On the 29th December 2006 we headed to the airport for our flight to Cocos (Keeling) Islands - which are not in Indonesia but STA will not recognise them as even existing!
Even though it is now an Australian Territory we still had to fill in an immigration form and fly from the International terminal. We had a fuel stop on the way at Learmouth ? which is right next to another place we wanted to visit, Ningaloo Reef. We didn't get to dive the reef but instead flew over it! During our 6 hour flight we were fed 2 packets of peanuts, a muffin, roast meal, salad, bread, chocolate cake, and probably more -maybe they could cut the price of the ticket and feed us less!
So we flew over the Cocos (Keeling) Islands lagoon and the swung around to land on West Island. The airport is one building and we walk from the plane to the baggage claim room. A tractor and trailer then drives into the room and you collect your bags off the trailer which Stu thought was amazing! The main atoll sits in a circle with the Australian ex-pat on the large island which forms the western edge, and Home Island, where the Malay's and Mel's family's traditional roots are a smaller island in a chain running round the east. Horsburgh and Direction Island border the main entrance to the lagoon on the North side and are uninhabited although DI does have a history as the stopover points for trans-Indian Ocean yachting. The lagoon is a beautiful turquoise colour as it is really shallow and filled with coral.
I haven't been there for 15 years yet when I was met by Johnny, Katie and Poot it seemed strangely familiar. Because it was New Year's the west island population had doubled from the normal 70 adult residents. There are not that many tourists (or ferals as Johnny affectionately calls them) who visit - some family friends, some divers and a few who just love the islands and can afford $1400pp to fly there! However it does have a huge effect on the population there.
We were given a quick tour of the clam farm, visited the goats and then went to the house where we would be staying - Sonia's number 51. We had fish and chips from the Mutiara Cafe for dinner and exchanged xmas presents.
The next day we went to have a BBQ at the yacht club, where we saw some black tip reef sharks and a baby reef shark, until we realized we only had one match and when that didn't light the BBQ we returned home to eat there! In the afternoon we headed to trannies beach for a swim.
Due to Cocos time combined with New years Eve not much was happening for the first few days so we enjoyed walking along the beaches, collecting shells and playing games with Aiden (most of which should just be called "Aiden Wins"). We visited the jetty at night to spot turtles. We borrowed Jack's girlfriend's (Meg) car, and several other cars while we were there even if there is only about 14km road to drive!
We set the alarm early on New year's eve to go and walk at low tide to Pulu Maria - we ended up being woken at 330am because Stu forgot to change the time before setting the alarm! On a second attempt we got up at 545am when at least it was light! We watched the sun rise over west island and the palm trees which was beautiful and woke lots of chickens and crabs on the road on the way.
The New years party had a pink theme, so after we had dyed stu's hair pink and mel had combined all her pink clothes to wear we headed off to scout park. There Johnny had dyed all the sand on the beach PINK! The Malays provided a buffet of satay, shilli gong gong, prawns and various other "pedis" things. We had a bonfire on the beach with some suicidal crabs who were a bit too intrigued by the flames. The midnight fireworks by Johnny were excellent. He set them off from Pulu Maria and they lit up the whole sky. Johnny returned at 1pm with his heart still racing after letting off all the fireworks in 8 minutes! Only the two of us sang auld lang syne though and Stu was very impressed that Mel knew the words!
On Tuesday we visited Home Island on the ferry. We landed in the industrial area where the shipping is based. Behind this is the kampong, a settlement of around a 100 Malay houses in rows of 16. On the Southern tip is the "big house," Oceania House which is where the C-R family lived including Mel's Mum and Mel as a baby. We walked to the cemetery to visit the C-R graves and then walked to the other end of Home Island to see Oceania House. We ate kadongdong in the garden and saw the rather ruinous dove house. The house itself looks in better repair than I had expected. Lloyd has a jeep parked in the ballroom though! All the large white lamp shades are still in the house but the outside paintwork needs some work. The busts of the C-R's are still in the main hall. We walked around looking at the old school house and the bungalow has now been completed demolished.
We went to see Mak Siti (Nek Iman) for lunch where we had curry (which Mel actually liked!), krupuk and bread fruit crisps. We met Mak Siti's daughter, Siti and her grand daughter Imannia. We also bumped into Zarol Alpan who went to school with Mum. Mak Siti lent me a sarong kebaya which was bright turquoise and so we took pictures around the island of me wearing that. When we went to the beach the Malays requested me to dance because they thought I was a bride and they all started clapping! We also made Bunga Api (Mum these were the wedding things I was on about!). Mak Siti and the whole kampong were impressed with the calendar Mum made - requests for more! Mel used her three words of malay well!
On Wednesday we went out with Jack to collect clams for breeding. The water was a bit murky which jack informs us is because of all the clam sperm! In the afternoon the two of us, Dippa, katie and Aiden took Johnny's boat over the lagoon to Pulu Kembang. It was low tide and so hard work getting the boat over. We saw a manta ray and lots of turtles. Katie told Stu there was a giant eel in the water near him when it was really a palm tree! Stu still jumped in the boat pretty quickly! Lovely island with clear turquoise water. We had some rain on the way home and there was a rainbow over the lagoon. It had brightened up by the time we got home so we went to trannies for a swim. We also saw the golfers having a game on the runway- the runway is now out of bounds (OZ law) however once a week the golfers are allowed to use it as their golf course.
Thursday saw us head back to Home Island to meet up with Pirus who took us out in the dukong to prison island, where lots of marriages are (including Dook's). Katie and Mel stood under the wedding arch! Lots of hermit crabs and we had a race which Pirus won twice. Mel chose her crab based on the prettiest shell and hers didn't finish until after the second race! The sail back was really quick and holding the jib without any winches was very hard against the wind! Had roti for dinner which were delicious - Stu reckons he could get addicted to them!
Friday was definitely mel's favourite day. Johnny lent Stu and me the boat and some dive gear and so without any dramas we headed to the cabbage patch reef near Horsburgh. We had an excellent dive. The coral and fish were amazing and we were "shown round" by a very inquisitive bat fish. We then headed into Horsburgh which Johnny said was easy to navigate - however not so easy. We did however manage to see the guns and get out of the reef again without hitting anything! We then headed past the Catalina wreck and to Direction Island. Mel jumped out 5m from shore to pull the boat ashore and found herself still in 3m of water!! We had an excellent snorkel at the rip and Stu came face to face with a shark. As we were crossing the lagoon a pod of dolphins came and played with us and the bow of the boat which was amazing. That evening the club was used for Bob Percy's funeral so we stayed in for the evening and made carrot cake!
Saturday saw a 545am start, saying goodbye to Katie who returns to perth that day, and we met up with Dieter and Karen (dive people) and Greenie (parks man) and headed over to North Keeling Nation Park which is 20km north of the Southern Atoll. They only run trips up here very occasionally so we were very lucky to get to go there. The smell of the island is very strong as there are millions of birds there. Each tree is filled with booby birds and the sky is filled with black dots. We dived at Paradise site and saw turtles including one which was 1.5m long (there's talk of returning with a tape measure as this is pretty close to the current record sized one). We then dived at the stock exchange where we saw lots of sharks and huge bump headed parrot fish. After lunch we went to visit the final resting place of the Emden. We could see the props and the base. We are only the 94th and 95th people to dive the Emden! The ride back was very bumpy. To finish off the day Poot had somehow found some DVDs of.... Coupling!
Sunday we went with Dieter and Karen to the back of DI. Here we dived over where the old cable was. We could still see the cable on the sea floor along with cannons, engines, and a huge anchor. We saw a lion fish, trigger fish and had lots of fun playing with the xmas tree worms. As we were doing our safety stop at 5m Kat the resident dugong/seacow came to say hello. She was only 1m away from us so that was very cool. We had, as usual, a very professional and yummy lunch on DI, a quick snorkel at the rip, before heading to the Ski Jump dive site. Here we saw nudibranches, hinge-back shrimp, garden eels coming out of the sand, giant and yellow ridge moray eels and a small leaf scorpion fish. We also saw a cleaner shrimp cleaning a groper fish including crawling inside its mouth to clean its teeth and a little tickler fish which persuaded the groper to open its mouth wide open so it could dart inside. And saw lots of chocolate dipped damsel fish!
Monday was our last day so Mel headed to Home island on the 630 ferry to say goodbye to Mak Siti and collect more breadfruit crisps, and then headed round to say goodbye to greenie, and pay Karen and Dieter. We had curry puffs for lunch and then it was time to check in for our flight. Once checked in you can still wander around the island until it is time for the plane to leave. We said a goodbye to everyone and had a slighter shorter flight (with much less food) back to Perth. We landed at midnight Perth time and had a hot choc with cassy who was just about to fly out to Phuket. We then drove Cassy's car home and collapsed into bed.
Love from the place where they drink the most units of alcohol per person in all of Western Australia!
Mel and stu x
Tourist Info about Cocos for all those CR's who keep asking and maybe it will inspire you to go!:
Flights and accommodation packages can be booked through Island Bound Holidays for about $1400pp. you can also add diving into it.
The accommodation is on West Island between the Cocos club and the beach. There is a restaurant which does buffet meals each night for $20. The Cocos club is the main hub of the island and there are activities there and it is open from 5pm each night for cheap drinks.
On West Island:
Various BBQ/ beach sites - Trannies, Yacht Club and Scout Park.
Walk at low tide across from Scout Park to Pulu Maria (and South keeling)
Hire a car/bike/boat Clam farm tours
Museum is very small but with some good books and is open 8am-1230
On Home Island:
The ferry goes several times throughout the day Mon- Sat.
Cultural Tour on Wednesdays organized by the school where you get malay food and learn about the history and culture.
The home island museum is just being rehoused into a bigger building.
Visit Oceania house.
Walk across to Prison Island.
Go on a dukong trip with Pirus.
Places to visit by boat:
North Keeling National Park if possible - you must have a permit from the Parks office.
Direction Island = snorkel at the rip and BBQ. The ferry goes across on Saturdays.
South keeling - only at high tide.
Diving: Karen and Dieter run a very professional and friendly operation.
The diving out there is amazing - such diversity in one place. You can see manta rays, sharks, turtles, Kat the dugong as well as the Cocos Angel Fish.
All the coral is teeming with life.
You can also dive the Catalina wreck, see canons, the old DI cable and much more. There is also the possibility of diving North Keeling national Park (they are the only company to have the permit) and the Emden.
Karen will also take photos of you diving and you can buy her brilliant photography.