Our Cocos Christmas honeymoon

Virgin Bart

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I mentioned elsewhere that my newly minted wife and I are planning a honeymoon in Cocos and Christmas islands.

Let's start the story by acknowledging we live in Melbourne. That's very COVID-relevant.

Starting with the wedding, which was on 21February and was always meant to be in Hobart. We planned to marry last year but the lockdowns meant that wasn't going to happen. We decided that we'd marry on 21 February '21 no matter what, or where.

We love Hobart. The Hobart wedding was all planned. 45-odd guests with flights and accommodation all booked. Wedding in Parliament Gardens followed by a reception at t42 on the water.

As luck would have it Melbourne had a mini outbreak two weeks before 21/2, and the Tasmanian government shut us out. With three days to go to the wedding we were still shut out, so we nervously (and apologetically to guests) cancelled the Hobart wedding and moved to a park in Hampton, Victoria.

... The next morning the Tasmanian government opened up to Victorians, of course...

Thankfully from reports and personal experience all airlines were very reasonable. JQ refunded within 3 days. QF within about 6 weeks. And VA within a couple of weeks. Most accommodation refunded immediately too.

Enough about the wedding. On to the honeymoon.

We've always dreamed of going to Cocos and Christmas Islands together. I've been once before and Mrs Virgin had been to Christmas Island dock thrice, for work, but never stepped on the island (think asylum seekers).

So we gathered out VA points together - the last of our VA points incidentally, in August and booked PER-CCK, CCK-XCH, XCH-CCK-PER. The flights are A320 and underwritten by the Australian Government, no J. The flights costs about 70k points and $150 each. Note VA no longer release any reward flights to the Indian Ocean Territories (IOT).

Now we needed to book flights to PER and back. We went with QF and decided to fly 15 days early (flying out 25/3) so that in case of an outbreak we can say we spent the last 14 days in WA. IOT generally follow WA's COVID-19 entry requirements, but usually a little more conservative - and fair enough IMO.

That was the plan.... Now onto the reality....
 
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Virgin Bart

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As expected the QF B738 flights MEL-PER were uneventful. Mask compliance was high. Landing in Perth was exciting, G2G pass in hand. They are strict but it only took about 3 minutes extra. I guess it helped that Melbourne was in a "Very Low Risk" state.

The plan was to stay at Mantra on Hay for 10 days, send the kids back unaccompanied, then 2 nights in Kalgoorlie, 2 nights in Novotel Swan Valley, then head off to Cocos Islands on 4/4.

Mantra on Hay is great. We got an amazing deal with emergency services rates, a 2 bedroom apartment costing us only $120 per night. As Accor Platinums we also got 4x a la carte breakfasts each morning. Food in the restaurant was great. But some mornings took an hour to come out - too long.

In Perth and surrounds we did:
- Fremantle jail
- North Fremantle beach
- the Mint
- Nostalgia Box video game museum
- SciTech
.. and I highly recommend all of those.

After 10 days it was time to finish the kiddie holiday and start the honeymoon with a flight to Kalgoorlie.
 

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Virgin Bart

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We decided to pick a random destination from PER since it's a rare occurrence for us to be here with time off. Hence KGI. Booked a hotel using the QF Platinum $50 vouchers they sent out about a year ago.

Pizza at QF J lounge was amazing as always. And I ate way too much as always. Washed down with sparkling wine and caramel slice and I was a happy and fat man.

The lounge was an eye-opener for a Melbournian. You wouldn't know COVID ever existed, except COVID check in and hand sanitizer.

(Side note: I've visited 6 states and territories in the last two months and Victoria's check in compliance is by far the worst)

Flight over was in one of QFlink's A322s, I _think_ they have two. Very basic service with a small coughpy snack and water only. Goodness knows why. Again no J.

Upon landing at 6pm we decided to walk to town. The 6km walk has footpaths the whole way and we were sufficiently lubricated to make it happen (I'm a walker, and Ms Virgin tolerates me).

Kalgoorlie is everything we expected. Red dust. Bloody hot. Nice people. Expensive. Closes early. And lots of brothels.

We stayed at Best Western Hospitality Inn. It was fine, motel style.

In Kalgoorlie we also visited the Superpit which was great but the walk home in the middle of the day wasn't appreciated by the other half.

After two nights (Easter public holidays) we were ready to leave Kalgoorlie. We took the Prospector train, details on the next post.
 

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QF_Flyer

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Great idea mate, enjoy the trip, I’ll keep following along!
 

Virgin Bart

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We boarded the Prospector at 0700 for a 0705 departure. The journey was to be 6.5 hours. It's a nice train, good seat pitch. 2 carriages, 2 toilets, 1 inoperable.

Crew were nice. And scenery is nice.

But (I have Polish background) I never cease to be disappointed by trains in Australia. The buffet was coughpy pies and Coca Cola branded drinks. On a similar journey in Europe I'd have freshly made scrambled eggs with tomato and Rye bread with some beer or vodka. Here breakfast was an Up and Go. We BYO'd in anticipation.

The journey was pleasant with surpringly good "IFE", lots of movies and TV shows to watch, as well as a live map and driver cam.

Arrived 10 minutes late, given we travelled 450km or so along mostly single track that was perfectly fine.
 

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Virgin Bart

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We disembarked at Midland station, and Uber'd to Novotel Swan Valley.

I'm Platinum Plus and check in was a disaster. They said "we don't do free upgrades", then I reminded them of Accor T&C's, many key strokes later they said "sorry we can't move people's rooms" - rubbish.

Eventually the Duty Manager came and admitted the truth - they had only one room above my booked level available and thought they would be able to sell it. It's still against the T&Cs but I copped it on the chin. Got my welcome drinks too.

Room was nice. Faced the pool. Full buffet breakfast for Platinums as always, and again you wouldn't know COVID existed.

Nice resort, great 18 hole golf course and 18 hole mini golf course.

Half the hotel were Chevron and Woodside staff self-isolating for two weeks prior to going to mines and rigs, the other half seemed to be Perth locals on staycations. Very few interstate visitors.

At check out I was handed a bottle of wine with apologies for the check in drama. Said wine is being consumed now.
 

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Virgin Bart

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We left Novotel Swan Valley and arrived at Mantra on Murray in Perth for our last night before IOT. We were beginning to prepare for an early night (0320 wake up next day) and go shopping for food to take to IOT. While having lunch at about 1pm we get a text and email from Virgin stating the flight is cancelled and they'll let us know when there's more info.

Pretty shattering. Turns out there was a cyclone (two, actually!) brewing off the coast of WA which meant the flight was canx.

I called VA, who insisted (at least 5 times) the flight is not cancelled. I HUACA and the "senior supervisor" confirmed the flight is cancelled. I really really tried to stop myself cracking the coughs. We booked an extra night in Perth and settled in, with little certainty.

The next day (now Saturday) at about 1100 we got an email saying the flight is "rescheduled" to Monday morning. So then we booked another two nights in Perth. It also meant we ate 3 nights into our 7 night stay in Cocos. There were tears that night.

So now, it's Sunday, and we are preparing for a 0420 wake up tomorrow morning, for a 0720 flight. Our first flight from an international terminal since December 2019! Excited. Fingers crossed, the cyclones are still around but seem to be dissipating.
 

kookaburra75

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Fingers crossed for you both. Looking forward to your photos and thoughts on Cocos and Christmas Islands. It's been a lot of years since I was there for work, and certainly Christmas Island is on my list of places to go.
 

Virgin Bart

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Another one interested in the Cocos and Christmas Islands. I can remember as a kid collecting stamps from Cocos and Keeling Islands I think.
This is the only knowledge I had of CKI for many many years, the beautiful colourful Aust Post stamps of CKI fish.
 

kpc

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Things to do on CCK: Motorised canoe tour (Tours — Cocos Islands Adventure Tours , swim and snorkel at Cossies Beach on Direction Island (ferry only goes 2x per week), tour of Home Island, walking on the beach by yourselves...we stayed 5 nights (1 more than planned due to flight delay) so you should be able to do most things in 4 days :)
 
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Virgin Bart

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After a 0320 wake up we filled our styrofoam box with the frozen and cold food from our fridge (it's recommended you take much of your food over to IOT due to cost, shortages and limited range). Checked out and we called an Ola to take us to the airport.

The flight departs from the international terminal due to customs reasons. There's no duty or GST on IOT, I understand.

PER international is as dead as I'd feared. Three days of international departures appear on one screen. No F&B airside or landside. A sad sight.

Check in is a little slow as most people are bringing 2-4 bags of supplies and everyday goods.

We went to the VAd lounge for breakfast which was walk-up "buffet" style. But the choices were uninspiring: three cereals, a yoghurt and juice. And of course coffee. No problems getting in, and we left with about 90 minutes to boarding.

Walking through security is bizarre. There were two CBP on duty, you pass your ID/passport through a 1cm slit through glass to them. Sad, again. Completely dead as expected.

Departing today is:
VA to CCK/XCH, 83 pax
SQ to SIN, 14 pax
QR to DOH, 15 pax.

I watched the SIN flight board, called by person! It took 4-5 minutes. It's dead silent, and again it's just sad.

Duty free was open, but strangely caged. Much to my surprise almost all alcohol was 30% off normal prices. The duty free allowance to IOT is same as international, 2.25L of spirits. We purchased some and waited for the flight to board.

SQ, EK and NZ lounges are all closed. QF lounge is currently being stripped.

Boarding was quite uneventful. Annoucements on board just the standard wording that we're now used to, about increased safety and the rest of it. Crew and pax all generally masked.

83/180 seats filled so there's a nice amount of space. I type that as I lay across three seats.

It's nice to be bleary eyed again. It kind of reminds me of international travel.

Had my lukewarm coffee. Unfortunately VA don't serve their 1/3 sized muesli bars any more so I'll have to find another way to not fill my stomach. No IFE (never has been on VA's A322s).

VA1913 has a technical stop for fuel at RAAF Learmonth, the stop is expected to take 45 to 60 mins we are told. Would be interested to hear a definitive reason for this stop, but I assume it's got to do with the remote location of our destination.

40 minutes of sitting around and we are off to Cocos.

Crew were forced to do another safety demo, and we got another tea, coffee or water. Crew handed out arrival documentation (remember that?). A light lunch of a decent cheese, beef and horseradish sandwich was also served and we landed in the beautiful Cocos Islands!
 

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henrus

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No F&B airside or landside
This is surprising, I flew PER-XCH last December (~5 months ago) and there was one cafe open near the check in desks, one cafe open upstairs just before security and then one cafe open downstairs near the emirates lounge.

Duty free was open, but strangely caged
Duty free doesn't always open for some of the flights with just a few people so it's caged off so it can be "closed". It's amazing because none of the Australian duty free shops really have doors to close given they're normally always open.

No IFE (never has been on VA's A322s).
I think you mean A320, they've got the streaming entertainment (boardconnect) same as the 737's but the A320 fleet just lacks the flight map.

Would be interested to hear a definitive reason for this stop, but I assume it's got to do with the remote location of our destination.
This should answer it, worth noting that since COVID they can't really use the Indonesian airports so a Learmonth stop is more important than ever before:
Screen Shot 2021-04-12 at 10.17.20 pm.png
 

kpc

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This should answer it, worth noting that since COVID they can't really use the Indonesian airports so a Learmonth stop is more important than ever before:
View attachment 244976
I think the Learmonth technical stop is seasonal. When we went about 4.5 years ago in Nov, this technical stop was not needed. To visit both islands we flew:
Tues: Syd-Per-Xch-Cck
Sat (but delayed til Sun): Cck-Xch
Tues: Xch-Cck-Per (forced overnight)-Syd
 

henrus

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I think the Learmonth technical stop is seasonal.
Check-in staff at XCH said that ever since COVID they've always made the stop. What's annoying is that it isn't scheduled in the booking, it's only on the day of travel that it gets updated to show a stop in Learmonth.
 

Virgin Bart

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Upon landing everyone is herded into the arrival pen. Locals hang around calmly while visitors wonder what is going on. Then an AFP officer speaks and reminds us that we're not in Bali and that road rules apply.

Side note: speaking to some locals it's clear that the closure of international borders has sent a different type of visitor to the island (from Perth largely). A few locals commented that clientele has changed from those seeking a real escape and nature, to a traveller more used to Bali.....

After the briefing you collect your luggage and go though customs. Everyone opens up their food boxes and shows receipts and you're waves through. Special attention given to tomatos.

Once through, our host picked us up. We're staying at Cocos Seaview. Note there's no sea view. It's nice enough, on Qantas Place, clean enough and functional.

After the one minute drive to Seaview we settled in and went for a walk. The island really is paradise.

WiFi is scattered. There's "hotspots" for $25/5GB/week. Accommodation offered it for $35/5GB/week. And Toll offers it for free at the airport 24/7!

There are three main islands:

- Home Island, an island of almost exclusively Muslim Malays. Delightful community. Not a huge amount to do on the island. I had lunch there last time, but this time it's Ramadan so everything closed. Also the museum is on this island. I recommend it. Some interesting history. Council office will give you the key, turn the air con on and help yourself in outside of operating hours. Oceania House is a historic house of the former ruler, Clunies-Ross. Worth a look.

- West Island, the main island. Airport and most accommodation is here. Main supermarket is next to airport and tourist information too. A bus ($0.50) turns up and down the island and the ferry to the islands operates too ($2.50).

- Direction Island, an uninhabited beautiful island. Amazing military history too. And the site of the cable which leaving Australia on Cable Beach and carries on to Singapore. Ferry runs here on Thursdays and Saturdays. Schedule forces you to be there 4 hours or so.
 

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Virgin Bart

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Our time at Cocos Islands comes to a close today.

We had a super time. Some Qantas related history is attached.

Highlights: the rip at Direction Island. It picks you up at one spot, spits you our in another in the lagoon. Magical. Photos below.

Food as expected is either unexciting or extremely expensive. We had a buffet at Home Island which was ok.

Small coffee is $6 (large $10) and is mainland good. Available at Saltys at the airport or Saltmakers restaurant on alternate mornings.

The runway is the only unfenced international runway in Australia. On Thursday afternoon they shut it and you can play golf over and across the runway.

Now we are at the airport waiting to check in. Heading to Christmas Island, a two hour flight with a half hour time difference.

If anyone has any questions I'd be happy to answer.
 

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kpc

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We stayed in ex Qantas crew accommodation...renovated now of course :) We nearly drowned in The RIP....we let the rip takes us deep into the lagoon and the beach was so far away by then, it took us nearly 20+ mins to swim back. :( The food in Xmas Island is much better esp. If you like Chinese :)
 

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