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Cocos (Keeling) Islands

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Cocos Castaway
Cocos Castaway - dream vacation

81 Sydney HighwayWest Island

For the island in Costa Rica, see Cocos Island National Park.

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands (Cocos Malay: Pulu Kokos (Keeling), Malay Wilayah Kepulauan Cocos (Keeling)) or simply Cocos Islands or Keeling Islands are a chain of islands in two adjacent atolls, in the middle of the Indian Ocean some 2,750 km northwest of Perth, and around 900 km west southwest of Christmas Island. The islands are generally considered to be the southernmost point of Asia.

Understand

The Cocos Islands lie approximately 12° south and 96.5° east, locating the islands in the humid tropical zone.

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are 1.5 hours behind Western Australia Time and 3.5 hours behind Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) on standard time; it does not observe daylight saving time.

History

There are 27 coral islands in the group. Captain William Keeling discovered the islands in 1609, but they remained uninhabited until the 19th century. Annexed by the UK in 1857, they were transferred to the Australian Government from the Colony of Singapore in 1955. The population on the two inhabited islands generally is split between the ethnic Europeans on West Island and the ethnic Malays on Home Island although the Malay population is significantly larger than the European.

Grown throughout the islands, coconuts are the sole cash crop. Small local gardens and fishing contribute to the food supply, but additional food and most other necessities must be imported from Australia. There is a small tourist industry.

The people who live on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are mostly the ethnic Cocos Malay people, who their ancestors are from either Peninsular Malaysia, Indonesia, parts of Southern Africa and New Guinea and they were brought over as slaves or convicts and since 2019, they have been seeking approval for "Indigenous Status".

Orientation

There are two inhabited islands in the group, West Island and Home Island. West Island is the capital of the territory with about 100 inhabitants. It is mostly an English speaking area with the most tourist facilities, a clinic and an airstrip. The largest village is Bantam on Home Island with a population of around 400, most of whom follow Sunni Islam and speak the Cocos dialect of the Malay language.

The other islands in the archipelago are uninhabited. Horsburgh Island and South Island are among the larger uninhabited islands. Direction Island, a true island paradise, is connected by ferry every Saturday. It includes a beach that's been identified as the best beach in Australia. Finally, there's North Keeling Island, a national park approximately 50 km north of the other islands. Access to this island is only allowed with permission from Parks Australia.

Climate

The Cocos Islands experience two main seasons which tend to overlap: the trade wind season from April/May to September/October and the calmer doldrum season from November through to April. Expect higher rainfall during March through to July. January through to August may also generate the occasional low pressure system (usually between February and April). However these systems do not normally interfere with holiday plans. Rain usually falls in the evenings, bringing glorious sunny days. The average annual rainfall is 2,000 mm. Temperatures are fairly consistent no matter what the season, remaining around a comfortable 29°C with a minimum evening temperature rarely dropping below 20°C.

Landscape

Flat, low-lying coral atolls, thickly covered with coconut palms and other vegetation.

Tourist information

  • 1 Cocos Keeling Islands Visitor Centre, Air Force Road, Keeling Island, ? +61 8 9162 6790, fax: +61 8 9162 6696, info@cocos-tourism.cc. M 8AM–5PM, Tu-Th 8AM–2:30PM, F 8AM–4PM, Sa (early flight) 1–4PM, Sa (late flight) 2–5PM, closed Su & public holidays. 

Get in

As the Cocos Islands are Australian territories, the entry requirements for Australia apply. Bring the needed documentation.

By plane

There is an airport on West Island. Virgin Australia has two scheduled triangle flights weekly between Perth, Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Flights between Perth and the Islands may include a technical stop at RAAF Learmonth (LEA) en route to refuel. Clockwise service operates on Saturdays and anticlockwise service operates on Tuesdays. One-way flights range in price from $531 to $909, with advance purchase returns available for $1054.

By boat

Yachts can dock at the Cocos Islands. Bring required documents. Because of their remoteness and infrequency of boats, all arriving yachts must send a notice to Customs at latest four days (96 hr) before arrival, radio police (VHF channel 20) when arriving, drop anchor at the anchorage at Direction Island, display the yellow 'quarantine' flag, radio again, and await the police. See the required procedures.

Get around

A local bus service from West Island Settlement to the jetty operates approximately 20 minutes prior to the departure of the ferry to Home Island and costs $0.50. The best place to catch the bus is in fact not the designated bus stop on Sydney Highway opposite the airport, as the bus doesn't always go by there. Instead, follow airport employees to the park just north of the terminal at the far end of Alexander Street, and wait on the bench in the shaded area.

On Saturday the ferry diverts to Direction Island to allow tourists and locals access to this remote paradise. The ferry returns in the afternoon to return you to West Island. The fee is $2.50. Timetables are available from the Tourism office or the Duty Free Shop.

  • A Car Rental, ? +61 8 9162-7646. Contact Geof Christie for availability and rates. 
  • Cocos Autos, Bantam Village, ? +61 8 9162-7661. Cocos Autos offers visitors to Cocos (Keeling) Islands an extensive and diverse range of vehicles. Choose from Dual and Single Cab Utes, Dual Cab 4WDs or a 17 seater bus. Baby seats and booster seats are also available. 
  • AW & KJ James Car Hire, ? +61 8 9162-7717. Quality vehicles available for hire. Contact Ash or Kylie for availability and rates.. 
  • Cocos Surf Shop, In the Airport Complex, ? +61 8 9162-6768. 

Talk

The main language in the Cocos Islands is Cocos Malay, not English. However, almost all the locals (other than some elderly people) can speak English, enough for communication, and most people on the West Island are English-speaking.

See

Take cultural tours with some of the local tour operators or guide yourself around the islands to explore why they call the Cocos Islands a "nature and water lover's paradise".

During the year, as well as the traditional events such as Easter, New Year, Christmas etc., Cocos hosts a number of unique events. These include the annual Lagoon swim, where competitors swim from Home Island across the lagoon to West Island. Individuals or teams may enter and whether you are a serious contender or wish to join in with the Hash House Harriers (who always seem to get themselves disqualified for one thing or another), everyone has a load of fun. It finishes in the evening with dinner and presentations to the winners and boat drivers.

Other unique events are the mid-year Cocos Ball, quiz nights, Music & Wine festival, Ardmona Cup and Cocos Olympics. All visitors are encouraged to join in with these festivities and activities. Exact dates vary from year to year. Please check with the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Tourism Association before booking for particular events.

Don't forget visitors to the Island are also welcome to participate in the School Fete, Sports Carnival and concert events.

  • Cocos Diving, ? +61 8 9162 6515, scuba@cocosdive.com. $200-2320. 
  • 2nd Wind Sailboards. July through to September only. Watersport holidays. Windsurfing, SUP'ing, kiting. 
  • 1 Pulu Keeling National Park, cocos-lodge@kampong.cc. An unspoiled national park, full of coral reefs and rich in wildlife. It is accessible via a 32-kilometre boat ride, although you will need to have some swimming skills to get there. The national park is also home to several endangered species, which can only be found in Pulu Keeling National Park.  

Do

  • Cocos Islands Golf Club. Thursdays. Play the most westerly golf course in Australia that also includes an international runway! Locals and visitors meet every Thursday afternoon for a friendly game of "Scroungers" (Ambrose). Be at the Donga (next to the West Island Supermarket) at 3:30PM. All adults are more than welcome, club hire is available and a full bar. You won't play this kind of golf anywhere else in the world, not to be missed! 

Buy

Being an external territory of Australia, the currency used on the islands is the Australian dollar. The chances of SGD or USD being accepted is very low.

Keep in mind that as most supplies are shipped by boat or air only a few times per month, everything is on the limited and pricier side. Make sure to bring all your necessities before coming in. If you are bringing in vegetables or fruits, present your receipt to the customs.

  • Supermarket, Clunies-Ross Avenue, ? +61 8 9162 6676, fax: +61 8 9162 7605. West Island: M-F 8AM-4PM, Sa 8:30AM-4PM. Home Island: M Tu Th F 7:30AM-4PM; W 7:30AM-6PM; Sa 8AM-3:30PM; Su 8AM-1PM. Last-minute shopping for whatever you need. Fresh breads on Tuesdays and Fridays. 
  • Community Resource Centre (Administration building), ? +61 8 9162 7707, telecentre@cki.cc. M-F 8AM-3PM, Sa 10AM-4PM, Su 9AM-noon. The Cocos Islands Community Resource Centre provides internet access and printing facilities. Mobile phones are available for hire and wireless vouchers for your laptops. Come in for a coffee and check your emails, get some information, grab a tide chart or take home a classic Cocos Calendar. 
  • Australia Post, 60 Sydney Hwy, West Island Shire of Cocos, CKI, 6799, ? +61891626645, fax: +61891627500. 

Eat

Malay cuisine is a selection of rice, noodles, curry and chilli, featuring chicken, beef, lamb and seafood dishes. Food is prepared to be flavoursome and not particularly hot, unless requested.

  • 1 Tropika (located on West Island in the Cocos Beach Motel), ? +61 8 9162 6672. Seafood & Western meals. 
  • 2 Rasa Di Sayang, Bantam, Home Island (Located on Home Island in the small business centre), ? +61 8 9162 7633. W & F 6:30-8PM by booking, check Facebook page for special opening times. Classical Malay fare from where the Cocos Malay lives. 
  • 3 Dory's Cafe, William Keeling Drive, West Island, ? +61 8 9162 7646. M-F 8:30AM-1PM, Su 8:30-11AM, open for dinner Th 5:30-7:30PM. Eat a hearty breakfast or a light dessert, or just drop by for a cup of coffee. Opens for dinner on Thursdays. (updated Sep 2017)
  • 4 Salty's Grill & Bakery (Salty's Fish & Chips), Cocos (Keeling) Islands Airport, West Island (at the Airport's Terminal), ? +61 8 9162 7716. Tu-Fr 7AM-1PM, closed all other days. Bakery and restaurant. Restaurant specials: Sunday: pizza; Tuesday: sushi, pizza and Malay food; Thursday: kebab rolls and chips; Friday: gish, chips and salad night,; Saturday: grilled burger and chips. (updated Jan 2022)

Don't want to eat at a restaurant? Usually, every third Friday, the different social clubs of Cocos prepare a "food night" at the Cocos Club. Excellently priced meals are offered along with raffles and good-natured fun. Come along, share a meal. The Cocos Club also offers visitors a great venue to get to know the locals and join in with any activity that is happening.

  • WICK Cafe, West Island (Across the street from Coco's Club). Opens Friday nights and flight days between departure and arrival time. Famous for its fish and chips on Friday nights, in addition to Singaporean and Malay cuisine. (updated Sep 2017)

Drink

  • Cocos Club, ? +61 8 9162 6688. Sa-Th 5-10PM, F 5PM-midnight. Offering parmigiana, burgers, and pizzas on some nights. A place to hang out with the locals and daily nighttime activities. Alcohol are duty free but the price erases out the advantage compared to the mainland. (updated Sep 2017)

Sleep

  • 1 Cocos Beach Motel, Sydney Highway, West Island, ? +61 8 9162 6702, fax: +61 8 9162 6764, accounts@cocoscoop.cc. This 28 room motel is centrally located right in the middle of town, right on the beach and only across the road from the Cocos Club, airport and a short walk to the supermarket. Many of the rooms have direct views to the Indian Ocean. Ideally suited to couples, singles or twin. Private en suite and air conditioned. Three family rooms are available. On site restaurant: The Tropika. $100-160. 
  • Cocos Cottages, ? +61 8 9244-3801, fax: +61 8 9244-3802, admin@cocoscottages.com. Architecturally designed cottages, purpose built tourist accommodation, overlooking the golf course and the lagoon. They offer spacious bedrooms, fully equipped kitchens, large undercover deck areas and on site BBQ area. Located within easy walking distance of the supermarket, Cocos Club, tennis courts, golf club, restaurants and other facilities. 
  • Cocos Castaway, ? +61 8 9162 6515, info@cocosaccommodation.com. $210-390. 

Worship

  • Home Island Mosque (Masjid Pulu Selma), Jalan Raya, Home Island. 24 hours. Mosque (updated Jan 2022)
  • West Island Mosque (Masjid Pulu Panjang). 24 hours. Heritage-listed mosque (updated Jan 2022)

Stay safe

  • Cyclone season is October to April, but tropical rain may affect the area at anytime. When inclement weather happens, staying inside is your safest bet.

Stay healthy

Fresh water resources are limited to rainwater accumulations in natural underground reservoirs.

Respect

Respect Ramadan, although unlike in some other countries, the locals won't really mind you eating in public.

Connect

Mobile phone connections are by a satellite link. Unless you bring your own satellite phone or long-range radio, you need to use the local rather expensive Wi-Fi. Most modern mobile phones allow you to use Wi-Fi for calls by a simple settling, given your provider offers VoIP service for you. You could also install your own Internet telephony app. Mobile phones are available for hire.

You might want to turn off updates and any non-necessary traffic during your stay. Because of the hassle and expensive price, you might want to just go offline.

Cellphones for hire and Wi-Fi vouchers are available from the Community Resource Centre. The Wi-Fi vouchers costs $6.95 per hour, $19.95 per day, or $64.95 per week (check limits on data volumes), or $10/1GB or $25/5GB valid for a fortnight. These can be used at hotspots islands-wide. Mobile phone for-hire are $10/day, $35/week, $60/2 weeks or $100/month.

It is wise to pre-book your phone or voucher by e-mailing the community centre at cocosislands@crc.net.au, so that you can retrieve them at your accommodation in case of a flight delay, instead of waiting for next office hours.

Go next

  • The only flight out from Cocos is to Christmas Island, where the plane refuels for its continuing trip to Perth in mainland Australia
  • Daring yachties would venture out further into the Indian Ocean, possibly crossing into Africa or hopping on to neighbouring Indonesia.


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