Once you’ve had time to come to terms with the beauty of its white sands and blue azure waters, here are eight ways to explore the stunningly remote Cocos Keeling islands.
1. Take an induction tour of West Island with local Ray Marshall (also the owner of local accommodation favourite, Cocos Seaview). You’ll get a laugh or three as Ray points out the various sights along the way – as a tour guide, he’s hilarious, full of energy, and reels off facts like a cracker gun. Ask for a five-minute stop at the clam farm too; owner John Clunies-Ross (yes, of the Clunies-Ross family) couldn’t give two hoots about tourists so it’s not particularly pretty, but the clams themselves are quite spectacular.
2. Book a motorised canoe safari (and champagne breakfast) with local couple Ash and Kylie James – a great way to get an overview of the atoll’s history and size, set to some very pretty scenery. You’ll also finish the tour with a snorkel along Pulau Maria Island’s gentle, kid-friendly rip. A must-do. See cocosislandstourism.com.au
3. Go for a tour of tiny West Island organic farm, where local Tony Lacey is busy creating a small empire selling local, naturally made oils, soaps and balms, as well as quite the variety of produce. See Cocos Tropical Foods.
4. Take the 50c bus ride from your West Island accommodation to the jetty, and catch the $2.50, 20-minute ferry over to Home Island for a tour (including lunch or dinner) with Cocos Malay local Ossie Macrae. It’s a great way to break down the local history, get some interesting insights into the local Muslim culture, and sneak in a couple of touristy activities (coconut husking, basket weaving) along the way. Book at the Cocos Keeling Islands Visitor Centre, 08 9162 6790.
5. You can also head over to Home Island on Wednesday nights for a traditional dinner (and absolute feast) at Bunga Melati restaurant. Book at the Cocos Keeling Islands Visitor Centre, 08 9162 6790.
6. Go diving with Dieter Gerhard. He’ll take you to any one of two dozen dive sites, all of which we’d be willing to bet would be as incredible as the two we visited. See cocosdive.com
7. Take the ferry to Direction Island and snorkel ‘The Rip’ – a strong but relatively safe current that flows continuously into the lagoon over a community of resting sharks, whorls of multicoloured fish and all manner of vividly hued coral.
8. Take a bird tour. We didn’t get the chance to experience this one ourselves (though we did spot several green junglefowls which, despite their highly endangered status, are to be found strutting everywhere about the place), but Cocos sits on the East Asian-Australasian flyway, and so is said to be a twitcher’s dream. See www.cocoskeelingislands.com.au