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.