The ‘welcome to Paradise’ brochures handed out at Cocos (Keeling) Islands’ airport after half a day’s travel from Perth perfectly encapsulate Australia’s most remote group of 27 islands that hang in the Indian Ocean like a sparkling tiara.
One of three Australian external territories, those lucky enough to experience its unhurried landscape either stay or lose no time hurrying back; one escape to the deserted sand-draped isles isn’t nearly enough.
Be warned though, Cocos (Keeling) is a hard addiction to break. Picture snorkelling in aquarium-clear waters, swishing in hammocks hooked to palm trees, or simply strolling along the water’s edge, splashing up surf. Whether you crave well-earned R&R, a dab of adventure, or losing yourself in the islands’ rich natural environment, we’ve checked out the following what-to-do and where-to-eat options.
Getting wet on Cocos
Cocos’ horseshoe shape of islands sits in one of the world’s most azure archipelagos, giving the illusion a higher power perhaps created them for ocean lovers.
Join Cocos Dive and book an underwater sea-scooter tour or venture deeper with a dive. Either way, you can explore the islands’ wrecks where teems of tropical fish flit and dart through coral-encrusted hulls.
Since Parks Australia declared the marine park a sanctuary in March 2022, you’ll be snorkelling in waters set to remain pristine and protected.
Swim with the protected underwater creatures. (Image: Lynn Gail)
For an experience with a difference, join a Canoe Safari Tour and discover the untouched Southern Islands with Cocos Islands Adventure Tours.
You’ll skim across the lagoon in a motorised canoe, moor at an idyllic isle and indulge in a gourmet champagne picnic. Have your video ready to record the famous Cocos hermit crab race – the commentary alone is a hoot.
Bring your snorkel and sense of adventure – the current will carry you around the tip of Pulu Maria, a tranquil tidbit of an island where coral overflows with magical marine life.
Obsessed with hawksbill and green turtles? Cocos Island Adventure Tours have a tour dedicated to seeing these gentle giants glide as light as ballet dancers through the lagoon.
For a memorable experience, jump in and swim alongside their incredibly handsome shells.
Join in one of many water sports on the island. (Image: Lynn Gail)
If fishing pumps through your gills, jump on half a day’s trip with Glass Bottom Boat Tours and snag a catch for dinner.
Not into game fishing? Admire the star-studded sea life through the boat’s glass panel instead. Bring your snorkelling gear if you want to come eye to-fish-eye with Cocos’ vibrant sea life.
The owners will also moor at surrounding islands for any history buffs on board. Both Prison Island – once home to a harem – and Horsburgh Islands – where the Australian Army established a base during WWII – have intriguing pasts.
Dress to get wet and explore the islands’ Eastern Atolls with Cocosday Tours. Snorkel around coral reefs brimming with exotic fish or choose an outlying island to bask and beachcomb to your heart’s content.
A couple of onboard stand-up paddle boards will help you work up an appetite for the included champers and nibbles.
Cocosday Tours also offers fishing tours around the reef flats. Catch Coral Trout, Bluefin Trevally, Red Bass or Yellow lip Emperor using their high-quality fishing gear.
Take in the sparkling waters and black-tipped sharks surrounding Prison Island. (Image: Lynn Gail)
Take to the air
During July to September, trade winds bring perfect conditions for kite surfing. Fly like a bird over West Island’s curvaceous shoreline with Zephyr Tours or Ape X Kiteboarding – it’ll be an adventure like no other with these experienced kite school tour operators.
The instructors will show you the ropes and have you soaring over a translucent lagoon spotting turtle, black-tip reef sharks and shoals of fish.
Both Zephyr and Ape X Kiteboarding are one-stop shops offering packages including accommodation, transport, and island adventures along with unlimited kite lessons.
Take to the skies on a Zephyr Tour.
Staying dry on Cocos
Step down into the hull of a restored barge of Big Barge Art Centre, lined with one-off art pieces made from washed-up flotsam and jetsam.
Local artist, Emma Washer pulled the colossal broken-down ship, the Biar Selamat (meaning ‘let’s be safe’) from the overgrown jungle back in 2001.
Emma devoted over 10 years to turn her vision of creating an art gallery into a reality. The 19-metre-long art centre now sits in a prime beachfront location and offers various workshops on recycling washed-up waste.
A recently added boho-styled café, built from recycled boat timbers, serves a range of hot drinks and tasty treats to enjoy as the waves roll in. Check opening hours with the Visitor Centre on West Island.
Visit the Big Barge Art Centre for some creativity and culture. (Image: Lynn Gail)
Join a farm-based tour with Cocos Artisans Collective and see behind the scenes of a coconut production centre during a 1.5-hour demonstration. Learn about the timeworn techniques the farmers employ to create their products.
Cocos is laden with coconut palms – you’ll discover how they are utilised to make a range of goods, including tasty coconut chips and delicious ice creams. And you’ll get to enjoy free tastings afterwards in the farm shop.
Cocos Artisans Collective also produce a range of coconut-based body balms.
T-off with locals
Scrounger’s Golf is played every Thursday afternoon across the airport’s international runway. It’s an island-initiation must-do – like taking the Polar Plunge in Antarctica, though not nearly as cold.
The nine-hole round is all about teamwork, boardies, beers, and banter, rather than getting a ball on the putting green.
Make your way to the Donga, West Island’s local club, sign up, grab some coldies, and hire your clubs, ready for tee-off at 3.30pm.
Play golf across an international runway, just to say you have. (Image: Lynn Gail)
Where to dine
After exploring deserted beaches, luxuriating in warm crystalline waters whiling away hours in contented bliss, you’ll no doubt be thinking about satisfying your taste buds.
With Cocos’ land mass measuring a mere 14 sq km, restaurants are limited. However, there’s a good range of Australian, International and Malaysian fare available.
Watch the fading sun dance through waves from your lantern-lit table at Saltmakers by the Sea. Saltmakers offer a range of delicious dishes and have special themed nights, like Coconut Night on Thursdays.
Chalk your name up on the outside blackboard or drop in to book. The restaurant also opens for breakfast periodically throughout the week – try their tasty avo and bacon toasties with freshly brewed coffee.
Pull up a stall next to the locals at Salty’s Grill & Bakery, located externally at the airport. Get your caffeine fix, fresh croissant, pastry or toastie in the mornings.
Pop in on Wednesday for Cocos Malay Curry night, or Friday for Fish, Chip & Salad night. Salty also serves up freshly made pizzas to order, and a range of sushi.
Dine alfresco by the ocean at Saltmaker’s By The Sea. (Image: Lynn Gail)
Add Tropika Restaurant at the Cocos Beach Resort. Buffet style Malaysian and Australian, breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days.
Open daily from 5pm onwards, the Cocos Club is a family-friendly hub, pub and foodery rolled into one. Relax with a cocktail or coldie and play a game of pool as you catch up with locals. They’ll tell you where the surf’s up and where the fish are biting.
Get intimate with your loved one by ordering a delicious spread with Cocos Picnics. They’ll put together a delicious, handmade grazing platter for you to indulge in – your only decision will be which deserted, soft sandy beach to hideaway on.
The basket is filled with gourmet goodies, rugs, cushions, candles, and fairy lights – there’s even a pack of cards, a low-ground picnic table and a speaker for your playlist as you lay back to unwind under lazily swaying palms.
Catch the ferry across from West Island for an authentic Malaysian dining experience at Home Island’s Seafront Restaurant.
Book in for the cultural infused Wednesday Night Buffet Dinner and try flavoursome Cocos Malay dishes from the smorgasbord spread.
During the day the restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch. Taste their range of bubble teas for a sweet refreshment. Book through the visitor centre or directly with the restaurant.
After exploring Home’s Island peaceful Kampong (traditional Malaysian village) continue your cultural immersion at Island Brunch Café with their western-infused Cocos Malay dishes and speciality iced drinks.
Order a takeaway and dip your toes in the water at the lagoon’s edge. The sweeping layers of aquamarine hues are incredible. Pinch yourself to ensure you’re not at home daydreaming, turning pages of a glossy visit-paradise holiday brochure.