Situated in the Indian Ocean, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are an Australian external territory. This small archipelago is located midway between Australia and Sri Lanka, close to the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Historically known as either the Cocos Islands or Keeling Islands, the territory consists of two atolls and 27 coral islands, of which just two are inhabited.
With a population of approximated 600, consisting mostly of Cocos Malays practicing Sunni Islam, the islands are governed by Western Australian law, with many public services, including policing, education, and health, provided by the state of Western Australia.
The Cocos Islands were discovered by William Keeling, a British sea captain, in 1609. They remained uninhabited until the start of the 19th century when Scottish merchant John Clunies-Ross brought in 40 Malay workers to work on his copra plantation.
For almost 150 years, the Clunies-Ross family ruled the Cocos Islands as a private fiefdom, with the head of the family generally recognized as the resident magistrate. In 1857, the British annexed the islands, and they were administered from either Singapore or Ceylon for the next century. In 1955 ownership was transferred to Australia, although in reality, virtually all of the islands’ real estate remained in the possession of the Clunies-Ross family until 1979.
Revered by romantics as a place of ethereal beauty, the Cocos Islands are the living embodiment of the natural, undisturbed beauty that can thrive in remote, undisturbed areas of the world.
A diver’s paradise
Deserted sandy beaches and unique diving areas attract scuba divers to the Cocos Islands from near and far. Snorkeling is also a great way to experience the underwater exuberance of the Indian Ocean.
On the north side of the Cocos Islands stretches Pulu Keeling National Park. Diving, snorkeling, and guided tours are all permitted in the national park’s turquoise lagoons and deep blue waters. Here, visitors follow in the footsteps of none other than Charles Darwin, who was reportedly awestruck by the local marine life.
A 4-and-a-half-hour flight from Perth, Australia, the Cocos Islands are a tropical atoll that incorporates 14 square kilometers of pristine lagoons. For anglers, the main draw is the region’s huge bonefish. Many specimens measure more than 70 centimeters, and examples measuring over a meter have occasionally landed.
In addition to bonefish, anglers also have the opportunity to target milkfish, triggerfish, Maori wrasse, red bass, bumphead parrotfish, coral trout, and giant trevally, among an array of other species.
The only golf course on Earth that plays across an international runway, the 9-hole golf course on the Cocos Islands is a must-try experience for visitors, even those who have never played before. With a putting green, pro shop, and restaurant, Cocos Islands Golf Club also offers club rentals, golf carts, and pull carts, as well as golf lessons catering to both beginners and experienced golfers who want to brush up on their skills.
A perfect tropical island incorporating crystal-clear, turquoise waters and powdery white sand, the stunning palm-fringed beaches of the Cocos Islands are a dream destination for those seeking to escape from it all. Partly due to their remote location, the islands have remained free of large-scale tourism and commercialization. For those who enjoy water sports, several activities are available locally, including kitesurfing. The consistent southeast trade wind from April through September has earned the islands a reputation as a kitesurfing paradise.
The Cocos Islands’ mountainous tropical rainforests are bursting with bromeliads, ferns, mosses, and fungi, while the lush landscape is replenished by numerous rivers, streams, and waterfalls.
Under the waves, caves, volcanic tunnels, rich coral reefs, and deeper waters are home to an abundance of sea life, including humpback and pilot whales, sea lions, bottlenose dolphins, manta rays, whale sharks, and white-tip reef sharks, as well as green and olive ridley and hawksbill turtles.
Although no amphibians have been sighted on the islands, more than 400 insect species call the region home. The Cocos Islands are also a popular stop-off for migratory bird species, including red-footed booby, brown booby, white tern, and great frigatebird. They are also home to several endemic species, including the Cocos finch, Cocos flycatcher, and Cocos cuckoo.