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Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Thursday, June 12, 2008
A five-and-a-half-hour flight north-west of Perth, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are a little-known, horseshoe-shaped gem rising from the depths of the Indian Ocean on top of a huge volcanic seamount. Australia's most distant territory, it is made up of two flat, low-lying atolls formed by 27 coral islands and is unspoiled by commercialism and tourism.

Captain William Keeling first saw the islands in 1609, but they remained uninhabited until the 19th century. Alexander Hare took slaves there from Indonesia, the Cape of Good Hope and East Asia to work the coconut plantations that fed the flourishing copra market.

The islands became a possession of Captain John Clunies-Ross, a Scottish merchant seaman. Both Hare and Clunies-Ross had taken part in Stamford Raffles' takeover of Java in 1811.

Clunies-Ross set up a compound and Hare's badly treated slaves escaped to work under better conditions.

Charles Darwin visited Cocos in 1836, a visit that supported his theory on how atolls form.

In 1857 the islands were annexed to the British Empire and in 1867 administration was placed under the Straits Settlements, which included Penang, Malacca and Singapore. In 1886 Queen Victoria granted the islands in perpetuity to the Clunies-Ross family, giving them the status of a 19th-century micro-nation. They stayed until 30 years ago, when the islands were bought for $6 million by the Australian Government.

The population of 600 is spread across 27 islands, with just 70 living on the main island, West Island. West Island's inhabitants are mostly mainland contract workers, teachers and government representatives. It has an airport, supermarket, dive shop and cafe.

Home Island has the majority of occupants, who are descendants of the first slaves. They are known as Cocos Malay and have unique traditions and culture.

There's no real need for cars and the best way to get around is by scooter, available for rent at the surf shop. Life definitely runs on island-time and everything seems to come to a halt in the afternoon.

Once you're settled, it's a good idea to visit Geof Christie and hit the water in his glass-bottomed boat to explore the other 26 islands. Direction Island has bits and pieces left behind by sailors on their way to Africa. Cocos is the last stop before they take the three-week journey across the Indian Ocean.

As the islands are the rim of an ancient volcano which imploded, the perfectly sheltered lagoon is brilliant for diving and snorkelling. There are three shipwrecks to explore and millions of fish swim among giant clams. There are a few sharks and you can feed them from the boat. Maximum depth is 10 metres, visibility is excellent and water temperature is 26°C year-round. Doesn't get much better!

You can take a $2 ferry ride to Home Island to experience the local culture. Tours take in the Clunies-Ross household, all that is left of the original settlement. A visit to the local school is charming. Children act as guides and show visitors island traditions such as weaving and dancing.

You will see traditional jukongs, or traditional sailing boats, which are used in annual races in celebrations after Ramadan. Many people now have powerboats for fishing expeditions.

There are only around 50 tourists a month and accommodation varies from large houses, self-contained units, bungalows and motels.

Cocos Seaview is modern, secluded and intimate. Just 50 metres from the Indian Ocean, the three self-contained suites have French doors opening onto wooden verandahs giving views of beautiful tropical gardens and the ocean.

Each has queen bed, ensuite, kitchenette and air conditioning. An outdoor area has a barbecue and cane furniture.

Location

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands lie 2750km north-west of Perth.

Cost

Geof Christie's Glass Bottom Boat tours cost $110 per person. Island hopping and snorkelling are included. They operate any day of the week, depending on the weather.

Scooter hire is $50 a day or $250 a week from the Cocos Surf Shop.

Tour Kebudaayan Kokos two-and-a-half-hour school tours are $20 for adults and $10 for children. They operate on Wednesday.

Cocos Seaview rooms start at $135 a night per person.

National Jet Systems have two flights a week between Perth and the Cocos Islands. Flights start at $1466.

For further information

Cocos Surf Shop
Air Terminal, Shop 2,
Cocos (Keeling) Islands
Indian Ocean 6799
Ph: (08) 9162 6768

Geof Christie Boat Tours
Box 1073, Post Office
Cocos (Keeling) Islands
Indian Ocean 6799
Ph: (08) 9162 6579
geof@cki.cc

Cocos Islands Tourism Association Inc
Box 1030, Post Office
Cocos (Keeling) Islands
Indian Ocean 6799
Ph: (08) 9162 6790
Fax: (08) 9162 6696
www.cocos-tourism.cc
info@cocos-tourism.cc

Cocos Seaview
PO Box 1060,
Cocos (Keeling) Islands
Indian Ocean 6799
Ph: 0488 588 738
Fax: (08) 99652466
www.cocosseaview.com
cocosseaview@cki.cc National Jet Systems
Ph: (08) 9479 9700

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User comments
Me {Dianne} and friend Malcolm {Crew} plus cat plan to sail to the Cocoas Group of Islands in the not to distant future. The yacht is still not finished, but we have read well on these Atolls, and know that yachties on their circumnavigations rest up there for atime before crossing over to Africa. Thanks Getaway for showing us our future dream trip.
I have just come back from a week on Cocos. Paradise. Hope I get to go again some time.
My family and I lived on Cocos Island for 2 years when I was 5 years old. 1964 -1966. Dad was the aiport manager, JP judge and anything else he needed to be. We had 30 kids in our school and life was truly idyllic. Best thing is we were sitting around last night discussing my 50th Birthday and I said I wanted to go back to Cocos with my now 78 year old Dad. Thanks getaway for fantastic timing. Regards Lyn Kennedy (Nee Brady)

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