Paradise on Earth?
The trade winds are picking up again, so we decide to hoist our sails for the next leg. Luci picks up speed as we steer a westerly course, leaving Birthday Island slowly behind us. We pick up where we left: uncomfortable but fast sailing. After four days, Ivar is the first to spot land. “There, palm trees!” he shouts. “Those are the Cocos Islands, also known as the Keeling Islands”.
The group of islands are as flat as a pancake. Around them is a ring of coral measuring about 6 by 8 miles, which we need to navigate around to reach the anchorage. Ivar steers Luci to an opening in the ring on the north-eastern side. Left and right of us the ocean swell break violently on the reef, but once through the pass we quickly get into calm waters. As we follow the buoys to the anchorage, we can see how vast the lagoon is. “It looks like an atoll in French Polynesia,” Ivar smiles. “Such a paradise, in the middle of the Indian Ocean!” Are we indeed in Valhalla or is there a threat behind the façade?
The anchor drops to a depth of 10 meters, where we see it fall into the sand. We are now more than 1,000 miles from mainland Australia, much closer to Sumatra, but this group of islands is still part of Australia. We therefore call the Australian Federal Police on our VHF radio to report our arrival. While we wait for the authorities, we can’t believe our eyes. Snow-white beaches and tall coconut palms lure us ashore.
After we’re checked in, we explore Direction Island. This is the exclusive area of sailing yachts, miles away from the villages on the other islands. We stroll along the immaculate beach until we come across a picnic area, with sheltered benches, tables and barbecues. It’s still Australia, of course. There’s even WiFi! We also admire the many works of art with names of yachts and crews. Painted wooden signs, plastic buoys and shell creations are the silent witnesses of the sailing crews that preceded us and stopped here. We completely understand why!
A hiking trail takes us to ‘The Rip’, a beautiful snorkel spot on the south side of the island. The ocean waves wash over the outer reef here, causing a strong, consistent current. Below us, razor sharp coral covers the ocean floor. “It gets deep quickly, so it should be just fine,” Floris assesses. He puts on his snorkel mask and takes a deep dive. Ivar jumps in after him.
Immediately the water drags us along. We steer with our hands and feet to stay in the deep part, keeping a safe distance from the reefs. Mother nature is going the extra mile for us, it seems. Coral in many varieties and colours and countless types of fish, especially large ones, surround us. Dozens of parrotfish gnaw undisturbed on dead pieces of coral, while a gigantic napoleon fish swims quietly in circles. A sea turtle watches us from behind a coral rock and sharks lie on the ocean floor, resting. As we swim to the beach, we see a colourful Picasso triggerfish burrowing in the white sand.
“Again!” Ivar shouts. We can’t get enough of this enchanting place. Much later, tired from swimming, we paddle back to Luci. We take a sip of fresh coconut milk, absorb the awesome tropical scenery and feel like we’re actually in paradise!