Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Australia’s Secret Slice of ParadiseCocos Keeling Islands

Mention Cocos Keeling Islands and you’ll likely be met with bewilderment. Explain that they’re a protected bracelet of 27 beach-edged gems fanning across two coral atolls – the very definition of utopia – and voila: instant intrigue. Boasting coconut trees by the millions, ocean-reigning turtles in their thousands, and a human population of just under 600, the marine-protected islands invented the reconnect-to-nature notion. Get ready to discover Australia’s secret slice of paradise.

Getting to Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Dubbed Australia’s untouched paradise and likened to the Galapagos, Cocos (for short) packs a lot of living into its 14sq kilometres of billboard sandscapes. It’s not your typical tourist destination so visitors are few, allowing ecosystems to remain unharmed. As an external Australian territory, getting here is easier than you think. It’s just half a day’s flight from Perth’s international airport, with a duty-free allowance to boot.

Best time to visit Cocos (Keeling)

There are two distinct seasons on the islands. The tradewind season (June to October) yields airtime to kite surfers willing to take off in strong winds; you’ll see thrilling action as the sky fills with fluorescent kites. The doldrums (November to May) bring calm silky waters, perfect for snorkelling, as well as dramatic sunsets.

Protecting Cocos (Keeling)

Cocos and its forested neighbour, Christmas Island, make up the Indian Ocean Territories. The community, working with Parks Australia, has toiled tirelessly to preserve, sustain and promote the environment to support nature-based tourism. In a historic win in March 2022, Parks Australia declared the area a protected sanctuary. The newly proclaimed Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands marine parks cover 744,000sq kilometres – double the size of the Great Barrier Reef – protecting the ocean health essential to the local ecosystem.

Things to do on Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Most things on Cocos can be counted on one hand: restaurants (no fast food outlets), pub (one), mosques, shops. But when it comes to putting on social events, the community has an event-filled calendar.

Whether you crave notching up hours in a hammock by a teal-tinged lagoon, snorkelling in crystal waters, or meshing Malaysian spices together in a cooking class, there’s a dialled down, laid-back pace where locked doors don’t exist and three vehicles on the highway spell peak hour.

Reserve a Thursday afternoon for a friendly nine holes of Scroungers golf with West Islanders. Hire a cart, pack cold bevvies and don your thongs and T-shirt ready for tee-off. It’s the only place in the world you can play golf across an international runway. By the time the sun swings below the palm trees you’ll feel like a local.

It’s carefree living, like days of old. Book a stay before those in the know do.

The Cocos (Keeling) cays and islands to visit

Of the 27 idyllic isles, only two are inhabited, leaving the remainder as havens for fauna and flora to thrive.

West Island, the main tourist township, is home to around 110 expatriates keen to share the dream. It’s where water aficionados can delve, dive and drift to their heart’s content on holiday-brochure beaches.

Just across the lagoon you can slip your toes into the silky sand at Direction Island. Voted Australia’s best beach in 2017, the famous Rip snorkelling spot sits at its tip. Ride the warm current on repeat, sweeping past tropical fish and coral the colour of rainbows until the undercurrent safely swoops you into calmer waters.

In deeper ocean, the wreck of the Phaeton, which went down in 1889, is a sea life sanctuary. Ogle at triggerfish, yellowfin goatfish and sergeant major damselfish as they flit through flourishing coral colonies. Life above is all but forgotten as you’re drawn into the magic.

Home Island, Cocos’ cultural hub, is a 20-minute ferry ride across blue-brushed ocean. In a quiet kampong (Malaysian village), around 450 Cocos Malay Muslims continue to practice their religious beliefs. A mini museum houses paraphernalia dating back to the islands’ torrid past; its sobering material reflects tough plantation conditions. Connect with locals during a homestay and listen for the soulful call to prayer broadcast from the local mosque.