Ferry to West Island and Back

Cocos Keeling Islands – Indian Ocean

view from west island


It's almost time to leave the Cocos and we still hadn't taken the ferry to the other side of the lagoon to visit West Island. It's the ex-pat Australian side of the atoll, the Admin Center, the larger supermarket AND the place we needed to visit to check out and get our clearance papers. We consulted the ferry schedule and there were no ferries from Direction Island until Thursday, so we dinghied over to Home Island, tied the dinghy securely to the long pier and planned to catch the ferry from there.

As it turned out the Federal Police were on Home Island for the day and we were able to check out there which was quite convenient. It was a quick, efficient, painless procedure to get our clearance papers for Rodrigues and our passports stamped. Plenty of time to still catch the 10:30 ferry to West Island. We met up with some German cruising friends and boarded the ferry for the 20 minute ride, bought our tickets for $2.50 each and enjoyed a very old Tom & Jerry cartoon en route.


friends on ferry


I'm not sure what we expected West Island to be … the big smoke of the Cocos, I guess. We caught a mini-bus at the end of the jetty for a 7km ride into “town”. The supermarket took up a small portion of the Cocos Shop pre-fab facility … the other shops were closed. It didn't offer much more than the Shamrok market at Home Island. I bought a couple of onions, a cabbage and some apples … that was about it. We did see, however, “Bun Spice” which caught our attention. After a long passage, perhaps this might  be considered an essential.


bun spice


Though Wednesday was the big shopping day, nothing seemed open. We found the small Info Center and learned there were two places open for lunch … from 11:30 to 1pm only. We chose the more casual (and less expensive) Tropika which was a basic burger and chips kind of place with a lovely covered porch out back facing the ocean. The views were great. The food was mediocre, but David's “cheeseburger in Paradise” was just what the doctor ordered.


tripicka resuartant view


Other than a few souvenir items at the Info Center, there was nothing to buy. We indulged in a Magnum ice cream as we checked out the Cocos airport. The golf club is right next to the airport and evidently in order to play through all nine holes, the golfers must play across the runway.


airport golf


After looking at a few more pretty views, we settled down to wait 1-1/2 hours for the return bus to the ferry dock. We'd seen pretty much all we could see that was open and available here. Most of  West Island seems to be dedicated to tourism … motels, guest houses, car and sports equipment rentals, tours. Quite the disappointment. We had expected a bit more. Home Island with its resident Malay population offers more “village charm”. But, heck, you couldn't visit the Cocos without at least making a trip to West Island to make sure you weren't missing anything.


bus stop


We watched the ferry arriving just as we got off the bus. We bought our tix and had an uneventful ride back to Home Island. The dinghy was just as we'd left it. We clambered down from the jetty and headed back to Cups. We had lots to do to get ready for our departure.


ferry return

A Dinghy Trip to Home Island

Cocos Keeling Islands

The winds were down and the sun was bright as we dinghied across the lagoon to Home Island. We skirted around bommies in a zigzag pattern and finally connected with the channel into Home's little harbor. The shallow waters prevent supply ships from entering. We'd watched for two days in the outer anchorage while a ship had unloaded supplies with a crane onto a lighter and a barge and then reloaded empty containers.


lighter and barge


We passed the ferry dock and jetty and beached the dinghy on the foreshore. We climbed up to the main road, a brick-paved, single lane thoroughfare which was perfect for the quads and motor bikes that everyone seemed to be driving here. As we approached the jetty, we saw the Welcome to Home Island sign and an info kiosk with an island map.


welcome sign


The map and several signposts directed us to the Shire Council's office. We needed to pay our anchoring fees to the shire … $50/week. Like many other small island communities we've visited, the pace was slow and things were laid back. That said, the payment process was computerized and they accepted credit cards. No complaints.


shire office


We had passed the island museum on the way in and inquired as to the opening hours.

“I'll give you the key”, said the young Cocos Malay woman. And just like that, we had access to the museum.


key to museum


Housed in an old white-washed brick copra storage building, the museum was small, one large room, in fact, but it held some interesting items and provided some background information on the Cocos Malay population. I was particularly intrigued with shadow puppetry which is an entertainment art they're working to revive here. The Clunies-Ross family, the owners of the old copra plantation, did everything possible to maintain the isolation of their workers, forbidding fraternization with visitors or even use of communications. Having left their homeland generations before, much of their culture, including their language, has morphed into a unique Cocos Island culture and only recently have they had the opportunity to explore their roots.


museum collage


We had also asked the shire office for a recommendation for lunch.

“It's Friday … nothing is open today for lunch”, she explained. “On Friday, we only work a half day and everything closes. You might try the supermarket for some fruit.”

Hmm … all restaurants closed on Fridays and evidently throughout the weekend, because why would anyone want to eat out over the weekend? This is island life. We headed to the tiny Shamrok Supermarket. Though there wasn't much in the way of freshies and the frozen food section was pretty empty, I was glad to see that civilization had indeed come to Cocos … there on the shelf were Hello Kitty and Angry Bird animal crackers. We passed on those in favor of a couple of apples for lunch.


cocos keeling supermarket


We wandered along well-worn paths, past rows of pre-fab houses with antennas stuck on the roofs.

The Clunies-Ross family had built Oceania House during the heyday of the copra industry. The remains of the building still exist although a new Oceania House, which looks to be a luxurious place, is in the process of being built. The walls of the old estate are crumbling and little is left.


oceania house callage


The cemetery was at the northern end of the island and we decided to dinghy north along the shore for a visit rather than walking. The graveyard was a beautiful, serene clearing, well-tended and cared for. Cocos Malay grave markers incorporate an Islamic motif on each grave. Many were draped with the traditional scarf worn by the women. Some had umbrellas and some tiny canopies to protect the graves from the sun and elements.


cocos keeling malay graves


We also found the family burial site of the Clunies-Ross family dating from the mid-19th century.


clunies ross burial site


The tide was low and we pushed and pulled the dinghy quite a ways offshore before finding enough water to set down the engine. We passed tiny Prison Island, the island to which Alexander Hare and his seraglio of women were relegated, and thought about a stop there, but the entrance was too shallow at the moment and decided to leave it till another day.


shallow exit


A 20-minute ride around those same coral heads and we were back at Cups, hot and dusty from our little excursion ashore. Once again, the turquoise blue water invited us to cool off and relax. A refreshing dip, a sundowner in the cockpit, dinner and a movie. Really … it doesn't get much better. It really doesn't.

Living on Island Time

Direction Island, Cocos Keeling Islands It's not hard to slip right into island life and live on island time for awhile. In fact, we have! Despite chores to be done and initially feeling stressed about getting things done and moving on quickly, we've taken to island time just fine.


marcie takes to a hammock


We wake and rise early … with the sun … but the rest of the day seems unhurried. We get things done, it just seems to take longer than usual. A typical day for us at the moment? I'll share, but if you hold a 9-5 job or if you're a high energy sort of person, you might not get it.

Morning chores for me consist of laundry which has soaked overnight in a bucket, dishes from last night's dinner and writing for at least an hour or so. David usually downloads emails from SailMail and picks up the weather while I'm finishing up my chores, then we have a cuppa together in the cockpit. We enjoy the mornings … they're relaxed and quiet. No dinghies zipping around the anchorage; no VHF chatter. We sip a cup or sometimes two and chat and plan our day. This morning ritual can last anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours, depending on our plans for the day or if we're having a good conversation and time gets away from us. Actually, time seems less relevant here.


enjoying some cuppas


We've been planning an “excursion” every other day. One day to Home Island to explore; one day for working on the whisker pole; one day for snorkeling on the reef; one day to take down the jib and repair it and replace it with the yankee; one day to take the ferry to West Island; one day for cleaning the boat and getting her in shape for another long passage; one day for walking the Direction Island Heritage Trail. An excursion might last anywhere from a couple of hours to a whole day and we plan chores around this accordingly. On non-excursion days, we still dinghy into Direction Island to walk a bit and take a break from our projects. Sometimes we bring in our breakfast and insulated mugs with tea or coffee and just sit and enjoy the day from another vantage point or chat with fellow cruisers. Sometimes we just walk the beach. There are no rules.


walking the beach


Lunch is something light. If David's working on a project, he'll stop every once in a while for a cuppa and perhaps have a sandwich. We eat when we're hungry rather than a designated time. Sometimes dinner's at 9pm; other times it's at 4pm. We've been known to have just a big batch of popcorn for dinner.

We often take afternoon siestas, especially in the heat of the day when working on deck is just too hot and working below doesn't appeal either. These afternoon reprieves are guiltless and refreshing. Taking a cool dip in the lovely Cocos waters has been a wonderful late afternoon ritual that we look forward to. After we dry off, it's time for sundowners … one of David's homemade brews or a glass of wine. We like to watch the sunsets.

Evenings begin when the sun goes down. In the tropics, that's about 6:30pm. David checks e-mails and weather once again, while I make dinner. We take turns choosing a movie from our huge hard drive collection. Perhaps, we prefer to read some evenings or play a card game or do all of the above. Wind power here has been no issue, so we've been free to use our computers and watch movies and listen to music and run the watermaker to our heart's content.

Soon we'll be back on passage. Three hour watches … 24x7, conserving water and power. About 2,000 nm to Rodrigues Island where we can lapse into island time again for a brief time.