Cocos Keeling Islands: The Island Paradise You’ve Never Heard Of

Kite surfing the Cocos Keeling Islands. Photo Nina Burakowski
Kite surfing the Cocos Keeling Islands. Photo Nina Burakowski

The Perfect Tropical Island

If you can imagine a perfect tropical island with palm tree lined beaches, azure blue water and sand whiter than snow, then you can imagine the Cocos Keeling Islands.

Hidden deep in the Indian Ocean, between the coast of Western Australia and Sri Lanka, this remote island paradise is a dream destination for all things aquatic – just don’t expect anyone to know about it.

The Cocos Keeling Islands, simply known as the Cocos, consist of 27-coral islands that form two atolls. The northern atoll consists of one single island, Pulu Keeling, which is a national park and recognized as an internationally significant seabird rookery.

The other 26 islands make up the southern atoll which form a horseshoe shape around a picture perfect lagoon.

It was here that the island’s most famous visitor, naturalist Charles Darwin developed his controversial theory on atolls and coral formation in 1836. This is also the only place in the world where you can walk the entire atoll on foot.

Cocos Keeling Islands

The Cocos Keeling Islands were first discovered in 1609 by British merchants. However, it wasn’t until 1826 that this uninhabited string of islands was settled and developed for coconut plantations.

The islands were initially annexed by the British Empire, but became an Australian territory in 1955.

In part due to their isolation, the Cocos Keeling Islands have remained free of commercialism and large scale tourism.

So much so, that even most Australian’s don’t know that this jewel in the Indian Ocean is theirs.

One of the 27 islands of the Cocos Keeling Islands. Photo by Nina Burakowski
One of the 27 islands of the Cocos Keeling Islands. Photo by Nina Burakowski

Out of the 27 islands that make up the Cocos Keeling Islands, only two are inhabited. Home Island is the home to a population of about 550 Cocos Malay people.

These are direct descendants of the original workers brought to the island to work on the palm plantations.

Across the lagoon, West Island is the only other inhabited island and houses a handful of Australian public servants as well as a few expats who decided that island life is just too good to leave.

The Small Tourism Industry 

This is also where most visitors to the island come to stay and acts as the hub of the small tourism industry on the Cocos.

Here you’ll find a small supermarket, post office, bank and the islands two cafes. In true island style, opening hours are usually a few hours each day, or in the case of the tavern, whenever a plane arrives.

Need fuel? No worries, there’s one gas pump that’s available for two hours each Friday afternoon.

No chance of a traffic jam on the islands. Photo by Nina Burakowski 
No chance of a traffic jam on the islands. Photo by Nina Burakowski

With its tiny population of less than 600 people and the simplistic lifestyle, life on Cocos is anything but hectic.

As the locals like to say, it happens when it happens. Doors are unlocked and keys left in the ignition.

With so few people you’d expect social life to be minimal but fun on the Cocos is what you make it -think beach barbecues, swing dancing lessons, dress-up parties and camping excursions to the outer islands.

Whatever you organize, just expect the rest of the island to turn up too.

Laidback lifestyle on the Cocos Keeling Islands. Photo by Nina Burakowski
Laidback lifestyle on the Cocos Keeling Islands. Photo by Nina Burakowski

Kite Surfing and Watersport Paradise

While you could easily spend all day lazing on an empty beach, it’s the water activities that makes a trip to the Cocos Keeling Islands truly memorable.

The turquoise waters, temperate climate and palm-lined beaches, means that this is your holy grail for almost any aquatic activity.

The best part is that with only two inhabited islands, the other 25 are yours to explore – Robinson Crusoe style.

Some even offer free camping as long as you bring all your own equipment, fresh water included.

Kitesurfing paradise. Photo by Nina Burakowski
Kitesurfing paradise. Photo by Nina Burakowski

From April to September, the consistent southeast trade winds turn the islands into a kitesurfing paradise.

Uncrowded, sandy beaches, butter flat water and tropical scenery are the winning combination for beginner to expert kitesurfers.

A highlight for any kitesurfer, is a lagoon crossing across the turquoise waters to Prison Island.

So clear are the waters that you can see huge manta rays and swarms of fish in the waters beneath. If the wind isn’t blowing, a Stand Up Paddle or kayak are just as good.

Snorkelling And Diving Paradise

Beneath the surface, the Cocos Keeling Island provide a five-star snorkelling and diving paradise.

Submerge your head under the transparent waters and you’re greeted with pristine gardens of colourful corals, myriads variety of tropical fish, reef-sharks, manta rays and turtles

For the adventurous scuba divers there are wrecks, overhangs, and caves to explore, There’s also Kat, the resident dugong, who is as friendly as the rest of the Cocos locals.

If you’re a surfer, you’ll never have to battle with the crowds to catch a first-class wave.

When you’re done, leave your board in true Cocos style at the shack on the beach. This is the Cocos after all, it will all still be there for your next session.

Sunset on the Cocos Keeling Islands. Photo by Nina Burakowski
Sunset on the Cocos Keeling Islands. Photo by Nina Burakowski

If You Go to Cocos Keeling Islands

For more information, visit https://www.cocoskeelingislands.com.au/

Getting to Cocos Keeling Islands:

Flights to Cocos Keeling Island are only available from Perth International Airport in Western Australia and leave twice weekly with Virgin Airlines.

Where to Stay in the Cocos Keeling Islands

There’s a small variety of accommodation options on West Island ranging from motels, to self-contained rooms and houses. There are also limited options available on Home Island.

Climate in the Cocos Keeling Islands

The Cocos Keeling Islands experience two main seasons. The trade wind season from April to September and the doldrum season from November to April. Temperatures during both seasons are approximately 30 degrees with evening temperatures rarely below 24 degrees.

Author Bio: Nina Burakowski is a freelance writer with a penchant for outdoor adventures. She’s traveled to Timbuktu, hiked the great wall of China and scuba dived in Saudi Arabia. These days though, her favorite destination is her home state of Western Australia. 

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Janna Graber

Janna Graber is an award-winning American travel journalist and current editor of Go World Travel Magazine. Since moving to Austria at age 19 for college, she's been in love with world travel, and has covered destinations around the globe for more than 55 newspapers, magazines and websites. She's the author of three travel anthology books, including "A Pink Suitecase: 22 Tales of Women's Travel".
Janna Graber
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