Cocos and Keeling Islands

ccsklChances are that you have never heard of the Cocos and Keeling Islands. There is a good reason for this as they are a remote island group in the Indian Ocean situated 2750 kilometres northwest of Perth, Western Australia, which is about half way between Australia and Sri Lanka.

Although there are 27 islands and two atolls in the group, but only two of the islands have permanent populations, which number in total about 600 people.

The names of some of these islands: Misery, Prison, Burial and Workhouse islands give the impression that the Cocos and Keelings must be a horrible place to visit. They are, in fact, typically palm-fringed tropical islands where you can dive on see lovely coral reefs, sail in lagoons and enjoy some great beaches.

The two inhabited islands are Home Island and West Island. Home Island is a short ferry ride across the lagoon from West Island and it is where the majority of the Cocos Malay people live. They are not indigenous to the island but were imported from Malaysia to work as labourers on the copra plantations. Home Island was also the home of the Clunies-Ross family who had annexed the island, and who ruled the island until control of the islands was ceded to Australia in 1955.

West Island is the administrative capital of the islands, and where the airport is located. It is a very laid back place, where the majority of the accommodation and facilities are situated. With a population of just 120 people, there is still plenty of room to find a quiet beach to yourself or to hire a bike or boat for exploring and fishing.

The Keeling Islands form part of the Pulu Keeling National Park and are uninhabited to protect some of the rare species that are found there. Charles Darwin visited these islands during his trip on the Beagle, and they inspired him to formulate his ideas about reef formations.

Apart from boats, which are usually small vessels on private voyages, the only way to reach the islands is by air from Perth. There are only a limited number of flights per week, and most fly via Christmas Island, which is well to the north, so it is a long trip.

Accommodation on the islands is comfortable, but reasonably basic, as there are no big resorts or much development of any kind, which only adds to the islands’ charm.

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