Western Australia’s Hidden Paradise: Discovering the Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Cocos Keeling Islands
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The Cocos (Keeling) Islands could be Australia’s best-kept secret.

Article and all photos by Rachel Claire AKA @fieldnotes__

Located approximately 2,750 kilometres northwest of Perth, The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are a stunning archipelago made up of 27 coral islands that form two atolls.

This remote region of Australia is full of dramatic history and natural beauty. First discovered in the 1600s – it was later claimed by the British, when Scottish Trader John Clunies-Ross sought annexation of the islands in 1866. The Cocos Keeling was eventually transferred to Australia in 1955 and today it is a truly fascinating blend of Australian and Malay influences.

Cocos Keeling Islands

How to get there

If you’re planning to visit the Cocos Keeling, you’ll need to hop on a Virgin Australia flight that lasts around 5.5 hours, including a fuel stop in Exmouth. To enjoy the stunning views of the islands, make sure to grab a window seat! Although Cocos Island is an Australian territory, your flight will feel like an international one since you’ll need to fill out a landing card for a domestic destination. If you’re an Australian citizen, you won’t need your passport, but make sure to bring your photo ID to clear customs. 

When you land, there are strict biosecurity practices in place to maintain the island’s delicate ecosystem. The screening in place is similar to the practices you’ll encounter when returning to Australia. It’s all for the good of the island’s unique and pristine environment, which we should all strive to preserve.

Best time of the year to go

The islands enjoy a tropical climate which means the weather can often be very unpredictable. The Cocos Keeling enjoys two main seasons. The first is the “trade wind season”, which takes place from May – June and September – October. This season provides the ultimate playground for kitesurfers. 

The second season is a slower, calmer season, which typically takes place from November-May. In terms of rainfall, you can expect less rain over the December – January period and higher periods of rain between March and July. It’s important to keep in mind that regardless of the time of year, you’re likely to experience a variety of weather.

Cocos Keeling Islands

Wildlife and Nature:

If you have an interest in wildlife and nature, you may want to consider visiting during the turtle nesting season, which usually reaches its peak around April. This is a great chance for you to witness these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. Additionally, for those who love bird watching, the dry season offers excellent opportunities. During this time, many migratory birds are present, allowing for a wonderful bird-watching experience.

Cocos Keeling Islands

Where to stay

Comfortable accommodation options are available on both Home Island and West Island in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, each offering a unique experience catering to different preferences and travel styles.

Home Island vs West Island:

  • Home Island offers a unique cultural immersion into the traditional way of life, known for its rich Cocos Malay culture. Accommodations here are limited but authentic.
  • West Island is the administrative and tourist hub, offering a wide range of accommodations such as resorts, guesthouses, and self-contained units. Due to its proximity to various tourist attractions, dining options, and activity centres, West Island is often the preferred choice for travellers who value convenience and variety.
Cocos Keeling Islands

The Breakers, West Island

To make the most of your trip, it is highly recommended to stay on West Island. This is the island where you will arrive, and staying here will give you convenient access to many of the activities and experiences listed in the itinerary. To experience the best of the Cocos Keeling Islands, you can’t go past staying at The Breakers.

Nestled in a picturesque setting, The Breakers offers comfortable and modern facilities. With its lush and central location, it’s perfect for those looking to relax in a tranquil environment while being close to the island’s key attractions. Your friendly hosts will greet you at the airport and accompany you on the short walk to your accommodation, where you’ll enjoy beautifully styled, private bungalow rooms that pay homage to the tropical surroundings.

The Breakers Cocos Keeling Islands

Why West Island?

Choosing to stay on West Island aligns perfectly with the itinerary outlined. It’s conveniently located, offering easy access to snorkelling spots, cultural tours, and dining venues. Furthermore, West Island’s vibrant atmosphere and range of accommodation options make it an ideal base for exploring both the natural beauty and the cultural richness of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Cocos Keeling Islands

Other essential information

Car Hire

Although West Island is relatively small, it’s recommended to hire a car to ensure you get the most out of your exploration. Car hires must be made as far in advance as possible, as vehicles on the island are restricted in numbers. Please abide by all road rules and stick to the assigned speed limits. If you arrive on the Island and do not have a car hire, speak to Johnny Clunies Ross at Phat Tours about longer e-bike hires (specially designed e-bikes that will traverse even the most coconut-riddled landscapes) to ensure you are still able to get around.

Cocos Keeling Islands

Food

Food can sometimes be limited on Cocos Island. It is highly recommended to schedule your meals and food needs around restaurant and supermarket opening times (which can often be unreliable). Some travellers opt to book an extra bag or eski filled with food to help supplement their meals – although it’s worth noting if overbooked, Virgin flights are known to remove this extra baggage from flights.

Any fresh food brought to Cocos Island MUST be supermarket-purchased (no home-grown) and free from dirt, soil and stems. It’s unlikely you’ll run into any trouble if you follow the rules, but it’s best to keep your shopping receipts to show customs on arrival, just in case.

Cocos Keeling Islands

5 DAY COCOS KEELING ISLANDS ITINERARY

This itinerary assumes you arrive on a Friday flight and leave on the Tuesday:

Day 1

As you land on Cocos Island on a Friday, you’re greeted by the friendly ground staff and the Cocos Island local Police, who provide an essential introduction to the island’s emergency services. Be sure to grab a pamphlet with vital information about restaurants and general store timings, as they can be quite sporadic.

Kickstart your adventure by hiring a self-drive 6HP boat from Cocos Day (remember that to hire a boat higher than 6HP you will need an Australian Skippers ticket). Spend your first afternoon discovering the island at your own pace, feeling the ocean breeze and the freedom of exploration.

Cocos Keeling Islands

Day 2

Embark on a snorkelling tour with Cocos Blue Charters. Led by Pete, you’ll explore the vibrant underwater world around Direction Island before the ferry crowd arrives. After returning around noon, enjoy a free afternoon. Later in the afternoon, join Johnny Clunies-Ross on a Phat Tours e-bike adventure, exploring the island’s beauty in the golden hour. End your day with a self-catered BBQ at your accommodation.

Cocos Keeling Islands

Day 3

Start early with an 8am Motorised Canoe Safari, exploring the pristine waters of the Southern Atoll. This excursion includes a light breakfast and champagne, making it a somewhat ‘luxurious’ start to your day (note that times may vary depending on tides). Your afternoon is free to explore the island or relax on a picturesque beach. For dinner, head to Salty’s Cafe to enjoy their renowned woodfired pizzas (pre-orders are highly recommended to avoid missing out).

Cocos Keeling Islands

Day 4

Catch the 7:30am ferry to Home Island. Pick up a self-hire buggy from local tour operator Ossie for the first few hours and then join Ossie for his Cultural Tour of the Cocos Malay culture. Enjoy a traditional lunch from 11:45am to 3:30pm and end the day with local brews and dinner at Surfer Girl Brewery.

Cocos Keeling Islands

Day 5

Your last day begins with a 9am tour of the Coconut Discovery Centre (Tony’s Coconut Farm). Learn about coconut products and how they are manufactured from farm owner, Tony. Follow your tour with a relaxing coffee break at The Big Barge (a quirky art gallery and coffee shop on West Island) at 10:30am before taking one last dip in the sea and checking in for your flight home.

Cocos Keeling Islands

Remember, with the islands’ remote location, planning ahead is crucial. Accommodations and activities can be booked up quickly, especially during the peak dry season. Early booking is recommended to ensure availability.

Head to the Cocos Keeling Islands website for more information.

Article and photos by Rachel Claire AKA @fieldnotes__