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Your Ultimate Guide to the Cocos Keeling Islands

Paradise awaits
Cocos Islands

Your Ultimate Guide to the Cocos Keeling Islands

Paradise awaits
Cocos Islands

Welcome to Cocos Keeling Islands – the other WA island that is a must-visit.

In the far northwest waters off Western Australia, a mere 2,750kms from Perth city, sits a relatively unknown tropical heaven known as the Cocos Keeling Islands. With 27 islands in total, this ‘small collection’ of tranquil paradises form two stunning atolls ready and waiting to be explored. 

We recently ventured across the Indian Ocean to check it out for ourselves and were not disappointed by what we found.

With an abundance of marine biodiversity, a community rich in Cocos Malay culture, and an endless number of unspoilt, near-deserted, beaches to explore – it’s safe to say we returned to the mainland with a newfound level of relaxation not previously uncovered…

cocos keeling island
Photo credit: Madeleine Anderson

Getting There

As mentioned, Cocos Keeling Islands are pretty isolated from the rest of Australia. Although this remoteness holds a great deal of its attraction for travellers looking to escape the masses in metropolitan areas, it also means that getting there is no small feat.

But before you get all excited and board the plane, there are a couple of things you need to consider.

Supplies getting to the island are steady but slow and basic. They stock all the necessities for a thriving community, but you’re not going to find a Westfield or even a Coles for a couple of thousand km’s. Before we embarked on our journey, we dedicated a couple of our checked-in luggage to accommodate two Eskis full to the brim of our favourite snacks (and alcohol, obviously).

Before we knew it, it was time to board our first leg there! Flights to the islands are operated by Virgin and only depart on Tuesdays and Fridays.

cocos keeling island flight
Photo credit: Madeleine Anderson

For the first leg you will fly to the Christmas Islands and land among its thick, tropical jungle topography. Then, once the aircraft has refueled and ready to go, you’ll venture straight onto your destination; West Island.

West Island is one of the two human-inhabited islands of Cocos Keeling’s collection and is typically the location of tourist accommodation and activity. A short ferry ride from here is Home Island, where you can find the majority of the local Cocos Malay community and immerse yourself in their generous culture and beautiful traditions. 

Now, time to explore…

West Island

Our home base for the following 10 days was the effortless waterfront accommodation of Beachcombers Cottage. Equipped with all the essential island life gear needed, from fishing rods and snorkelling equipment to stand-up paddles boards and kayaks.

Given the small geographic size of the island, Beachcombers (like the majority of accommodation) is a short walk from the airport, pub, cafe, restaurants, visitors centre, police station….ok you get the picture, it’s a small island!

For fresh bread and your morning bean juice, be sure to wander down to Salty’s Bakery Cafe – their sourdough is perfection. And on Thursdays, after a round of airport runway golf, treat yourself to the mouthwatering coconut curry at Saltmakers by the Sea beachfront restaurant – we’re still dreaming about this! 

Trannies Beach

Along the north-western shore of West Island, we came across Trannies Beach – a well-protected, warm shallow reef at the foot of a palm tree-littered sandy beach. Let the bath-like temperature water of Trannies lull you into the vacay time you’ve been dreaming of!

We highly recommend packing an Eski full of your favourite cheese and beveragino’s to sit back at the end of the day and watch one of the greatest sunsets that Cocos has to offer. 

Scout Park

At the opposite end of West Island, you will reach the undisturbed and calm inviting waters of Scout Park; a substantial mass of shallow coral bridging the 50-meter gap of land between West Island and Pulu Mayara.

During high tide, Scout Park is the lazy snorkeler’s dream (perfect for me) – a light current will guide you across the expanse, with little depth and maximum marine life to observe. Quite frankly, an idyllic underwater adventure – particularly for those travelling with little ones not keen on venturing too deep. 

Snorkeling with the turtles at cocos keeling island
Photo credit: Madeleine Anderson

Pulu Mayara, Pulu Blan Madar, Pulu Blan, South Island

Our island hopping escapade through the pristine clear blue waters of the southern atoll with Cocos Islands Adventure Tours was by far the greatest highlight of our entire trip. Ash and Kylie will set you and a partner up with your very own motorized canoe ready for a morning abroad, jumping from deserted tropical island to deserted tropical island.

A breakfast for vacay champions awaits at stop one – think morning tea and bubbles, with a side of hermit crab racing and fresh coconut husking. A notable mention for this tour is the magical Pulu Mayara, if you ever needed an excuse to purchase a go pro for your post-covid adventures – this is it!

The waters that surround Pulu Mayara are brimming with the kind of tropical marine biodiversity that puts the cast of Nemo to shame. An unimaginable amount of curious creatures were more than keen on joining us for our snorkel around the reef. Our personal favourites? The giant green sea turtles who were not in the least bit camera shy, and the elusive black and white tipped reef sharks who did not like to be approached.

cocos keeling island reef sharks
Photo credit: Madeleine Anderson

When I reflect on our time spent exploring with Ash and Kylie, all I can say is “WOW” – a new core memory for me and my family that we will cherish forever. 

Direction Island 

World famous Direction Island, locally referred to as DI, was next on our itinerary.

Just a short ferry ride from West Island, we arrived on the white squeaky sand beaches of DI, home to Australia’s Best Beach in 2017; Cossies Beach. In addition to absorbing maximum remote tropical island vibes, we came away with a wealth of knowledge on the history of how this island came to be what we know it as today.

DI is also host to the incredible underwater experience that known as the Rip, an extremely unique drift snorkel site between DI and Prison Island. A sought-after underwater experience by ocean enthusiasts around the world, the Rip allows you to peacefully float above thriving coral ecosystems that border the channel between two islands. Listen to exotic parrot fish nibble away on the coral whilst you watch curious reef sharks pace laps along the seafloor.

Ensure to pack a big bag of snacks and fill up all your water bottles because DI is worth taking the time to explore.

cocos keeling island snorkeling
Photo credit: Madeleine Anderson

Home Island

A stark contrast from West Island, and only a short trip across the lagoon by ferry, is Home Island – home to the large, local Cocos Malay community.

Take the time to properly immerse yourself in this unique township, with its remarkable culture and rich Australian Naval history. Journey on foot to Turtle Beach and take in the breathtaking view of a sunset over the distant West Island.

Top off your day with an authentic Cocos Malay feast at Seafront Restaurant – this delectable experience filled our bellies with incredible seafood and our hearts with a newfound love for the local flavours of the Cocos Malay cuisine. 

Final Notes

This reflection has naturally become my love letter and salute to the soul-healing 10 days that we spent as a family exploring the Cocos Keeling Islands.

Whether you’re seeking underwater adventure, island relaxation in the sun, an insightful cultural experience or simply time unplugged from the rest of the world whilst you read a book and sip from a coconut – these islands are ready and waiting to welcome you.

One very important Cocos topic I have savoured until the end is the hermit crabs. They are beautiful, they are friendly, they are curious and they are everywhere. With their bright red legs and tall white shells, they make the perfect selfie companions – just be sure to watch where you step!

As you now know, the Cocos Keeling Islands present the ultimate exotic island getaway destination, completely undisturbed by the bustling streets and endless noise of your local CBD. 

Why not go visit and let the endless palm trees, coral reefs and hermit crabs keep you company whilst you rest and recharge after what we all know has been a taxing couple of years…

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