Discover Australia’s most remote outpost, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
By Sue Gough Henly
The sublime Cocos (Keeling) Islands are surrounded by aquamarine waters and offer exotic tropical island experiences found nowhere else on Earth. Get close to phenomenal coral reefs brimming with green and hawksbill turtles, learn about the fascinating local Cocos Malay people, or simply relax on some of the world’s most exquisite beaches.
- Enjoy Australia's most beautiful beach
- Go diving and snorkelling, kitesurfing and bonefishing
- Experience the islands' unique local Cocos Malay culture
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Top things to do on Cocos (Keeling) Islands
Base yourself on beautiful West Island
The Cocos (Keeling) Islands (or simply "Cocos" to locals) are 27 breathtaking islands in an almost perfect circle. Only two of the islands are inhabited. West Island – where the airport is located – is where most tourists choose to stay, and you'll find a selection of holiday homes (such as Cocos Accommodation), upmarket bed and breakfasts (such as ninetysixeast) and holiday complexes (such as Cocos Castaway). West Island is also home to the Cocos supermarket, gift shop, Visitor Centre, hire car centre, watersports, and a small selection of cafes and restaurants. Accommodation on the other inhabited island, Home Island, is largely restricted to residents.
Spend an idyllic day at Australia's best beach
The palm-fringed, creamy white sands of Cossies Beach, lapped by astoundingly azure waters, was recently named Australia’s most beautiful beach. Take a 30 minute ferry from West Island to Direction Island (Thursdays and Saturdays only) to discover why. Orient yourself by doing the three kilometre (1.9 mile) walk around the island, on which you’ll see plaques describing the islands' history, including the sinking of the German ship SMS Emden during the Battle of Cocos in World War I. (You'll also discover some quirky calling card paraphernalia on the palm trees, as Direction Island is a favourite anchorage for visiting round-the-world yachts.) Then relax with a picnic in the shade of your own coconut palm before going for a swim in the clean, teal-hued waters, and possibly enjoying a snorkel along the Rip. You can hire snorkelling gear and receive a detailed brief on snorkelling the Rip before you board the ferry, back at West Island's Visitor Centre.
Enjoy some of the world's best diving
Explore the underwater wonderland of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in warm, translucent waters. Go diving with Cocos Dive to discover some of the 25 diverse, accessible and uncrowded dive sites, including shipwrecks and historical artillery. You could come face to face with green and hawksbill turtles, manta rays, dolphins, sharks, moray eels, nudibranches, parrot fish, wrasse, and if you're lucky, the Cocos pygmy angelfish as well as sea fans, sea anemones, a huge array of soft corals, and black corals. There are many great diving spots along the ocean wall as well as in the lagoon, the most famous of which is the Cabbage Patch. A popular two-dive option which includes a wall dive at near Direction Island, followed by a lunch break at Cossies Beach and a relaxed guided snorkel along the Rip before an afternoon lagoon dive. On the way home to West Island, you may even be able to swim with the resident dolphins.
Try an exhilarating kitesurfing clinic, available from July to October, when the south-east trade winds are blowing. The Cocos (Keeling) lagoon is the perfect kitesurfing locale because beginners can learn all the basic safety techniques in flat, shallow water (where you can simply stand up if you fall over) while more experienced kitesurfers can practise how to jump higher and do back and front rolls.
Seek the bonefish grail
Those who love to fly fish and who are keen to seek the holy grail – bonefish – will find no better place than Cocos (Keeling) lagoon. You need to bring your own gear but you can fish from the shore in search of these elusive iridescent fish, which can be up to one metre (3.3 feet) long. Ask at the Visitor Centre for tips on the best fishing spots. You can fish all year round, though December to March is the peak season.
Explore the unique Cocos Malay culture
Visit Home Island, where a small, unique indigenous population of about 450 Cocos Malay people live. Originally brought to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands as slaves and members of the harem of Alexander Hare, an early 19th century English explorer, the Cocos Malay people speak a mixture of English, Malay and Cocos Malay, practise Sunni Islam and maintain their own unique dress code. Enjoy a two hour cultural tour to discover Cocos Malay traditions, try basket weaving, learn some Cocos Malay words and visit the museum. Cultural tours take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; the restaurant is open for lunch daily and dinner only on Wednesdays. Consider timing your trip to coincide with the Hari Raya Puasa celebrations that mark the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, during which you can watch the colourful jukong boat races and join the locals for a traditional march through the kampong villages to share celebratory open feasts.
Take a motorised outrigger canoe safari
Embark on a motorised outrigger canoe safari exploring the southern islands of the huge lagoon, where you'll see lots of marine life, including turtles, dolphins and tropical fish. The four to five hour tour departs at different times each day (depending on the tide). Your guide will explain the islands' history and unique, diverse culture, and there are plenty of opportunities to go snorkelling and stroll on deserted beaches.