A day at the beach is an almost universally celebrated summertime outing. When the mercury rises past a certain level for the first time after the chill of winter, punters make their way to the nearest meeting of dirt and water in droves. It’s the same story right across the world, although the acceptable temperatures vary (in Australia we’d still be rugged up in our flannel and Uggs at 23 degrees, the Dutch would be clogging the freeways, sweating in a summertime beach going frenzy). Each year in mid-August, I make a point of defying the seasons and taking the plunge just before the weather changes – it’s my way of welcoming the warmer weather and telling the universe that I’ll not put up with being cold any longer (my version of Groundhog Day). This year, diving into my first beach swim of the season was made all that much easier by the fact that I’ve exchanged the chill of Cottesloe in Perth for the tropical lagoons of Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and the change was well worth the extra travel time.
The spot I chose for my ceremonial soak was Direction Island in the north-west of the Cocos atoll. To get there we took a ferry from West Island across the caldera, stopping briefly at the most populated island in the chain – Home Island. Direction Island (DI as it is named) would be about a ten minute wade from Home Island, however, the shallow reef-filled lagoon necessitates a 30-minute ferry detour. As we neared the DI jetty, I was enticed by the changing hues of the water from the deep, royal blue of the deeper holes through the sapphire of the open, sandy shoals skirted by dark coral bommies, right to the azure sparkle of the shallows. We alighted at the jetty and settled 100 metres down the beach at one of the few other man-made structures on the island – shelter where we based ourselves for the day.
There’s not too much in the way of structured activity on the island, but then again, that isn’t the point of a day at the beach. The shelter of the island is a popular spot for yachties following the Indian Ocean trade winds, and there is a small pontoon for leaping, or basking (depending on your preference). If history is of interest, a discovery walk spans the island, detailing the battle between the H.M.A.S Sydney and the German Emden – Australia’s first naval victory of World War 1.
All of these distraction are pleasant enough, but the main reason to visit DI is the water. Crystal clear, and about as perfect in temperature that one could hope for, it would be easy to float in the water of the lagoon all day. Coral formations crowd the protected lagoon where snorkelers can share the water with all manner of tropical fish including the odd inquisitive reef shark. If you were looking for more excitement than a float above the coral, a narrow channel on the eastern side of the island funnels water from the outer reef (where you can view tonnes of debris drifting from factories to the north) for hundreds of metres into the lagoon, providing a fast flowing – albeit risky – way to view the coral.
I spent my first swim of the summer gliding over coral formations that were over 400 years old, before reclining in the shade of a coconut palm and – because I was on a tropical island, not in chilly Perth (where it rained for most of the week) – after my nap, I went in again!