay language of the East Indies. Catch the ferry from West Island to dine at Rasa Diyang Restaurant which is run by a Seychellois couple. A feast of flavours where the Spice Islands meet the Indian Ocean in a beguiling clash, it’s worth the journey just to travel across the lagoon beneath a starry tropical sky.
All images: Fiona Harper
Kite and wind surfers descend on Cocos from across the planet between July and October to harness consistent southeast trade winds. Dreadlocked surfer dudes live by the state of the ‘breeze’, their conversation revolving solely around wind strength. Ask any of them and they’ll tell you CKI is the best kite surfing destination in the world. At least I’m sure that’s what they would say had I had the chance to ask. The instructor from Zephyr Kite Tours never showed up for our arranged lesson, presumably preferring to hang solo that day.
But that’s kind of how CKI rolls. Don’t expect things to run to schedule or for people to show up as arranged. Could it be that all that raw sunshine creates a tropical lethargy that hangs over paradise? A dinner date with a local is a no-show. A visit to a fledgling bespoke business is postponed indefinitely. Boat skipper Geoff cancels a Glass Bottom Boat Tour when he gets a better offer to go diving with a mate. Though at least he suggests an alternative, dropping me on gorgeous Direction Island for the day instead. It turns out to be a highlight, with the island surrounded by water so mesmerisingly blue it’s almost iridescent. A popular remote hangout for world-cruising yachties, there’s free wi-fi on the beach. Go figure!
All is forgiven though after encountering a serious contender for one of the best tours I’ve ever experienced. Boarding a Motorised Canoe Safari proves the perfect way to explore the islands that rim the central lagoon. Plastic canoes are fitted with outriggers (making them uncapsizable) and outboard motors (no paddling is required). Guide Ashley whips out chilled bubbles along with smoked salmon sandwiches and scones over morning tea on a teeny atoll. Birds flit across puffy cumulous clouds, green turtles race ahead as we explore the sparkling lagoon. It rarely gets prettier than this.
CKI is one of those place birders, or twitchers, love to go to tick off rare resident, vagrant and migrant species. Pam is a passionate birder who will happily traipse barefoot through a palm fringed swamp if there’s a chance of spotting a favourite species. An injured red footed booby she’s named Mr Boobs now resides on a perch in her beachfront yard, seemingly content to venture no further than Pam’s garden.
There are few places in the world where you can lie in bed scrutinising airline pilots as they run through pre-take-off checks. But you can at CKI. Ok, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration as I couldn’t actually hear what the Captain and First Officer were discussing. But from my bed at Cocos Cottages, had passengers looked closely out the windows they would have seen me reclining in my bed trying to lip read while waving at the departing aircraft.
Such close proximity to the unfenced runway is nowhere near as ghastly as it sounds. With just a handful of flights a week, it’s hardly comparable to Kingsford Smith Airport. It’s actually quite a novelty. As is playing ‘Scroungers’ golf on the only golf course in the world that actually encompasses an airstrip. The runway is an official hazard to be crossed on fairway No. 2.
Ninety Six East B & B is as close as it gets to modern luxury accommodation – newly opened and on the beach, guests fall asleep to the roar of surf on the outer reef.
This constant sound of nature is the island’s unique sound track, creating memories that linger long after tan lines have faded. Like a long-lost lover, the desire to return to CKI’s warm embrace remains.
More information - cocoskeelingislands.com.au
Fiona Harper is a travel writer specialising in cruising, active and soft adventures. Follow her at Travel Boating Lifestyle .