Cossies Beach, Direction Island, Cocos Keeling Islands. © Cocos Keeling Islands Tourism Association

Guide to Cocos (Keeling) Islands

West Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands © Cocos Keeling Islands Tourism Association

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, 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. 

Cocos Malay wedding, Cocos (Keeling) Islands © Soderlund Media

Explore the unique Cocos Malay culture

Visit Home Island, where a small 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 have maintained a unique culture. Enjoy a cultural tour to watch basket weaving, learn some Cocos Malay words and visit the museum. Cultural tours take place on Wednesdays. Consider timing your trip to coincide with the Hari Raya Puasa celebrations, 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.

Motorised outrigger canoe safari, West Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands © Cocos Keeling Islands Tourism Association

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.

Cossies Beach, Direction Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands ©

Spend an idyllic day at Australia's best beach

The palm-fringed, creamy white sands of Cossies Beach 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. Then relax with a picnic in the shade of your own coconut palm before going for a swim in the teal-hued waters, and possibly enjoying a snorkel along the Rip. You can hire snorkelling gear and receive a detailed brief before you board the ferry back at West Island's Visitor Centre.

Cocos Dive, Cocos Keeling Island © Cocos Dive

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 and uncrowded dive sites. You could come face to face with green turtles, manta rays, dolphins, sharks, moray eels, wrasse, and if you're lucky, the Cocos pygmy angelfish. 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 near Direction Island, a relaxed guided snorkel along the Rip and an afternoon lagoon dive. On the way home to West Island, you may even be able to swim with the resident dolphins.

Kitesurfing, West Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands © Cocos Keeling Islands Tourism Association

Go kitesurfing

Try an exhilarating kitesurfing class, available from June 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. 

Bonefish, Great Fishing of Australia © Masa Ushioda

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.

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