Cocos Keeling Islands: Everything you need to know

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Australia has its fair share of tropical island paradises, but it’s fair to say most of them seem to be located on the eastern side of the country.

Well you might be shocked to learn that Western Australia (kinda) has one of its own – the Cocos Keeling Islands. Located a few thousand kilometres into the middle of our beloved Indian Ocean, the Commonwealth provides health, education and policing to this stunning collection of largely untouched tropical islands.

What is it?

The Cocos Keeling Islands are an atoll of 27 small islands, with only two inhabited by people – West Island and Home Island. Outside of those two there are 25 others just waiting to be discovered, including the tiny Prison Island and Direction Island – home to Cossie’s Beach – crowned the Best Beach in Australia in 2017. The islands are home to a tiny population of around 600 mostly Cocos Malays – the predominant community of the region.

Where is it?

Lying smack bang in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Cocos Keeling Islands are about 2800km northwest of Perth and 900km southwest of Christmas Island. If like most of us you don’t own a luxury yacht, the best way to get there is via one of two, four-and-a-half hour Virgin Australia flights a week out of Perth on Tuesdays and Fridays, landing on West Island. There are ferries that run between the main islands, along with car and bike hire options on the islands to help you get exploring.

Cocos Keeling Islands

What to do:

As with any tropical paradises you’ve basically got two options – put your feet up and settle into the coconut-sipping lifestyle, or bring a sense of adventure and get exploring. Tourists can visit West Island and Home Island (with some great places to stay like heritage-listed Oceania House which was built between 1887 – 1904 and has been fully restored, as well as homestays with locals like Kampong Homestay).

Your adventures can begin with the visitor centre, supermarket, hire car centre and a few cafés and restaurants to drink/dine in.

Snorkelling on the islands is a must – the waters are home to some 500 species of fish, along with turtles, manta rays, dolphins, reef sharks and even dugongs. For the more sports-inclined, diving, surfing and kitesurfing are popular activities in different areas of the islands, along with stand up paddle boarding, motorised outrigger canoe safaris, and even golf at the Cocos Islands Golf Course.

Another must-do on the islands is getting amongst the incredibly unique Cocos Malay people and culture via tours and checking out the museum. Finally no trip to the Cocos Keeling Islands would be complete with a trip to one of Australia’s most beautiful beaches, Cossies Beach on Direction Island, with ferries departing from West Island on Thursdays and Saturdays only.

If you’re exploring Home Island make sure you visit the Cocos Malay Village, and incredible cultural experience for travellers to really immerse themselves in the Cocos Keeling life.

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What not to do:

Be disrespectful – most of the island’s local population are Muslim and speak Malay, and in particular on Home Island it’s important to dress modestly.

Come unprepared – given how small the islands and their population are, everything very much operates on island time and island hours, so make sure you stock up at the supermarket when you can and bring all necessary medications.

Anything else?

There is mixed messaging with regards to needing a passport, so check ahead or just take yours to be safe. The island is filled with a variety of different accommodation options, from bed-and-breakfasts to holiday homes and complexes.

The Cocos Keeling Islands WEBSITE is a fantastic starting point to plan your own tropical island holiday.

Header Image Credit: Coco Keeeling Islands Visitor Centre.