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Not to be mistaken for a popular diving destination in the Pacific, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are an Australian territory southwest of Sumatra. They consist of two sun-drenched atolls encompassing 27 coral islands. Though they are a relatively undiscovered destination amongst tourists (and quite hard to get to), the trip is more than worth it for those who have "Undisturbed peace" listed as a major criteria for their next holiday destination. Whether you keep it simple by the beach, take a plunge into the Indian Ocean, or enjoy the unique Malay culture, you will rarely see another photo-taking tourist. You may find yourself accompanied by bird lovers, though: Pulu Keeling National Park is a phenomenal adventure park for those who love winged creatures, or those who like being adorned with bird droppings.
In 1609 Captain William Keeling was the first European to see the islands, but they remained uninhabited until the nineteenth century, when they became a possession of the Clunies-Ross Family.
On April 1, 1836, HMS Beagle under Captain Robert FitzRoy arrived to take soundings establishing the profile of the atoll as part of the survey expedition of the Beagle. To the young naturalist Charles Darwin, who was on the ship, the results supported a theory he had developed of how atolls formed. He studied the natural history of the islands and collected specimens.
The islands were annexed to the British Empire in 1857. In 1867, their administration was placed under the Straits Settlements, which included Penang, Malacca and Singapore. Queen Victoria granted the islands in perpetuity to the Clunies-Ross family in 1886. The Cocos Islands under the Clunies-Ross family have been cited as an example of a nineteenth century micronation.
On November 9, 1914, the islands became the site of the Battle of Cocos, one of the first naval battles of World War I. The wireless telegraph station on Direction Island, a vital link between the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, was destroyed by sailors from the German light cruiser SMS Emden, which was in turn surprised and destroyed by the Australian cruiser, HMAS Sydney.
During World War II, the cable station was once again a vital link. Allied planners noted that the islands might be seized as a base for German raider cruisers operating in the Indian Ocean. Following Japan's entry into the war, Japanese forces did occupy neighbouring islands. After the Fall of Singapore in 1942, the islands were administered from Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and West and Direction Islands were placed under Allied military administration. Later in the war, two airstrips were built and three bomber squadrons were moved to the islands to conduct raids against Japanese targets in South East Asia and to provide support during the reinvasion of Malaya and reconquest of Singapore.
On November 23, 1955, the islands were transferred to Australian control under the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955. In the 1970s, the Australian government's dissatisfaction with the Clunies-Ross feudal style of rule of the island increased. In 1978, Australia forced the family to sell the islands for the sum of AU$6,250,000, using the threat of compulsory acquisition. By agreement the family retained ownership of Oceania House, their home on the island. However, in 1983 the Australian government reneged this agreement, and told John Clunies-Ross, that he should leave the Cocos. The following year the High Court of Australia ruled that resumption of Oceania House was unlawful, but the Australian government ordered that no government business was to be granted to his shipping company, an action which contributed to his bankruptcy. John Clunies-Ross now lives in Perth, Western Australia however, some members of the Clunies-Ross family still live on the Cocos.
The Cocos (Keeling) Islands consist of two flat, low-lying coral atolls with an area of 14.2 square kilometres, 26 kilometres of coastline, a highest elevation of 5 metres and thickly covered with coconut palms and other vegetation. North Keeling Island is an atoll consisting of just one C-shaped island, a nearly closed atoll ring with a small opening into the lagoon, about 50 metres wide, on the east side. The island measures 1.1 square kilometres in land area and is uninhabited. The lagoon is about 0.5 square kilometres. North Keeling Island and the surrounding sea to 1.5 km from shore form the Pulu Keeling National Park, established on 12 December 1995. It is home to the only surviving population of the endemic, and endangered, Cocos Buff-banded Rail. South Keeling Islands is an atoll consisting of 24 individual islets forming an incomplete atoll ring, with a total land area of 13.1 square kilometres. Only Home Island and West Island are populated. The Cocos Malays maintain weekend shacks, referred to as pondoks, on most of the larger islands.
Pulu Keeling National Park is a marine national park off the coast of North Keeling Island. The park has a rich biodiversity and to add has some ship wrecks to explore by divers as well. These include the remains of the infamous German Raider, the SMS Emden which was sent to destroy the Cable Station on Direction Island in November 1914. Due to its fragile environment, public access is only permitted in the company of guides or licensed tour operators which makes visiting either time consuming or expensive. Still it is worth it if you have both.
Home Island is probably the most popular island to travel around and go relaxing, swimming, snorkelling, fishing, diving or just hop from one island to the other if you like to explore the nearby islands as well. Here you can joing cultural tours as well.
The Cocos Islands people originally are predominantly Malay. Still, also Chinese, Papuan and Indian people settled themselves here, and even a few African people. Nowadays, the Cocos Malay society and the focus of each individual's life is the Islamic religion but some cultural elements of the British traditions can be found in the culture as well.
During the year, as well as the traditional events such as Easter, New Year, Christmas etc., The Cocos Islands host 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 Islands' weather is characterised by tropical conditions with not much variation regarding temperature, but rather a distinct dry and wet season. Humid conditions prevale but constant breezes make things bearable. Temperatures range between 28 °C to 30 °C during the day and 24 °C - 25 °C at night throughout the year. The wet season lasts from December to May, when tropical storms and cyclones are a real possibility. March and April usually are the wettest months. The dry period is from July to November, with the driest months from September onwards.
The Cocos (Keeling) Islands Airport is at West Island and there are two flights a week from Perth operated by National Jet Systems with an additional flight every fortnight or so. Some flights stop at Christmas Island as well, making travel between the two possible.
The Cocos Islands are unfortunately not reached by boat. There are no harbors so even getting here on a yacht might give problems.
There are several car rental agencies at the airport and in West Island Settlement. Note that fuel is not always availabe. As distances are small and most area is flat, renting a bike is more affordable as well.
There is a bus service on West Island Settlement that leaves about 20 minutes before the jetty leaves for some other islands. Other than that, your options are limited.
Ferries travel between West Island, Home Island and sometimes Direction Island (Saturdays).
The same requirements apply as for Australia.
See also Money Matters
The Cocos Islands use the Australian Dollar (AUD). Australian Dollar notes come in $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 and coins come in 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, $1 and $2.
The Malay dialect spoken by the Cocos Malay people today is an oral language. It contains words that reflect their diverse origins and their history of irregular contact with outsiders. Modern interpretation is given in Bahasa Indonesia/Malay with some adaptation to local usage.
There are two restaurants on Cocos. The Tropika Restaurant is on West Island, whilst Bunga Melati is on Home Island. 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. The Tropika caters to western style meals with a selection of meats, vegetables and salads available from the bistro. In both restaurants, meals are reasonably priced and rarely exceed $20.00 per person.
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.
The 28 room Cocos Beach 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.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to the Cocos Islands. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering the Cocos Islands) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to the Cocos Islands. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B is also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Cyclone season is October to April.
See also International Telephone Calls
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