Hidden in the Indian Ocean between Australia and Sri Lanka, Cocos (Keeling) Islands (CKIs) are ready to unveil their uncrowded and untouched diving spots to the ocean rangers. Countless reef fish, Manta Rays, Turtles, Dugong, Dolphins, these are just a few examples of the local residents.
Australian CKIs should not be mixed with Cocos Island in Puerto Rico. CKIs are 2 atolls and 27 U-shaped coral islands in the neighborhood of Christmas Island. The Islands feature 26km (16mi) of coastline while only 2 of them are inhabited: Home Island and West Island. Among the uninhabited islands, you will find North Keeling Island where Pulu Keeling National Park is located.
The CKIs Airport is located on West Island and it can be reached within 4.5 hours by a flight from Perth. Usually, there is a stop at Christmas Island as well. Virgin Australia is the main company to service this destination. There are no big seaports on CKIs, only ferry connection between West, Direction and Home Islands.
Some visitors arrive here on sailing vessels as CKIs is a stop-over point on the route to Mauritius.
If you wish to visit Pulu Keeling National Park, you should get ready for 1.5 hours trip by inflatable boat with the following swim through the surf over the reef to get to the Island. Only guided tours are permitted on the North Keeling Island.
It might be useful to know that there are no ATMs on the Islands, so it is recommended to take some cash with you. However, most of resorts and businesses do accept cards.
There is only 1 Dive Shop, Cocos Dive, located on West Island which provides diving and snorkeling services at more than 30 dive spots. The sites are located both in the inside area of the lagoon and in the outside area. They can be reached by one of the 2 diving boats belonging to the dive center.
There are different options for all levels of diving experience to choose from coral gardens, wrecks, caves, and drop-offs.
Experienced divers should keep an eye on their depth and deco limits as there is no recompression chamber on CKIs, only in Perth or Singapore.
Currently, there are no liveaboards servicing dive sites at CKIs.
Best Dive Sites Overview
Cologne Gardens is usually referred to as one of the best dive sites at CKIs. The flat reef covered with Mushroom corals starts at 9m (29ft.). After 16m (52ft.) there is a drop off going down to 50m (164ft.). The wall features beautiful Gorgonians, Table Corals, and Anemones. The crowds of reef fish surround the area. It is common to see Sweetlips, Fusiliers, Snappers, Parrots, Butterflyfish, Surgeonfish, and Batfish. Grey Reef Shark and Manta can be spotted here as well.
This is one of the most spectacular coral gardens of the area. As the name suggests you expect to find Green and Gold Cabbage Coral, though you might be surprised to see that these corals cover about 700m² (7524ft²) located between the depths of 6-18m (19-59ft). These gardens host dozens of Anthias and Chromis. On sandy spots, you can find Garden Eels and Whitetip Reef Sharks while sleeping.
This dive site features a wreck of an old boat which was illegally brought to the Islands, confiscated and sunk to create an artificial reef. Now it is a home to a great variety of fish like Trumpetfish, Snappers, Longnose and Racoon Butterflyfish, Squirrelfish, and Trevally. There is a drop-off next to the wreck where 2 small caves can be found. Whitetip Reef Sharks can often be found sleeping in these caves. Do not forget to look around into the deep or above your head as the resident Dugong, Blacktip Reef Shark, and Manta Ray can pass by.
This dive site offers an opportunity to see 6 cannons under the water. The average depth here is 20m (65ft.). It is said that cannons might have been used as ballast in wooden boats. But for some reason, they were taken ashore and stored at CKIs. Now they are grouped in 2 areas and provide shelter to different reef inhabitants. If you like endemic creatures, you’d better look for Cocos Pygmy Angelfish here. You can spot Steephead Parrotfish, Octopus, Turtle, and Whitetip Reef Shark as well at this dive site.
Manta Service Station
If you enjoy watching beautiful Manta Rays, then you’d better visit the inside area of the lagoon. This dive site features a classic Manta cleaning station at the depth of 9m (29ft.). One of the bommies serves as a cleaning station attracting these majestic rays. Blacktip Reef Sharks are usual guests here as well.
Pulu Keeling dive sites
Diving in the area of Pulu Keeling National Park is weather dependant and it is recommended for the advanced divers. You will have high chances to visit these dives site if you arrive between November and April. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee that the weather will be suitable to access this pristine spots even in this best period. The area features fantastic coral gardens, walls, and drop-offs. There are many Sea Fans, Anemones, Sea Whips, and other soft and hard corals here. Besides reef fish, you can expect larger pelagic including Whitetip and Blacktip Reef Sharks, Manta Rays, Turtles, Tuna, Barracuda, Rainbow Runners, and Trevally.
On the southern side of North Keeling Island, you can find the historical SMS Emden wreck. She used to be a light cruiser of the Imperial German Navy during the World War I. There was a terrible battle between Emden and an Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney which attacked the enemy ship near the Direction Island in 1914. The damage to Emden was serious and she sank. Now the remaining parts of the wreck can be found at the depths of 3-9m (9-29ft.). These are propellers, machinery, ship’s guns, drive shaft, and shell casings.
Best Dive Season
The best season to dive at CKIs is between April and November. If you wish to combine your trip to CKIs with a visit to Christmas Island, then it might be the best to arrive in November. The months of October-November are famous for the Red Crab Migration at Christmas Island.
November also features annual Cocos Keeling Island Lagoon swim. Besides November-March is the best season to watch Manta Rays at both destinations.
CKIs offer great diving all the year round. The strongest winds are usually seen between April-September while the months of March-July feature the heaviest rains. Nevertheless, the water temperature stays around 25-26ºC (77-78ºF) in these coldest months and 29ºC (84ºF) during the warmest months.
The average visibility is 20-30m (65-98ft) around the area. Currents are not strong in the area, though there are some spots where you can witness stronger current and perform drift dives.
As CKIs are coral atolls they are covered by more than 100 types of hard and soft corals like Anemones, Sea Fans, Black Coral, Cabbage Coral, and Table Coral. The Islands host 500 species of fish, 600 species of mollusks and 100 species of echinoderms.
Some representatives of the Indo-West Pacific region mix with species of the West Indian Ocean to create unique endemic creatures. Cocos Pygmy Angelfish is one of the endemic representatives.
The area of CKIs attracts the amateurs of Manta Rays. These amazing creatures can be seen in any time of the year as well as Eagle Rays, and Stingrays. The months of November-March provide the highest chances to encounter them.
The most common fish is Surgeonfish, Parrotfish, Wrasse, Angelfish, Butterflyfish, Tuna, and Barracuda. Among sharks you can often spot Whitetip Reef Shark, Blacktip Reef Shark, and Grey Reef Shark.
A Dugong called Kat lives in the lagoon of the Islands and this amazing creature can be encountered during diving or snorkeling.
Green Turtles are often seen around the area especially as they nest on the southern atoll and at North Keeling Island.
There are not many options for accommodation at CKIs. All of them are located on the West Island. Nevertheless, you can still choose from rooms, holiday houses, villas, bungalows, and apartments.
Cocos Village Bungalows
This is one of the best accommodations on CKIs; it is located in the very center of West Island. The Resort features 10 Studio Apartments and Tropical Bungalows surrounded by the gardens. Each Bungalow has a verandah, A/C, TV, a private bathroom, and cooking facilities. The ocean is located just across the road.
The cottages in Balinese-style are located in a quite area of the Island with the views of the lagoon and a golf course. Cottages can accommodate 2-4 people. Each of them has a spacious bedroom, undercover deck, fully-equipped kitchen, BBQ area, and a washing machine.
Cocos Seaview Apartments
This Resort is hidden among the palm trees just within a walking distance from the ocean. Each apartment features a private bathroom, fully-equipped kitchen, and an open air wooden deck area. Guests can relax in a lounge area in the garden with BBQ facilities, wok, and rice cooker. There is a 6 person Spa located on the territory of the Resort. The price of the accommodation includes free airport transfers, free bicycles, free laundry facilities, and free island tour.
This is a stylish Resort featuring 7 self-contained accommodations. You can choose from a Studio, 1 or 2 Bedroom Villas. Each apartment has a private bathroom, fully equipped kitchen, a verandah with a hammock, ironing facilities, and a washing machine.
The Bird’s Nest
This is a self-contained unit offered by “Cocos Birds” operator which is directly attached to their own house. Pam and Geof are ready to share their knowledge about the local birds with their guests. The accommodation features a Queen Size bed, a washing machine, cooking facilities, BBQ area, and a verandah. The hostess is ready to provide meals at additional cost.
Other Activities For Non-Divers
There are several great spots for snorkeling around CKIs. The Rip is located at the very southern part of Direction Island. You can get there by ferry and stroll down to the sandy beach. There can be currents here so the area is recommended for experienced snorkelers. Beginners can enjoy snorkeling along Prison Island or Pulu Maraya. All of the snorkeling sites feature plenty of reef fish as well as Sea Stars, Clams, and Soft Corals.
Water Sports and Other Activities
Besides diving and snorkeling CKIs offer opportunities for fishing, sailing, kitesurfing, and windsurfing. If you like golf, you can visit Cocos Islands Golf Club. Its course includes the international runaway.
You can take a guided tour to Pulu Keeling National Park. It hosts unique flora and fauna, including such endemic species as Buff-banded Rail and rare Red-footed Booby.