The Cocos Islands

Stick a pin in a globe through the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and it emerges almost exactly through the Cocos in Costa Rica.

Discovered in 1609, these islands were settled and owned by a single family from 1827 until the Australian Government forcibly acquired them in 1978 for a payment of over $6 million.

Lying 2,770 km (1,732 ml) northwest of Perth, the 27 coral islands are formed into two large, heavily vegetated atolls. Not only are they the only atolls that Darwin ever visited, but the coral ecosystem remains intact and you can still see in their pristine condition exactly why they played such an important part in his theory of evolution.

North Keeling, set apart from the other islands, isn’t even inhabited; but you can see extreme rarities like the Cocos buff-banded rail, robber land crabs, and both green and hawksbill turtles among other wonders, under its protection as Pulu Keeling National Park, covering both North Keeling and its surrounding waters.

The 600 or so Cocos (Keeling) islanders live on Home and West Islands, both given over to copra and coconut plantations that only add to their tropical glamour. There is no tourist industry at all. Instead, there are facilities for visitors, sponsored by islanders who take an almost personal interest in everyone who comes.

If you happen to be there, you’re genuinely welcome to participate in the school fete, sports day, or concert night; and you’d be unwise not to join in quiz night at the Cocos Club, or not to watch the annual Ardmona Cup Aussie Rules football match. The tradition of hospitality is both Australian and Malay, representing the origins of the tight-knit community.

The islanders, as much as the islands themselves, have retained a form of unpolluted innocence, and share a mutual respect that visitors immediately respond to. These islands are a dreamscape worthy of Gauguin.