Cocos Keeling Island – A Slice of Paradise
by Lynn Gail
When I recently had the chance to visit the Cocos Keeling Island for travel magazine, Get Lost, I knew little about the 27 islands that measured a mere 14 square kilometres. But I was very willing to jump on a plane and find out. As we drifted into land all I could see was ocean shades: aqua-marine, azure, turquoise - but where was the runway?! I knew it was tiny, but when you’re about to land you suddenly realise just how tiny, tiny is! Thankfully we touched down safely on this pristine dot that sits in the Indian Ocean only half a day’s travel from Perth. Within an hour I’d met my friendly hosts Colin and Christine and had toured the West Island in a golf buggy. I had read that people left their keys in the car (in case somebody needed transport), their front door open and virtually no crime occurs on the islands. “You can leave your camera gear in the buggy,” Colin said as he introduced me to the locals – he saw the look of horror cross my face and the unsaid words – ‘is he serious’? – “It’ll be just fine," he said. When we returned, there it was sitting in the back of the cart for all to ‘borrow’– during my visit I left my gear a few times, it’s a hefty beast to carry all the time – the freedom and trust was liberating. I’m sure it’s something I’m unlikely to experience anywhere else on my travels. The islands should have been named Freedom Islands – because that’s how I felt as I drove my golf buggy round the island – I was the only person on the coconut palm fringed roads apart from the occasional passer-by. Every few kilometres I parked on the grass verge, hopped out and explored the adjacent beach – with only 150 people living on West Island, I found a slice of paradise, not a soul in sight – it’s a beautiful way to spend a day with camera in hand. One day Geoff, known as the local crusty sea captain, took another Perth family and I out to Prison Island and Direction Island for a day of snorkelling and island hopping. We spent the day snorkelling in water so clear and warm where we watched black-tipped reef sharks flit in and out of the shallows I literally had to pinch myself. I felt childlike as the day filled up with bathing in the bath-tub warm sea, diving off a pontoon into water so blue I thought someone had been secretly adding dye and stopping to feed the dolphins and grey reef sharks on our return to West Island. Home Island is home to around 400 Cocos Malay people and only a 20 minute ferry ride from West Island. I spent three nights on the island covering the Hari Raya festivities to mark the end of their fasting month of Ramadan. Cocooned from the rest of the World the Cocos Malay have adopted both Scottish and Australian customs into their society, although are still devout Muslims, they are a very unique society. During Hari Raya they invited me into their homes, fed me (I had four lunches before noon!) and let me witness them forgive each other for the year’s previous sins. As tears flowed and firm affectionate hugs were given I felt privileged to be able to photograph and be a part of their community as they wiped the slate clean in forgiveness during their celebrations. The Cocos Keeling Islands maybe be teeny tiny in area but it’s king-sized on charm, character and crystal clear beaches!