The Essential Guide to Cocos (Keeling) Islands 2022
Cocos (Keeling) Islands
*All information is correct at the time of writing (Sep 22). We recommend checking prior to travelling as some information may have changed.
Thinking of going to Cocos (Keeling) Islands but unsure about what the go is? Look no further, we've got you! Here we give you the basic rundown on what to expect, what to pack and the the must see and dos. There is so much more to these islands than we can possibly mention here (plus why take the fun out of exploring this piece of paradise in your own time by telling you everything?) so this is a guide to get you started so you can hit the ground running!
So jump in...adventure awaits!
What and where is Cocos (Keeling) Islands?
The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are a small remote Australian Territory in the Indian ocean, consisting of 2 atolls comprising of 27 small coral islands, 2 of which are inhabited, West Island and Home Island. Situated 2750 kms northwest of Perth, Western Australia, and 900km from Christmas Island, they are remote, unspoilt, and simply idyllic.
Getting there from Oz:
Virgin from Perth 2 flights a week departing International Terminal with the Flight time being approximately 4 hours.
Pro tip: duty free shopping at the airport! (a side note: alcohol is available to purchase on the island at duty free prices)
What to expect:
The town settlement, including accommodation options, is pared back and basic but comfortable, so if you’re looking for 5 star you will only find it in the scenery. That being said, there’s a certain charm to the casual island feel and slow pace of life here. The locals are friendly and happy to have a chat and a laugh. Expect stunning scenery, beautiful beaches, boating, diving, fishing and most water sport options for every beach body. Bonus points if you love kite surfing!
Internet access is limited and your mobile phone service does not work here so switch off and truly unwind. If you really need to check your emails, socials, do a brag post (c’mon you’re entitled to one in a place like this!)…you can purchase a Wi-Fi voucher for 1GB ($10) or 5GB ($24) which is valid for up to 14 days and will work in certain hotspots around the islands. Vouchers are available from the Visitors Centre and most accommodation places and Wi-Fi Hotspots are available at various points across the island (most accommodation places, the Visitors Centre, The Cocos Club, The Co-op to name a few).
What to pack:
Food & Drink:
Cocos has limited food choices with limited opening hours so groceries and eating out can be expensive.
We recommend taking some of your own food to offset the cost and availability. You may need to provide a shop receipt for your goods so its a good idea to check ahead of time on dos and don'ts).
Frozen meat, Eggs, Bread, Cheese, fresh fruit (hard fruits that travel well such as apples) and veg/salad options, happy hour staples and snacks.
Clothing & Accessories:
Cocos is pretty laid back so ditch the designers and opt for lightweight, breathable and comfortable clothes. It can get humid at times so natural fibres will go a long way to keeping you cool and odour free. For beaching it we definitely recommend a pair (or 2) of good quality reef shoes as they will be worth their weight in gold. Sunscreen and a good hat is also a must... you know the drill, slip, slop, slap...
For the girls:
The Saba Harem Pants, Isle Sarong (I lived in both of these!) from Tanah Folk are fabulous, easy care travelling partners that look great and are super comfortable. The super cute, comfortable Koa shorts and the lightweight, organic cotton Tees, Tanks from Robb & Lulu are perfect for helping you keep your cool in the hot, humid temperatures. We can't go past the Polly and Janis Hemp hats from Hobo & Hatch for stylish sun protection. These hats are durable, easy to pack and handle the wind with ease!
For the guys:
Tanah Folk's Bloke Folk SS Shirt is cool, lightweight and perfect for beaching, BBQs and balmy nights. The Sea Shepherd SPF50+ Reprieve Rashie is a must have for long days out in the water, keeping you protected from the sun in or out of the wet. FallenBrokenStreet bucket hats are just made for island life, weather you're out fishing, boating or beaching. Choose from reversable or one colour and get your shade on.
Where to eat & drink:
Tropicana’s at the Cocos Beach Resort is open for a couple of hours for breakfast lunch & dinner each day serves buffet style Malay & Western cuisine. Picnic options are available by pre-ordering the day before.
Saltmakers By The Sea is open everyday except Tuesdays & Wednesdays for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner (brunch only on Sunday mornings)
Salty’s Bakery Café next to the Cocos Club is open Tuesdays & Wednesdays for freshly baked bread, toasties & coffee and Tuesday, Wed, Fri & Sun for dinner. Check out the blackboard outside the Cocos Club for the day’s meal options.
The Cocos Club is where it’s at for having a drink and a laugh after a day out in the water. Open every day from either 4pm or 5pm depending, with happy hour between 5.30 – 6.30. You will enjoy drinks at duty free prices, plus there’s a bottle shop for you to purchase drinks to take away. They don’t serve food but you can order at Salty’s next door and eat it at the club. There’s also a BBQ if you’d like to cook your own and most accommodation places have BBQs available. The Cocos Club usually open before flight arrivals and departures so you can share a consolatory drink with other travellers who have to say goodbye to Cocos.
The Co-op Supermarket has a selection of grocery options plus a bakery (fresh bread is baked on Tuesdays and can be pre-ordered). The prices are quite high and there’s limited fresh produce but it’s great for bits and pieces. Open everyday (except Sunday) until 3pm.
Cocos Autos Car Rental is the main car rental place but others include Cocos Island Adventure Tours Car Hire and Cocos Castaway Car Hire
It pays to book in advance to ensure a car is available and full WA road rules apply (including seatbelts).
Scooters & Bike Hire WA road rules apply (including bike helmets).
The bus operates 6 days a week and coincides with the ferry trips to and from Rumah Baru Jetty 50c per trip cash only
Ferry runs each day from West Island to Home Island and to DI on Saturdays and Thursdays. Check the ferry timetable at the Visitor’s Centre for current times and routes. $2.50 each ride or $1.00 for Concession cash only.
Home Island, also known locally as Pulu Selma is where the Cocos Malay locals live. The Cocos Malay are friendly and welcoming, they are of Muslim faith and the island is a dry settlement. Out of respect for the local population, it is recommended that you dress appropriately when visiting the island (shoulders & knees covered for the ladies, if possible). Home Island has beautiful beaches, two delicious restaurants and local attractions include Oceana House and the museum which covers the local culture, it's history and traditions as well as the naval history and the story of previous owners, the Clunies-Ross family.
Getting Around (Check at the visitors centre for up to date availability)
Bike Hire Available
Buggy hire (limited availability)
Delicious local food plus quick bites await you at the Seafront Restaurant and Island Brunch café. Check opening times beforehand as some days they are closed and some days they open only until 1 pm. A popular option is to catch the ferry for the dinner at Seafront Restaurant on Wednesday when there is a late ferry that will bring you back to West Island around 8.30pm. You will need to book this ahead of time at the Visitors Centre as places are limited.
Must See & Do
Direction Island (DI)
A definite highlight of our entire trip was our visit to DI. Winner of Australia’s most beautiful beach in 2017, Cossies Beach, DI, should definitely be on your must do list. Be warned: Your eyes may hurt a bit after looking at all the stunning scenery, it's everywhere! Catch the ferry over and while away the hours swimming, snorkelling and exploring this uninhabited Island at your leisure. If you are into snorkelling and a confident swimmer, be sure to check out the Rip, where you can jump in and let the current carry you along while you gaze at the amazing coral and sea life below. Be aware that this current is strong and you’ll need to time your exit to avoid being washed too far out!
We loved soaking up the sun on this unspoilt, deserted island, swimming, snorkelling, watching the blacktip reef sharks chase each other in the shallows and generally enjoying being in this perfect piece of paradise. There's no shops or infrastructure on DI apart from a few shelters and drop toilets so you will need to bring all of your food, water and essentials if you are planning to stay for the day or to camp here. DI used to have a WW1 defence communications outpost and you can learn about its past and history from the interpretive boards dotted along the 3.5km of easy heritage walk trail loops. These are easy to explore, and they run east and west of the Commemorative gazebo.
Pro Tip: If you're after a shelter, be one of the first off the ferry to secure your spot. After disembarking the ferry, walk off the jetty, turn right at the commemorative gazebo this will take you past the cabanas towards the Rip and the lookout. There are 7 to choose from (we chose number 7 up near the Rip with a gorgeous view of the lagoon and then moved onto the beach where we had it mostly to ourselves). Some cabanas have a bbq, others a fire pit, some are near the toilets and others have a bit more privacy so it depends what you're looking for. Remember sharing is caring, plus it's a fab way to meet even more amazing people!
The heritage listed Oceana House was the ancestral home of the Clunies-Ross family who settled the islands in 1827. The House and its walled gardens are a must see on your visit to Home Island. Wandering through the Victorian era rooms with their antiques and wood panelling, the library full of valuable books and the decaying walled gardens do not disappoint. At the time of writing this the House is being turned into a B&B so works are underway and you will need to book on an organised tour to access inside the property. We went on the Home Island Cultural Tour (you can book at the Visitors Centre) and our guide Ozzie was awesome, informative, open and honest about life on the island and its past (his wife also cooked the most amazing 3 course lunch, it's almost worth going on the tour for that alone, it was that delish!).
Scout Park & Trannies Beach
There are so many gorgeous beaches on Cocos, each offering a beautiful outlook and different perspective. Trannies & Scout Park were our main go to for a dip, a snorkel or a BBQ while we were there. We spent a lot of time at Trannies Beach, especially if the wind was up as it stayed protected by the reef. Scout Park was fantastic for snorkelling with turtles, an amazing array of fish and reef sharks and at low tide you can walk over to the next island Pulu Maria for more exploring and amazing snorkelling. Remember to check the tide charts at the Visitors Centre first and reef shoes are a must for this one.
Book a Tour
A great way to explore areas around West Island plus a few of the other islands is to book a tour. There are fantastic tours and awesome tour companies for pretty much everything you can do on Cocos including diving, fishing, kite surfing, coconut husking and well, you get the drift...We booked through Cocos Island Adventure Tours. Ash & Kylie offer a range of tours and activities from turtle tours, motorised canoe tours and SUP board hire to name a few (by the way, the Yacht Club beach is paradise for SUP beginners. and experts alike). We did the motorised canoe trip which did not disappoint. Starting at 6am we arrived to find the high tide had flooded the last section of road leading to our starting point, so it was on with our reef shoes and a quick walk/wade along the road/river to get to our canoes and then we were off! We had a great time watching the sun rise over the lagoon, exploring a few of the Islands and seeing an amazing amount of turtles, fish and birdlife. To top it all off we had a delicious breakfast on South Island complete with bubbles and beer (mimosas anyone? now that's my kinda canoe trip), swam with turtles and snorkelled through some of the clearest bluest water I have ever seen. LOVE.
A key focus of our trip was learning more about the environmental impact of marine debris and Kylie was a great source of information on the effects this was having on the islands. As we visited each place we were keen to pick up what we could and contribute in some small way to the cleanup efforts. An unexpected stop off at Pulu Blan Island had us contributing to a number count as Citizen Scientists (just a bit fancy!) for the colony of Christmas Island Blue Tailed Skinks who are endemic to Christmas Island (CI) but had become extinct there. Parks Australia found what they believed to be the last 60 or so and started a breeding program on CI. They also sent a number of the Skinks to Taronga Zoo in Sydney as an insurance policy and Taronga's breeding program was successful also. Unable to put the Skinks back out into the wild on CI (due to there being to many predators), they released 300 of them on Pulu Blan in the Cocos Keeling Islands. The Skinks are doing very well and they are seeing good numbers so it's been a successful collaboration between Parks Australia, Taronga Zoo and the Shire of Cocos Keeling Islands.
Did you know? That it is possible to walk the atoll lagoon from Home Island to West Island (or vice versa) if the low tide conditions are right? The trip takes around 6 hours and cover most of the uninhabited islands in the atoll which means the only footprints you'll see will likely be your own.
Unfortunately, like so many islands the Cocos Keeling Islands are at the mercy of tides, trade winds, swell and storms. With these comes a stark reminder of the global pollution we humans cause through high levels of plastics, rubbish and debris that wash up on the shores daily. The majority of this pollution comes from other countries and is carried across the oceans along the currents. Though the locals have regular beach clean ups and marine debris campaigns the pollution is relentless and they can’t do it alone. If you are exploring one of these beautiful islands (or anywhere else for that matter) and you see rubbish, please pick up what you can and dispose of it in a correct manner as every little bit helps and small efforts combined can have huge impacts. Just as importantly, try to leave each place just as you found it (leave no trace) or if possible a little bit better, for If we each do our little bit, it will go a long way to helping to preserve our precious marine environments.