Author - Darren McLean

Christmas Island Travel Guide

Cover Photo: Christmas Island Red Crab.

Christmas Island Travel Guide

Welcome to the taste2travel Christmas Island Travel Guide!

Date Visited: February 2021

Introduction

An emerald-coloured jewel in the Indian Ocean, Christmas Island is a remote, rugged, unspoilt natural paradise.

A relatively young, volcanic island which rises up 5,000 metres from the floor of the Indian Ocean. An island ringed by razor-sharp, limestone cliffs, the result of ancient geological uplifts, which is topped by a high, jungle-clad plateau.

A view of Flying Fish Cove during rough weather.

A view of Flying Fish Cove during rough weather.

Over the course of eons, many unique, endemic creatures have evolved in remote isolation on the island. Christmas Island is a veritable paradise for nature enthusiasts, bird watchers and scuba divers, with an amazing reef system lying just offshore.

The rarest of booby species, Abbott's booby is only found on Christmas Island.

The rarest of booby species, Abbott’s booby is only found on Christmas Island.

Just 100’s of metres offshore, underwater cliffs plunge 1000’s of metres into the abyss, to the floor of the Indian ocean.

With just a few beaches, which consist of tiny patches of coral-sand and shallow, onshore rocky reefs, Christmas Island isn’t a destination for those looking for a beach holiday.

What is lacks in terms of tropical beaches, it more than compensates for with a dazzling array of natural attractions which make this a compelling destination.

A view of the rugged north coast of Christmas Island.

A view of the rugged north coast of Christmas Island.

The island is 19 kilometres (12 mi) in length and 14.5 km (9.0 mi) in breadth, with a total area of 135 square kilometres (52 square miles). Of this, the small population of 1,843 are confined to a small urban settlement, actually called ‘Settlement‘, at the northern tip of the island.

Settlement is divided into three main precincts: Poon Saan, Kampong and Settlement. Each area houses, respectively, the island’s Chinese, Malay and European communities.

An island favourite, a Golden bosun, flying over Flying Fish Cove on Christmas Island.

An island favourite, a Golden bosun, flying over Flying Fish Cove on Christmas Island.

The main draw of the island, the Christmas Island National Park, covers roughly 63% of the total land area. It’s here you’ll encounter landscapes straight from a Jurassic park movie set and the funkiest of creatures.

The Robber crab (aka Coconut crab) is the largest crustacean in the world, weighing up to 4 kg and measuring 1-metre from leg tip to leg tip

The Robber crab (aka Coconut crab) is the largest crustacean in the world, weighing up to 4 kg and measuring 1-metre from leg tip to leg tip

If you dream of exploring a lush, jungle clad volcano which is crawling with millions of Christmas Island red crabs, and the very intimidating-looking Robber crab (aka the Coconut crab), if you dream of observing the rarest of bird species – including Abbott’s booby, which can only be seen on Christmas Island, then you will be rewarded for making the journey to this far-flung corner of the world.

The stars of Christmas Island are the 44 million Christmas Island red crabs.

The stars of Christmas Island are the 44 million Christmas Island red crabs.

Location

Christmas Island is located in the Indian Ocean, 1500 km west of the Australian mainland and 2600 km from Perth.

Although it’s an Australian territory, Christmas Island’s nearest neighbour is Indonesia, which lies 350 km to the north. The distance from Christmas Island to Jakarta is about 500 km.

Its second-nearest neighbour is the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (click to read my travel guide), another Australian territory which is located 985 km to the west.

Geologically, Christmas Island is the peak of a volcanic basalt seamount which rises up 5000-metres from the ocean floor. The island is very young at about 60 million years old.

The result of geological uplift, the coastline of Christmas Island features a series of towering limestone cliffs.

The result of geological uplift, the coastline of Christmas Island features a series of towering limestone cliffs.

Over the course of millions of years, several geological uplifts occurred. At each stage, erosion of the coral reef by the ocean has resulted in cliffs which now form stepped terraces which rise from the sea to the central plateau.

During each uplift, coral reefs built up on the basalt core, creating a limestone cap over the island that remains today. This cap contains rich phosphate deposits which have been mined since 1900 (see the ‘Phosphate Mining‘ section below for more details).

History

Uninhabited, and lying in obscurity for most of its history, Christmas Island was first sighted in 1615 by Richard Rowe, of the Thomas. He laid no claim to the island!

The island was named by Captain William Mynors of the British East India Company, who sailed past it on Christmas day of 1643.

The first Europeans to set foot on the island did so in March of 1688, as part of a landing party travelling with the famed English navigator, William Dampier. It was during his visit to the island that Dampier investigated the sea around the island, however no settlement was established.

The first attempt at exploring the rugged island took place in 1857, when the crew of the Amethyst tried to reach the island’s summit but found the steep cliffs to be impassable.

In 1886, Captain John Maclear of HMS Flying Fish, discovered a safe anchorage in a bay which he named Flying Fish Cove. While on the island, a landing party gathered a small collection of flora and fauna from the island.

A year later, Pelham Aldrich, on board HMS Egeria, visited the island for 10 days, during which time his crew gathered a larger biological and mineralogical collection. The British naturalist, John Murray analysed the mineral specimens and found that they were nearly pure phosphate.

In 1888, the island was annexed by Great Britain and the first settlement was established at Flying Fish Cove by George Clunies-Ross, the owner of Cocos (Keeling) Islands (click to read my Travel Guide), which lie 900 km to the south-west.

Britain granted a 99-year lease to George Clunies-Ross and John Murray, to mine phosphate and harvest timber. Mining commenced in 1899, using indentured labourers from Singapore, Malaysia and China. Eventually, Ross and Murray established the Christmas Island Phosphate Company, Ltd.

In 1900, the island was incorporated into the British colony of the Straits Settlements, which was administered from Singapore.

During WWII, the Japanese, who desired the island’s rich phosphate reserves, occupied the island from the 31st of March 1942 until it was liberated in October of 1945. During this time, much of the population was sent to POW camps in Surabaya (Indonesia).

Christmas Island was managed from Singapore until 1958, when Britain, at Australia’s request, transferred control to Australia. At the time, the decision to hand the island to Australia was hugely unpopular in Singapore and resulted in the Chief Minister, Lim Yew Hock, losing the 1959 General election. This ushered in a new era for Singapore – under the visionary leadership of Lee Kuan Yew!

Today, Christmas Island is a territory of Australia, and is administered as a shire of Western Australia.

People

Artwork on the wall of the Chinese Cultural Heritage Museum in Settlement. Two-thirds of the population of Christmas Island claim Straits-Chinese ancestry.

Artwork on the wall of the Chinese Cultural Heritage Museum in Settlement. Two-thirds of the population of Christmas Island claim Straits-Chinese ancestry.

From the beginning of the 20th century until 1957, Christmas Island was a British colony, administered by Singapore. Many of the Chinese and Malays which inhabit the island today trace their ancestry back to the days of Singaporean administration.

As of the 2016 Australian census, Christmas Island had a population of 1,843 with almost everyone living on the northern tip of the island. At the time of the census, the most common ancestries were Chinese, Malay and Australian, with around two-thirds of the island’s population estimated to have Straits-Chinese ancestry.

Of the three population centres, Settlement is home to many of the Australian ex-pats, Kampong is home to the Malays, while the Chinese dominate the plateau neighbourhood of Poon Saan.

Public Housing

Singaporean HDB-style housing in Kampong.

Singaporean HDB-style housing in Kampong.

When I first arrived on the island, one of the things that struck me was how much the public housing looked like HDB housing in Singapore.

There is good reason for this! Almost all of the public housing on the island was built by the Singapore Improvement Trust, the predecessor of the current Housing and Development Board, during Singapore’s period of administration.

Wildlife

A juvenile Abbott's booby on Christmas Island.

A juvenile Abbott’s booby on Christmas Island.

 

Due to its isolated location, many species found on Christmas Island are endemic and, due to their small number, listed as endangered. Of the bird species, Christmas Island is home to the rarest of the six species of booby birds – Abbott’s booby – which can only be found on Christmas Island.

Likewise, the rarest of frigate birds – the Christmas Island frigatebird, can only be found on Christmas Island.

Birds

Golden bosun

A magical sight, a Golden bosun soaring over Flying Fish Cove.

A magical sight, a Golden bosun soaring over Flying Fish Cove.

A sub-species of the White-tailed tropicbird, the Golden bosun is an icon of Christmas Island, appearing on the territorial flag.

While the White-tailed tropicbird can be found on many tropical islands around the world (one is featured on the cover of my Bermuda Travel Guide), the Golden bosun is endemic to Christmas Island.

The best place to view the Golden bosun is from the Territory Day park lookout, the lookout at the Golf course or from the streets of Settlement.

Abbott’s booby

A juvenile Abbott's booby on Christmas Island.

A juvenile Abbott’s booby on Christmas Island.

A highlight of Christmas Island is the chance to observe the rarest of all booby species – Abbott’s booby. Originally discovered by American naturalist, William Louis Abbott, in 1892, Abbott’s booby is the only booby restricted to a single location, although its former distribution covered much of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

A threatened species, Christmas Island is the only place where the Abbott’s booby nests, with the island supporting an estimated 3,000 breeding pairs.

Red-footed booby

A Red-footed booby on Christmas Island.

A Red-footed booby on Christmas Island.

No prizes for guessing where this bird gets its name from!

With its conspicuous red feet and pale-blue bill, the noisy Red-footed booby is easily spotted as it perches in trees around the island, with many seeming to enjoy perching next to the roadside.

A curious Red-footed booby on Christmas Island.

A curious Red-footed booby on Christmas Island.

A good place to see the Red-footed booby is along the road which leads to Ethel and Lily beach, where you’ll hear them before you see them!

Unlike Brown boobies, who are ground dwellers, the Red-footed booby prefers to live and nest in trees. Christmas Island is home to an estimated 12,000 breeding pairs.

Brown booby

A not-so-shy juvenile Brown booby on the boardwalk at the blow holes.

A not-so-shy juvenile Brown booby on the boardwalk at the blow holes.

I first photographed the Brown booby on the Cayman Islands while island hopping through the Caribbean. I’ve since had the opportunity to photograph this adorable booby on many other tropical islands.

Unlike the Abbott’s and Red-footed booby, the Brown booby prefers to nest on the ground and is easily spotted around the blow holes on the remote south coast.

During my visit, one juvenile Brown booby had decided to take up residence on the blow holes boardwalk – right next to one of the sitting benches! Typical behaviour for this gregarious species of booby.

Great Frigatebird

A male Great frigatebird, with a deflated red gular sac, on Christmas Island.

A male Great frigatebird, with a deflated red gular sac, on Christmas Island.

Christmas Island is home to the widely distributed Great frigatebird and the endemic Christmas Island frigatebird.

The male Great frigatebird is easily recognisable thanks to its striking red gular sac which it uses to dramatic effect during mating rituals when it forces air into it, inflating it like a huge red balloon.

A Great frigatebird on Christmas Island, chasing a Golden bosun for its catch.

A Great frigatebird on Christmas Island, chasing a Golden bosun for its catch.

A peculiar feeding habit of the frigatebird is that it doesn’t dive for its own food, but rather chases other seabirds, forcing them to regurgitate their catch which the frigatebird then steals. A real pirate of the seas!

A male Great frigatebird, with an inflated red gular sac, flying over Christmas Island.

A male Great frigatebird, with an inflated red gular sac, flying over Christmas Island.

On Christmas Island, the frigatebird can be seen chasing the Golden bosun and various booby birds, all of whom are expert fish divers.

Frigatebirds flying over Flying fish Cove on Christmas Island.

Frigatebirds flying over Flying fish Cove on Christmas Island.

Christmas Island Frigatebird

A juvenile Christmas Island Frigatebird on Christmas Island.

A juvenile Christmas Island Frigatebird on Christmas Island.

An endangered species, the Christmas Island Frigatebird can be seen flying over Settlement and Flying Fish Cove. The world’s rarest frigatebird, there are an estimated 1,200 breeding pairs on Christmas Island.

Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon

A Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon feeding off the fruit of a papaya tree.

A Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon feeding off the fruit of a papaya tree.

Endemic to Christmas Island, the Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon is one of only two fruit-eating animals on the island, the other being the Christmas Island flying fox.

With a breeding population estimated to be around 5,000 – this beautiful pigeon, which features purple and green plumage, inhabits the plateau region of the island, feeding in the forest canopy or anywhere else fruit trees can be found.

A Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon, in the Christmas Island National Park.

A Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon, in the Christmas Island National Park.

Although often heard, with their distinct cooing sound ringing out over island neighbourhoods, the Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon is often hard to find. At about twice the size of a regular domestic pigeon, this imperial pigeon spends most of its time hidden away in the high forest canopy.

The favoured habitat for the Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon is the evergreen inland plateau, and it was here, after much searching, I happened upon a large flock of them feeding on the fruit of several isolated papaya trees.

Christmas Island Thrush

A sub-species of thrush, the Christmas Island Thrush is endemic to Christmas Island.

A sub-species of thrush, the Christmas Island Thrush is endemic to Christmas Island.

Another endemic species, the Christmas Island Thrush is easily spotted on Christmas Island, where it feeds off the ground, mainly eating insects, seeds and earthworms.

While they are plentiful on the island, due to its limited area of distribution, the Christmas Island Thrush is listed as endangered.

Feral Chickens

Feral chickens surround my rental car on Christmas Island.

Feral chickens surround my rental car on Christmas Island.

One other bird which deserves a special mention is the feral chicken. Introduced to islands around the world by early sailors, Christmas Island is home to a countless number of feral chickens.

While they can be observed all over the island, scratching around in the rich volcanic soil, one place where they seem to be especially prolific is in the cemetery section of the island, just north of Settlement.

Crabs

Christmas Island Red Crab

The star of the show! The famous and iconic, Christmas Island red crab, is endemic to the island, and rules over it, with a population of 44 million occupying most parts of the island.

The Christmas Island red crab is a very common sight on Christmas Island where they number around 44 million.

The Christmas Island red crab is a very common sight on Christmas Island where they number around 44 million.

It’s hard to walk anywhere without looking out for these red critters who always seem to be scurrying around your feet. Driving on the island also requires attention as you need to keep an eye out for the numerous crabs which seem to love dawdling across the roads.

A road sign in Settlement indicates road closures during the Red Crab migration season.

A road sign in Settlement indicates road closures during the Red Crab migration season.

For most of the year, red crabs can be found within Christmas Islands’ forests. However, at the beginning of each wet season (usually October/November), the crabs migrate en masse to the coast where they breed by laying their eggs in the ocean. During this time some of the roads on the island are closed to traffic.

A unique piece of infrastructure! The Christmas Island red crab bridge allows crabs to cross this road safely.

A unique piece of infrastructure! The Christmas Island red crab bridge allows crabs to cross this road safely.

This migration was made famous by Sir David Attenborough who featured it in one of his epic documentaries. He described it as one of the “ten greatest natural wonders on Earth”.

My rental car, waiting for a Christmas Island red crab to cross the road.

My rental car, waiting for a Christmas Island red crab to cross the road.

Due to the huge numbers of red crabs on the island, some unique infrastructure has been developed by Parks Australia to help protect them.

This includes a red crab bridge, which is located on Murray road, just beyond the island’s only high school. The road is used by phosphate mining trucks which necessitated a higher bridge, with a clearance of 5.5 metres. Quite a climb for the little crabs!

Metal barriers line the roads inside Christmas Island National Park, preventing red crabs from meandering onto the road.

Metal barriers line the roads inside Christmas Island National Park, preventing red crabs from meandering onto the road.

Inside the National Park (which covers most of the island), Parks Australia have constructed small, metal barriers which run alongside the road, preventing the crabs from entering the road.

How are they to cross the road?

Cattle grids on an island with no cows! Grids on Christmas Island allow for red crabs to pass safely under the road.

Cattle grids on an island with no cows! Grids on Christmas Island allow for red crabs to pass safely under the road.

On an island where there are no cows, it’s strange to be passing over so many cattle grids. The grids have been installed to allow the crabs to pass safely under the road, with the metal barriers herding the crabs into tunnels which pass under the grids.

On Christmas Island, it’s all about the crabs and rightly so!

Christmas Island red crabs, feasting on a recently fallen mango.

Christmas Island red crabs, feasting on a recently fallen mango.

While the Christmas Island red crabs have no predators, they are under attack from the yellow crazy ant which was accidentally introduced to the island from South-east Asia. The ant is believed to have killed 10–15 million red crabs in the last years.

Christmas Island Blue Crab

A Christmas Island blue crab, hiding in his burrow near Hughs Dale waterfall.

A Christmas Island blue crab, hiding in his burrow near Hughs Dale waterfall.

One of my favourite creatures on Christmas Island is the Christmas Island blue crab. Endemic to the island, and found in only one small area, this shy and elusive, sky-blue, crab can be found in the fresh water stream which flows down from Hughs Dale waterfall.

Reliant on fresh water, and living off a diet of fallen leaves and fruits, the blue crab builds its burrow alongside the stream and can often be found submerged in the stream itself, where it keeps cool during the heat of the day.

Coconut Crab (aka Robber Crab)

A robber crab on an asphalt road on Christmas Island. You always give way to these giants when they're crossing the road.

A robber crab on an asphalt road on Christmas Island. You always give way to these giants when they’re crossing the road.

The truly massive, Coconut crab, which is known on Christmas Island as the Robber crab, is the world’s biggest land crustacean. Adult crabs can weigh up to 4 kg and measure 1 metre across, from each tip to tip of the leg.

The Robber crab is capable of climbing the trunk of the coconut tree to select a coconut and cut it free using its pinchers. Its claws are so powerful it can remove the husk from the coconuts. The Robber crab uses coconut husk as bedding in its burrow.

The name Robber crab has existed for centuries and refers its habit of carrying off any foreign items it comes across. It especially likes shiny objects!

A Robber crab climbing out of the Blue grotto on the north coast of Christmas Island.

A Robber crab climbing out of the Blue grotto on the north coast of Christmas Island.

My first encounter with a Robber crab was while I was photographing, the much smaller, Christmas Island Red crabs inside the Blue grotto on the island’s north coast.

Out of the corner of my eye, climbing slowly up a rock face, I noticed something truly bizarre – a huge, colossal, and terrifying looking, creature, the likes of which I had never seen before. This was something that could have played a starring role in a science fiction film.

It was my first sighting of a Robber crab and, during my 8 days on Christmas Island, I had the pleasure of seeing many more of these gentle giants.

Often while walking along lonely jungle trails on Christmas Island, Robber crabs can be seen lurking menacingly in the bushes. They are however completely harmless!

I once saw a local expat stop his car and pick a Robber crab up, holding it carefully by its large abdomen, removing it from the road, placing it out of harm’s way in some nearby bushes.

A road sign on Christmas Island, where the Robber crab is protected.

A road sign on Christmas Island, where the Robber crab is protected.

Christmas Island has the world’s largest and best protected population of Robber crabs, with road signs on the island reminding motorists to drive around them.

While the crabs were once distributed on islands throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans, hunting by humans has resulted in the crab becoming extinct in certain locations. Where they do exist, they are often much smaller since adults are killed for their meat.

Thanks to their protected status, the crabs are thriving on Christmas Island and often grow to their full (enormous) adult size.

A robber crab crossing the road on Christmas Island.

A robber crab crossing the road on Christmas Island.

The crabs on Christmas Island can be found on the highest points of the island and live in burrows which they line with fibres from coconut husks which is used as bedding.

Robber crabs can be seen on most parts of the island, where they forage for food on the floor of the forest. They are most easily spotted while crossing the road and can even be seen climbing trees. The crabs are considered one of the most terrestrial-adapted of crustaceans and will actually drown if they spend too long in sea water.

Despite their intimidating looks, they are not threatening and are very gentle and, at times, comical.

Reptiles

The tiny, Blue-tailed skink, is endemic to Christmas Island.

The tiny, Blue-tailed skink, is endemic to Christmas Island.

Blue-tailed skink

Endemic to Christmas Island, and once found all over the island, this tiny skink had almost become extinct as a result of introduced predators, who ravaged the population.

Thanks to a captive breeding program, which is being conducted by Parks Australia, at their Pink House Research Station, these skinks are making a slow recovery.

You can join one of their lizard feeding tours by registering through the Christmas Island Visitor Centre.

One place where the lizards have been successfully re-introduced back into the wild is on Pulu Blan, on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. You can visit Pulu Blan as part of a Motorised Canoe tour, which are conducted by Ash and Kylie of Cocos Islands Adventure Tours.

Flag

The flag of Christmas Island.

The flag of Christmas Island.

The flag of Christmas Island, which was officially adopted in 2002, consists of a green and blue background, split diagonally, with the blue representing the sea while the green represents the land.

The Southern Cross constellation appears in the bottom left corner, while the top right corner features a Golden bosun bird in flight. At the centre, a golden disc features a map of the island in green.

The flag was originally designed in 1986, following a competition which offered a prize of A$100! The design was created by Tony Couch of Sydney, who had formerly been resident on the island.

Currency

https://www.taste2travel.com/cocos-keeling-islands-travel-guide/

The Australian dollar is the official currency of Christmas Island.

The official currency of Christmas Island is the Australian dollar (A$), which trades under the international currency code of AUD.

Having the distinction of being the world’s first polymer currency, the dollar is issued in bank notes of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 and is divided into 100 cents (c), with coins being issued in denominations of 5c, 10c, 20c and 50c, $1 and $2.

All bank notes are printing in Melbourne by Note Printing Australia (a division of the Reserve Bank of Australia), who also print polymer bank notes for Central banks around the globe.

Like mainland Australia, most transactions on Christmas Island are cashless with credit cards being widely accepted.

To check the current exchange rate between the Australian dollar and the US dollar, click here.

Banking Services

The Westpac bank branch on Christmas Island.

The Westpac bank branch on Christmas Island.

Westpac are the only bank to maintain a branch on Christmas Island, although there is no ATM available. The adjacent post office acts as an agent for all other Australian banks and is able to provide cash advances.

There are no ATMs on Christmas Island.

Costs

With the exception of duty-free alcohol, Christmas Island isn’t a cheap destination with everything imported from Australia. Air freight charges add an additional A$9 per kilo to everything with a lettuce at the supermarket fetching A$18!

Like neighbouring Cocos (Keeling) Islands, the two major expenses are flights and accommodation, with the latter being slightly cheaper on Christmas Island.

Some sample costs:

  • Return Virgin Australia airfare to Christmas Island from Perth: $A1,100 (US$842)
  • Room (per night) at CI Apartments: A$160 (US$123)
  • Cappuccino/ Cafè latte at Smash Cafe: $A5 (US$3.80)
  • Bottle of beer at the Golden Bosun tavern: $A6 (US$4.60)
  • Eggs on Toast at Smash Cafe: $A17 (US$13)
  • Chinese dinner at Lucky Ho restaurant: $A30 (US$23)
  • Car Rental with Kiat Car Rental (per day): $A65 (US$50)
  • 1 litre of petrol: $A2.28 (US$1.75)

Philately

The stamps of Christmas Island feature the rich fauna and flora of the island.

The stamps of Christmas Island feature the rich fauna and flora of the island.

Christmas Island issues its own stamps which are produced by Australia Post. Stamps feature the fauna and flora of the island and also include subjects relevant to the local (mainly Chinese) community, with Chinese New Year stamps being a popular issue.

Christmas Island stamps featuring views from the National Park.

Christmas Island stamps featuring views from the National Park.

Like neighbouring Cocos (Keeling) Islands, the number of stamp issues produced each year has been dramatically reduced. Stamps can be purchased from the one post office on Christmas Island or online from the Australia Post website.

The Christmas Island post office.

The Christmas Island post office.

Phosphate Mining

A view of the (beige-coloured) Phosphate storage sheds and the cantilever on Christmas Island.

A view of the (beige-coloured) Phosphate storage sheds and the cantilever on Christmas Island.

Introduction

Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) is taken very seriously in Australia, so it’s not surprising that the phosphate mines on Christmas Island are strictly off-limits to visitors.

What can be seen are the conveyors, which transport the phosphate down the cliff face from the central plateau, to the port, and the cantilever which is used to load the phosphate onto export ships.

Like Christmas Island, phosphate mining has also been an important export earner for the Pacific island nation of Nauru, an island which is a lot more casual about mine access, with mines operating openly by the side of the road on Topside (Nauru’s phosphate-rich plateau).

Some of the text in this section has been extracted from my Nauru Travel Guide which includes a more detailed section on phosphate mining, including photos of the mining process.

Apart from phosphate, the two islands also share something else in common – they both host an Australian Refugee Detention Centre.

What is Phosphate?

Blackened limestone rocks, such as these on the plateau at Christmas Island, are the tell-tale sign of a former Phosphate mine.

Blackened limestone rocks, such as these on the plateau at Christmas Island, are the tell-tale sign of a former Phosphate mine.

Phosphorite, or phosphate rock, is a sedimentary rock that contains high amounts of phosphate minerals. The two main sources for phosphate are guano, formed from bird droppings, and rocks containing concentrations of the calcium phosphate mineral.

Christmas Island’s phosphate deposits are the result of thousands of years of bird droppings. Guano is a highly effective fertiliser due to its exceptionally high content of all three key fertiliser ingredients – nitrogen, phosphate and potassium.

Following the discovery of processes which allow for the creation of synthetic fertilisers, the demand for naturally occurring phosphates has declined.

How is Phosphate Used?

Phosphate is one of three key ingredients which are used in fertilisers. Normally, fertilisers are labelled with an ‘N-P-K’ rating, with phosphate being the ‘P’ component; nitrogen being the ‘N’ and potassium being the ‘K’.

An NPK value of ’10-5-5′ means that the fertiliser contains 10% nitrogen, 5% phosphate and 5% potassium.

Phosphate is a key component for plant food and plants are key for human survival.

Phosphate on Christmas Island

Phosphate was first discovered on Christmas Island by a British expedition which arrived on the island in 1887. The purpose of the expedition was to collect plant and animal specimens. It was during the expedition that rich reserves of phosphate were discovered. This led the British to annex Christmas Island in 1888, to claim its valuable phosphate deposits.

The British offered George Clunies Ross, the owner of the neighbouring Cocos (Keeling) Islands and John Murray a joint 99-year lease in return for a small royalty. They began exporting phosphate in 1895, establishing the Christmas Island Phosphate Company in 1897. The first major shipment of phosphate was exported in 1900.

The proceeds from phosphate mining proved to be much more lucrative for the Clunies-Ross family than the proceeds from their Copra operation on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

As there was no Indigenous population on Christmas Island, a workforce had to be imported from Europe, Singapore, China and Malaysia. Working conditions in the early days were appalling with an estimated 500 Chinese workers dying in the first 5 years due to vitamin deficiencies.

During WWII, the island came under attack from the Japanese who wanted to disrupt shipments of phosphate. In 1948, the Australian and New Zealand Governments purchased the Christmas Island Phosphate Company which they worked in partnership with the British Phosphate Commissioners.

Due to dwindling reserves, a decision was made to close the mine in 1987. With the island’s main employer shutdown, locals were not happy.

In 1990 the mine was purchased by local union workers (many of whom used their own savings to fund a feasibility study) and reopened as Christmas Island Phosphates.

Since 1990, Phosphate Resources Limited (now a part of CI Resources – ASX: CII) has operated the mine, which has since been granted a license to continue mining until 2034. The main market for CI phosphate is South-East Asia.

Sightseeing

Sightseeing on Christmas Island is all about the incredible fauna and flora, which can be observed on every inch of the island, but especially inside the boundaries of the Christmas Island National Park which covers two-thirds of the island. Within the small populated area of the island are a few man-made sights of interest.

This sightseeing section starts with sights around Settlement, then radiates out to cover each section of the island.

Flying Fish Cove

A view of Flying Fish Cove in the foreground with The Settlement in the background, the main population centre on Christmas Island.

A view of Flying Fish Cove in the foreground with The Settlement in the background, the main population centre on Christmas Island.

The first settlement on Christmas Island was established by George Clunies-Ross, the owner of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands at Flying Fish Cove in 1898.

Flying Fish Cove is the one beach on Christmas Island which allows swimming - but only on calm days.

Flying Fish Cove is the one beach on Christmas Island which allows swimming – but only on calm days.

While the coastline of Christmas Island is almost entirely fortified by towering, razor-sharp, limestone cliffs, Flying Fish Cove offers the only break in this line of defence, making it the only reasonable landing site on the island.

A view of Flying Fish Cove from the Territory Day park lookout.

A view of Flying Fish Cove from the Territory Day park lookout.

Flying Fish Cove is also home to one of the few beaches on the island, which is very exposed and only safe for swimming in calm weather.

Christmas Island Port

A container ship being unloaded at sea at Christmas Island port.

A container ship being unloaded at sea at Christmas Island port.

Flying Fish Cove is one of the main centres of activity on Christmas Island, being home to the only port, post office, bank and the administrative buildings for the IOT (Indian Ocean Territories of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands).

Port facilities are a real issue for the island at the moment. With almost everything being imported on one container ship, it’s critical that the ship is able to arrive and unload on schedule.

At the time of my visit, in March of 2020, the ship that was due in December of 2019 still had not been able to land any containers due to rough seas.

The following day, the ship arrived and was able to offload 15 containers, one at a time, onto a barge, which then transferred them to the shore where a crane lifted them onto the dock.

Shipping containers at Christmas Island are offloaded onto barges and then transported to shore.

Shipping containers at Christmas Island are offloaded onto barges and then transported to shore.

Of the 100 containers scheduled to be ‘landed’, only 15 made it ashore before a cyclone warning and increasingly rough seas meant the ship had to return to the Australian mainland. It would be seven weeks before the ship would return to continue offloading the cargo which was due in December. This included the islands’ supply of aviation fuel, which had just run out!

Locals told me that they had Christmas presents waiting to be offloaded in one of the containers. Another container, which had been packed with fresh produce in December, had to be dumped since its contents were completely spoilt. Meanwhile, the supermarkets on the island have bare shelves and desperately wait for containers to be landed.

Masjid At-Taqwa

Located in Kampong, the Masjid At-Taqwa is the one mosque on Christmas Island.

Located in Kampong, the Masjid At-Taqwa is the one mosque on Christmas Island.

Lining the cove is the small village of Kampong which is home to a predominately Malaysian (Muslim) population who live in Singapore-built HDB-style housing.

It is here that the one mosque on the island, the Masjid At-Taqwa, and two Malaysian restaurants, are located.

Tai Jin House

<i>Tai Jin house</i> is the former Administrator's House, a heritage-listed former official residence and now the Christmas Island museum.

Tai Jin house is the former Administrator’s House, a heritage-listed former official residence and now the Christmas Island museum.

Located atop a sea cliff beyond Flying Fish Cove, the historic Tai Jin house once served as the residence of the British Administrator of Christmas Island.

A museum display at Tai Jin house.

A museum display at Tai Jin house.

With the current administrator living in Settlement, Tai Jin house is today used as a function centre for official ceremonies and houses the island’s only museum on its 1st floor.

The museum tells the story of the development of Christmas Island and is the best place to gain an understanding of the history of the island from its early discovery and European settlement in 1898 to the present.

WWII Gun Emplacement

The WWII gun emplacement on Christmas Island.

The WWII gun emplacement on Christmas Island.

The island’s rich phosphate deposits and strategic location made it a target for the Japanese during World War II. In order to defend the island, a gun emplacement was established on a cliff, overlooking the Indian Ocean, a short walk from Tai Jin House.

SIEV 221 Memorial

The SIEV 221 memorial on Christmas Island.

The SIEV 221 memorial on Christmas Island.

Located on the grounds of Tai Jin house is a memorial which commemorates those who lost their lives in the sinking of the asylum seeker boat, known as SIEV 221.

On the 15th of December 2010, a boat carrying around 90 asylum seekers, mostly from Iraq and Iran, sank off the coast of Christmas Island, killing 48 people while 42 survivors were rescued.

This tragic incident took place in front of the residents of Settlement, with the flimsy, wooden, Indonesian boat being smashed up against the limestone cliffs at Rocky Point. Settlement sits atop these sea cliffs with access to the sea near impossible, however locals were able to throw life jackets and other floatation devices into the water.

Shocking video images of the disaster were broadcast around the world. The boat was later named SIEV-221 by the Australian authorities who use SIEV as an operational term meaning “Suspected Irregular Entry Vessel“.

The memorial plaque reads:

“We will reflect on this day with sadness. The loss of each person`s life diminishes our own because we are part of humankind.

As you read this please remember all asylum seekers who have attempted this treacherous journey.”

Settlement

The coast at Settlement is lined with razor-sharp limestone cliffs.

The coast at Settlement is lined with razor-sharp limestone cliffs.

The main town centre on Christmas Island, Settlement is home to a supermarket, the one pub on the island, the one police station, a few accommodation options, a couple of dive shops, the Chinese Cultural centre and a Chinese temple.

It’s also home to Wild Papaya which offers the one good shopping opportunity on the island (see the ‘Shopping‘ section below for more details).

A whale shark, frigatebirds, a booby and more feature on a newly installed, community-made, tile mosaic in the park in Settlement.

A whale shark, frigatebirds, a booby and more feature on a newly installed, community-made, tile mosaic in the park in Settlement.

Chinese Cultural and Heritage Museum

Displays at the Chinese Cultural and Heritage Museum in Settlement, on Christmas Island.

Displays at the Chinese Cultural and Heritage Museum in Settlement, on Christmas Island.

Christmas Island has a long history of settlement by the Chinese, who first arrived on the island as indentured labourers to work in the phosphate mines.

Located in a small house, opposite the CLA restaurant in Settlement, the one-room Chinese Cultural and Heritage Museum includes displays which highlight the cultural heritage of the Chinese who have been instrumental in the development of Christmas Island.

Access during the day is free, with the museum normally unattended.

Tai Pak Kong Temple

Tai Pak Kong Temple serves the Chinese community at Settlement on Christmas Island.

Tai Pak Kong Temple serves the Chinese community at Settlement on Christmas Island.

With two-thirds of the population of Christmas Island being Straits-Chinese, there are a number of Buddhist temples spread around the island. Located in the heart of Settlement, Tai Pak Kong Temple serves the local Chinese population.

Located adjacent to the temple is Wild Papaya, a great place to shop for local arts and crafts.

European Cemetery

The original European cemetery on Christmas Island.

The original European cemetery on Christmas Island.

The first European cemetery on Christmas Island is located on an overgrown hill behind the Westpac bank in Settlement.

The last person to be buried here was a young sailor whose dead body was recovered from a Royal Australian Navy life raft which drifted ashore on the 6th of February 1942.

It is believed the sailor was from the HMAS Sydney which was sunk off the coast of Geraldton, Western Australia in November of 1941, after a battle with a German cruiser. The unknown body was buried in the cemetery in an unmarked grave.

Chinese Cemetery

A gravestone at the Chinese cemetery on Christmas Island.

A gravestone at the Chinese cemetery on Christmas Island.

Located north of Settlement, along Gaze road, is a large Chinese cemetery.

Muslim Cemetery

Gravestones at the Muslim cemetery on Christmas Island.

Gravestones at the Muslim cemetery on Christmas Island.

Directly across the road from the Chinese cemetery is a Muslim cemetery which seems to be a favourite locale for a large number of feral chickens.

Christmas Island National Park

The Christmas Island National Park occupies most of Christmas Island.

The Christmas Island National Park occupies most of Christmas Island.

Managed by Parks Australia, the Christmas Island National park protects 2/3 of the land area of Christmas Island, ensuring the numerous endemic creatures, which call the island home, are fully protected and that the pristine jungles remain untouched.

As part of their management, the enthusiastic team of volunteers at Parks Australia offer two free weekly sessions for visitors, the feeding of orphan booby chicks at the headquarters of Parks Australia and a lizard feeding session at the Pink House.

National Park Headquarters – Bird Feeding

An Abbott's booby chick being fed at the National Park bird orphanage.

An Abbott’s booby chick being fed at the National Park bird orphanage.

If you’re a keen ornithophile, you should not miss the weekly bird feeding session which is conducted by volunteers at the National Park headquarters, each Wednesday at 3 pm.

During the session, volunteers feed orphaned Booby chicks. During my visit, all three species were present – Abbott’s, Brown and Red-footed.

This is a free activity, but bookings must be made in advance at the Christmas Island Visitors Centre.

Pink House – Lizard Feeding

The Lizard Lounge at the Pink House is home to the endemic Blue-tailed skink and Lister's gecko.

The Lizard Lounge at the Pink House is home to the endemic Blue-tailed skink and Lister’s gecko.

Hidden away in the middle of the jungle is the Pink House Research Station which is home to a breeding program, run by Parks Australia, whose aim is to rehabilitate the dwindling populations of two endemic lizards, the blue tail skink and Lister’s gecko. Both species have been decimated, following the accidental introduction to the island of the Yellow crazy ant from South-East Asia.

The program has been a success with the blue tail skink being introduced into the wild on tiny Pulu Blan on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

If you wish to view the lizards, you can join the weekly feeding session which is conducted every Wednesday at 1 pm.

This is a free activity, but bookings must be made in advance at the Christmas Island Visitors Centre.

North-east Coast

The Blue Grotto

The Blue grotto is located on the North coast of Christmas Island.

The Blue grotto is located on the North coast of Christmas Island.

Located at the end of a short walking trail on the north-east coast, the Blue Grotto is a magical place where large, dripping limestone rocks hang decoratively over an azure-blue pool of half-fresh, half-salt crystalline water.

Lily Beach

A view of Lily beach on Christmas Island.

A view of Lily beach on Christmas Island.

While most of the 80 kilometres (50 miles) of shoreline on Christmas Island is inaccessible, there are a few places where a break in the limestone cliffs provides access to the sea. Swimming however is hardly ideal with most beaches full of rocky, sharp limestone boulders.

One beach popular with locals is tiny Lily beach, which allows for a little paddling, in a small protected pool, during high tide. Beyond the rocks, the deeper water is normally too rough for swimming with currents waiting to carry you away.

A boardwalk connects Lily beach to Ethel beach.

A boardwalk connects Lily beach to Ethel beach.

A boardwalk from Lily beach leads around the headland to neighbouring Ethel beach.

Ethel Beach

A view of the coral-sand Ethel beach, which is submerged at high tide.

A view of the coral-sand Ethel beach, which is submerged at high tide.

Located on the north-east coast, a short distance from Lily beach, Ethel beach offers a narrow stretch of coarse coral-sand which is fully submerged at high tide.

South Coast

Blowholes

A view of the many blowholes, which line the remote south coast of Christmas Island.

A view of the many blowholes, which line the remote south coast of Christmas Island.

Located on the remote, isolated, south coast, at the end of a rough gravel track, are the magnificent blowholes.

Towards the end of the track, a sign recommends that anyone not driving a 4WD, not to proceed beyond the hilltop carpark. From the carpark, a steep track descends through a dark, overgrown, pre-historic, jungle which is home to enormous Tahitian chestnut trees, whose many buttress roots are alive with thousands of scurrying red crabs. This is the stuff of Indiana Jones!

At the bottom of the decent, the jungle opens up to a thin strip of pandanus trees which protects the jungle vegetation from the harsh sea elements.

Beyond this thin line of defence, the coast is lined with the sharpest of limestone rocks, which plunge into the sea. The entire coastline is comprised of an unbroken line of towering, razor-like, limestone sea cliffs.

An excellent boardwalk at the blowholes allows visitors to pass over the razor-sharp limestone foreshore.

An excellent boardwalk at the blowholes allows visitors to pass over the razor-sharp limestone foreshore.

An elevated boardwalk allows visitors to pass over this, otherwise impassable, landscape where numerous blowholes can be viewed. The best time to visit is during high tide, when giant waves are forced through holes in the underlying rock, making a tremendous noise as the water exits, shooting skywards.

A Brown booby on the boardwalk at the blowholes.

A Brown booby on the boardwalk at the blowholes.

The area around the blowholes is a popular nesting site for Brown boobies. During my visit, one, very social, Brown booby had taken up residence on the boardwalk, sitting right next to one of the sitting benches.

South Point

The <i>Soon Tien Kong Temple</i> at South Point is the only active reminder of the once thriving community which once lived here.

The Soon Tien Kong Temple at South Point is the only active reminder of the once thriving community which once lived here.

Today, there is nothing much at lonely South Point, which lies at the end of a long, gravel road, 20-kilometres (12.5-miles) from Settlement.

While today it is an empty, overgrown corner of the island, in former times it was the Island’s most significant residential area, home to a thriving community from 1914 to 1974.

The area around South Point was the main source of phosphate for decades, with a rail line connecting the community to the rest of the island on the north coast.

The abandoned railway station at South Point.

The abandoned railway station at South Point.

When the South Point ore deposits were approaching exhaustion, the upper Poon Saan residential area was built to house people who were relocated from South Point. Once relocation was completed, the South Point residential area was almost totally cleared so that the ground beneath could be mined.

Demolition of South Point was completed in 1977. Due to the demolition, little remains if this once thriving community. What can be seen today are the remains of the South Point railway station and the (still active) Soon Tien Kong Buddhist temple.

West Coast

Hughs Dale Waterfall

A view of Hughs Dale waterfall on Christmas Island.

A view of Hughs Dale waterfall on Christmas Island.

The Dales area is the highlight of the uninhabited West coast. A series of forested ravines which plunge towards the coast, the dales are the one place on Christmas Island where fresh water flows all year round.

The boardwalk to Hughs Dale waterfall on Christmas Island.

The boardwalk to Hughs Dale waterfall on Christmas Island.

These rain-forested ravines are home to towering Tahitian chestnut trees and the adorable, but very shy, Christmas Island blue crabs, who are dependent on a constant supply of fresh-water.

A Christmas Island blue crab, hiding in his burrow near Hughs Dale waterfall.

A Christmas Island blue crab, hiding in his burrow near Hughs Dale waterfall.

The Hughs Dale track is a raised boardwalk that leads to the Hughs Dale waterfall which flows all year round. Beyond the Hughs Dale track, a rough, unmarked track leads 900 metres further to Andersons Dale.

The buttress roots of a giant Tahitian chestnut tree at Hughs Dale waterfall.

The buttress roots of a giant Tahitian chestnut tree at Hughs Dale waterfall.

Scuba Diving

Scuba diving on Christmas Island is offered by two dive operators who maintain dive shops in The Settlement:

Christmas Island Wet’n’Dry Adventures
Email: Hama@divingchristmas.com

Extra Divers
Email: christmasisland@extradivers.org

Shopping

The best shopping on Christmas Island is at the <i>Wild Papaya</i> boutique in The Settlement.

The best shopping on Christmas Island is at the Wild Papaya boutique in The Settlement.

Wild Papaya

Whenever locals wish to do serious shopping, they fly to Perth! There are few shopping opportunities on Christmas Island, but one place which shouldn’t be missed is Wild Papaya which is located in The Settlement.

<i>Wild Papaya</i> sells a range of locally produced crafts, artworks and photography.

Wild Papaya sells a range of locally produced crafts, artworks and photography.

Located next to the Tai Pak Kong temple, this inviting Aladdin’s cave is full of local gifts, crafts, artwork, souvenir tea-towels, photography and so much more.

If you wish to purchase a souvenir of Christmas Island, this is the place to do it!

Accommodation

My wonderful accommodation on Christmas Island - the very new <i>CI Apartments</i> in Poon Saan.

My wonderful accommodation on Christmas Island – the very new CI Apartments in Poon Saan.

Christmas Island offers a good range of accommodation options, all of which can be viewed and booked online through the Accommodation page of the Christmas Island Visitor Centre website.

My room at CI Apartments in Poon Saan.

My room at CI Apartments in Poon Saan.

Whether you choose to stay in a guest house, apartment, lodge or private home, almost all accommodation options are located on the north coast in Settlement and Kampong and in the plateau neighbourhood of Poon Saan.

CI Apartments provided a comfortable base for my week-long stay on Christmas Island.

CI Apartments provided a comfortable base for my week-long stay on Christmas Island.

While on the island, I chose to stay at the excellent CI Apartments which is a newly built complex, offering apartments in different configurations.

The apartments are located in the, mainly Chinese, neighbourhood of Poon Saan, next door to a supermarket, the excellent Smash cafe, a fish and chip shop and a short walk from the Lucky Ho Chinese restaurant.

My bathroom at CI Apartments.

My bathroom at CI Apartments.

CI Apartments are owned by the wonderful Jenny, an industrious local of Chinese descent, who also operates the Kiat Car rental agency.

Eating Out

Menu prices on Christmas Island, such as these at the Golden Bosun pub, can be shocking!

Menu prices on Christmas Island, such as these at the Golden Bosun pub, can be shocking!

Christmas Island is no paradise for gourmands, with the few restaurants keeping irregular hours and offering a selection of mediocre, over-priced food. To be fair – air freight adds $9 per kilo to all imported items, which is pretty much everything.

Finding food can be a challenge during the day with many of the morning options closed by 11 am, while dinner options open around 6 pm. Places which are open one day are shut the next.

The very useful, Christmas Island dining guide, which is issued by the Christmas Island Visitor Centre

The very useful, Christmas Island dining guide, which is issued by the Christmas Island Visitor Centre

Recognising how confusing this can be for the uninitiated, the Christmas Island Visitors centre issues a handy Dining Guide to all tourists arriving at the airport. This single page leaflet is laid out like a calendar, listing which restaurants are open on a particular day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is indispensable!

Cafés

The interior of <i>Smash Espresso bar</i>, the most popular café on Christmas Island.

The interior of Smash Espresso bar, the most popular café on Christmas Island.

Smash Espresso Bar

The take-away window at <i>Smash Espresso bar</i>.

The take-away window at Smash Espresso bar.

Located in the small Poon Saan shopping centre, the Smash Espresso Bar is a very popular café, drawing in the locals and most tourists on the island. Offering the best coffee on the island, the cafe features a typically Australian breakfast menu, featuring bacon and egg wraps, eggs benedict and much more.

Owned by a friendly Thai/ Australian husband and wife team, the cafe is open every morning with most items reasonably priced.

A big challenge for any food business on Christmas Island is the supply of imported items, which are air freighted in once every two weeks.

Fresh milk is not available on the island, with cartons of UHT milk being used instead. During my stay, the cafe was close to running out of milk supplies which is a real problem when there’s nowhere else to go to buy more supplies.

Halal Café

The menu at Halal café features many Malaysian favourites.

The menu at Halal café features many Malaysian favourites.

I love nothing more than a good Malaysian breakfast, so I was pleasantly surprised to find the Halal café, a Malaysian cafe in the Kampong neighbourhood, where I could enjoy a typical Malaysian mamak breakfast.

The perfect Malaysian breakfast at Halal café - Teh Tarek and Roti Telur.

The perfect Malaysian breakfast at Halal café – Teh Tarek and Roti Telur.

This tiny café, which is tucked in behind the mosque in the Kampong neighbourhood, offers a very reasonably priced menu which features roti canai and roti telur (my favourite roti) which is best enjoyed with a freshly made Teh Tarek (pulled tea).

The friendly and enthusiastic staff provide a wonderful level of service with the cafe closing at 11:30 am.

Idah Kitchen

Located across the laneway from the mosque, and around the corner from Halal café, Idah Kitchen also offer typical Malaysian food which is served on their balcony, overlooking Flying Fish Cove.

Like most eating establishments on Christmas Island, the opening hours are tricky with the restaurant closed on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and open all other days from 6:30 am to 12:30 pm.

CI Bakery Cafe

Located next to the CI Visitors centre, the low-key CI Bakery Cafe is open most mornings, and some evenings, serving a selection of Chinese, Malay and Western-style food.

From Fried Kuay Teow to Kung Pow chicken, Nasi Lemak to Chicken Carbonara pasta, this bakery offers much more than fresh bread. They also sell a range of homemade cookies.

Poon Saan Coffee Shop

Located next to the Smash Espresso Bar in the Poon Saan shopping centre, the Poon Saan Coffee Shop serves a selection of Chinese meals which are especially popular with the local Chinese community.

This coffee shop is closed on Saturday but open every other day from 6 am to 11 am.

Restaurants

Golden Bosun Tavern & Restaurant

<i>Salmon with chips and salad</i> costs A$42 at the Golden Bosun pub on Christmas Island.

Salmon with chips and salad costs A$42 at the Golden Bosun pub on Christmas Island.

The Golden Bosun Tavern & Restaurant is the one place on the island which serves pub meals and alcohol 6 nights a week, closing only on Monday.

It’s also the only bar on the island and is, without doubt, the most popular place to socialise. If you wish to meet local ex-pats, this is the place to be!

While the meals are good, the prices are very high with a garden salad costing A$28! This is only a reflection of the cost of imported produce, where a lettuce costs A$18 at the supermarket.

Le CLA Café and Restaurant

The entrance of Le CLA Café and Restaurant in Settlement.

The entrance of Le CLA Café and Restaurant in Settlement.

The Chinese Literary Association (CLA) operate the very popular Le CLA Café and Restaurant which is located next to the Christmas Island Visitor Centre in Settlement.

Artwork on the wall of the CLA restaurant in The Settlement.

Artwork on the wall of the CLA restaurant in The Settlement.

Offering tasty Chinese food, CLA also serves as a de-facto community centre for the close-knit Chinese community, hosting Chinese New Year events and other gatherings. A small Chinese museum is located across the road.

Lucky Ho

A sample of the menu at the <i>Lucky Ho</i> Chinese restaurant in Poon Saan.

A sample of the menu at the Lucky Ho Chinese restaurant in Poon Saan.

A popular restaurant in Poon Saan, Lucky Ho offers appetising Chinese food with each dish available in three different sizes. As per the menu page above, a small chicken dish costs $22, a medium dish $33, while a family-sized dish costs $39/40.

Located next to a Chinese community centre, and offering plenty of seating, the restaurant is always busy. Lucky Ho is open every day except Wednesday, serving dinner until 8:30 pm.

Take Away

Seaview Fish & Chips

Tucked away, behind the supermarket in Poon Saan, Seaview Fish n Chipz offer very good take-away meals which feature locally caught fish (a rarity on Christmas Island where everything is imported).

This hole-in-the-wall establishment is open from Wednesday to Saturday from 5 pm to 8 pm.

Bars

Golden Bosun Tavern & Restaurant

The only bar on Christmas Island is the Golden Bosun Tavern & Restaurant which is located on the seafront in Settlement and is open every evening from 4 pm to midnight, except Monday.

Being the only bar on the island, the Golden Bosun is a busy, popular place, offering pub meals and very reasonably priced (duty-free) alcohol.

Visa Requirements

Since you can only enter this Australian territory on a domestic flight from Australia, there is no immigration upon arrival at the airport. The entry requirements for Christmas Island are the same as Australia.

Passengers are required to travel with photo identification such as a passport or drivers’ license, with a passport being the preferred means of documentation. A passport is also much more useful, should your flight be diverted to another country. Jakarta International Airport is the closest airport to Christmas Island.

To check the visa requirements for Australia, please refer to the Visa Policy of Australia.

Souvenir Passport Stamp

Available from the post office, the Christmas Island 'Crab' postmark makes for an amusing souvenir passport stamp.

Available from the post office, the Christmas Island ‘Crab’ postmark makes for an amusing souvenir passport stamp.

Despite the fact that there are no immigration formalities on Christmas Island, there is the possibility of getting a comical souvenir passport stamp from the post office.

The Christmas Island postmark stamp used by the post office features a whimsical crab which looks great on an, otherwise serious, passport page.

Getting There

Virgin Australia operates the only flights to the Indian Ocean Territories from Perth. Source: http://www.gcmap.com/

Virgin Australia operates the only flights to the Indian Ocean Territories from Perth. Source: http://www.gcmap.com/

Air

Virgin Airlines at Christmas Island airport.

Virgin Airlines at Christmas Island airport.

The only way to arrive on Christmas Island is by flying.

Flights arrive at Christmas Island International Airport (IATA: XCH) which is located at an elevation of 279 metres (916 feet) above sea level, 5 km from the main population centre.

Passenger flights, which are operated by Virgin Australia, arrive twice a week on Tuesday and Friday. Virgin connect Perth to Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands, flying a triangular circuit. The Tuesday flight operates in an anti-clockwise direction, calling first at Christmas Island, then continuing on to Cocos (Keeling) Islands, before returning to Perth, while the Friday flight operates in the opposite direction.

The terminal at Christmas Island airport.

The terminal at Christmas Island airport.

All of this is subject to change at short notice with everything dependant on the, very unpredictable, tropical weather. Flights to the Indian Ocean territories are full of uncertainties. When travelling, you should purchase travel insurance, pack lots of patience, keep an open mind and bear in mind that if something can go wrong, it most probably will!

I spent two weeks visiting Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. It was two weeks of flight cancellations, flight changes and delays.

An added challenge is the distance and flight time involved, with the total flying time for the full circuit being 13 hours, which includes a 40-minute transit on each of the islands, during which all passengers must leave the aircraft.

My Christmas Island flight, displayed on the departure board at a very empty Perth International airport.

My Christmas Island flight, displayed on the departure board at a very empty Perth International airport.

As per Australian Civil Aviation regulations, during one tour of duty, pilots are able to work a maximum of 8 hours, while cabin crew can work a maximum of 14 hours.

To satisfy these requirements, Virgin carry a 2nd pair of pilots on their flights, allowing 4 pilots to cover the 13-hour flying period. They also carry a mechanic, in case of any mechanical issue, since there are no aircraft mechanics based on the islands. Virgin carries just one flight crew.

Flights to Christmas Island depart from Perth International airport, which was empty due to the ongoing Covid pandemic.

Flights to Christmas Island depart from Perth International airport, which was empty due to the ongoing Covid pandemic.

In the event of a significant delay, the law requires Virgin to halt the flight so that the crew do not exceed their maximum allowed work hours. This happened on my flight from Christmas Island to Cocos (Keeling), where a technical issue led to a delay which resulted in the flight overnighting on Christmas Island.

The crew arrangement on this flight is very similar to that on the, equally epic, United Airlines’ Island Hopper (UA154), which I covered in my Central Pacific Island Hopper Guide.

Airport Transport

Airport transport can be arranged by calling the one taxi driver (Chris) at +61 (0)439 215 644 or through Indian Ocean Experiences who can be contacted at+61 (0) 439 215 667.

Getting Around

A road sign on Christmas Island.

A road sign on Christmas Island.

Public Transport

There is no public transport on Christmas Island.

Taxi

There is one taxi on Christmas Island which is operated by Chris, who can be contacted at +61 (0)439 215 644.

Rental Car

My rental car and two Christmas Island red crabs.

My rental car and two Christmas Island red crabs.

With no public transport, the only sensible option for exploring this mountainous island is a rental car.

There are three rental agents on the island, all of whom are listed on the Car Rental page of the Christmas Island Visitor Centre website.

A Christmas Island License plate.

A Christmas Island License plate.

You can reserve your car from the visitor centre website, or directly from the agents listed here:

  • Kiat Car Rental – Kiat car rental is owned by Jenny, who also owns the excellent CI Apartments accommodation complex in Poon Saan. With good, reliable, cars starting at $65 per day, Jenny’s cars tend to sell-out fast. You can email Jenny at kiat_tan@hotmail.com or telephone her on +61 (0) 439 215 388.
  • Sea Eye Car Rental – offers a range of 2WD and 4WD cars from A$55 per day.
  • Soong Car Rental – Another local of Chinese descent, Mr Soong, offers a range of clunkers which are best avoided. I hired through him as he was the only option available. My 4WD, which had about 250,000 kilometres on the odometer, included a slashed driver’s seat, bald tyres and was generally old, worn and very tired. Anywhere else, this car would have been scrapped long ago, however, on remote Christmas Island, such a relic is considered a viable rental option. During a trip to a more remote part of the island, one of the threadbare tires punctured. I then discovered the jack was broken which meant I needed assistance from Mr Soong who had to drive to the other side of the island to change my flat tyre.
A display of old Christmas Island License plates at the Tai Jin House museum.

A display of old Christmas Island License plates at the Tai Jin House museum.

Petrol Supply

There is just one petrol station on Christmas Island, which is operated by the Indian Ocean Oil Company. Located next to the CI Visitors Centre, a litre of unleaded petrol costs $A2.28. Filling up my Toyota rental car cost me A$114!

The station is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, on Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm and closed Sunday.

 


That’s the end of my travel guide for Christmas Island. I look forward to receiving feedback from anyone who uses this guide to plan a trip to Christmas Island. 

Safe Travels!

Darren

Further Reading

Following is a list of my travel reports from the Indian Ocean region:

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Cocos Keeling Islands Travel Guide

Sandy Point beach, the finest beach on Home Island.

Cocos (Keeling) Islands Travel Guide

Welcome to the taste2travel Cocos (Keeling) Islands Travel Guide!

Date Visited: March 2021

Introduction

The end of another day in paradise, as the sun sets on West Island, the main tourist hub of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

The end of another day in paradise, as the sun sets on West Island, the main tourist hub of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

A remote, idyllic, Indian Ocean paradise, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands offer an exotic tropical island experience, far from the tourist hordes found elsewhere.

A typical lagoon-side beach on Home Island.

A typical lagoon-side beach on Home Island.

From picture-postcard, white-sand, beaches, which are lapped by the cleanest of warm, aquamarine water, Cocos, as it’s known to locals, is a beach-lover’s paradise.

A motorised canoe trip to the southern islands provides an opportunity to snorkel in the clear waters of the lagoon.

A motorised canoe trip to the southern islands provides an opportunity to snorkel in the clear waters of the lagoon.

Beneath the surface, this remote atoll, which rises up from a depth of 5,000 metres, attracts an abundance of marine life which can viewed on a diving or snorkelling trip.

An Indian Ocean atoll, which is a territory of Australia, Cocos (Keeling) Islands is comprised of 27 small barrier islands, with just two of the islands inhabited; West Island and Home Island.

A view of the lagoon from Home Island.

A view of the lagoon from Home Island.

Of the islands, the sleepy and quiet Home Island is home to the Cocos Malay community while West Island is where most ex-pats live, and is home to almost all the tourist facilities and services on Cocos (Keeling) Islands, including the airport.

While the spectacular beauty of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands is the main tourist draw, with tourist brochures full of glossy images of picturesque beaches, the islands are home to a captivating history which centres around the Clunies-Ross family.

"Cocos (Keeling) Islands blues."

“Cocos (Keeling) Islands blues.”

For 150 years, the Clunies-Ross family ruled the islands as a private fiefdom, operating a large coconut plantation which produced Copra for the export market.

The frontrunners in the monthly Jukong race on Home Island.

The frontrunners in the monthly Jukong race on Home Island.

To operate the plantation, the Clunies-Ross family imported indentured labourers, mostly from Malaysia and Indonesia.

Having existed in isolation for most of the past 150 years, this Cocos Malay community have created their own, unique, culture, one which they are happy to share with visitors.  

One of four guest rooms at Oceania House, the <i>George</i> room is named after George Clunies-Ross, the designer and builder of Oceania House.

One of four guest rooms at Oceania House, the George room is named after George Clunies-Ross, the designer and builder of Oceania House.

For something truly special, the former mansion of the Clunies-Ross family, Oceania House, is now operated as a guest house, offering four, beautifully furnished, guest rooms.

If you wish to learn about the history of the island, the Clunies-Ross family, and understand the story of Cocos, this is, absolutely, the place to stay (refer to the ‘Accommodation section below for more details).

During my stay, I split my time between West and Home Islands and was glad I did. The two islands offer two very different travel experiences. Most tourists stay only on West Island, travelling to Home Island on a daytrip.

Sandy Point is the finest beach on Home Island.

Sandy Point is the finest beach on Home Island.

An ‘overseas’ territory, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are currently experiencing a tourism boom, with Australians, who are unable to travel internationally due to the Covid pandemic, looking for alternative holiday destinations.

A White-tailed tropicbird flying over Home Island.

A White-tailed tropicbird flying over Home Island.

Historically, the islands have been a tourism backwater, far off the beaten track and very expensive! Due to this, tourism infrastructure is limited with just 149 beds on the island and two flights per week connecting the territory to Perth.

Currently, Cocos is operating at full capacity, with the biggest challenge being finding accommodation.

A Horn-eyed ghost crab on South Island.

A Horn-eyed ghost crab on South Island.

Despite the current capacity issues, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are a charming and rewarding destination with much to offer those willing to make the 3,000-km journey from Perth.

A beach on the lagoon side of West Island.

A beach on the lagoon side of West Island.

Location

An Indian Ocean territory of Australia, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are an atoll, located 2,936 kilometres north-west of Perth; 986 kilometres south-west of Christmas Island; 1,270 kilometres south-west of Jakarta (Indonesia) and 2,834 kilometres south-east of Colombo (Sri Lanka). The nearest landmass to the south is Antarctica, which is 6,100 kilometres due south.

Formed on top of an ancient volcanic seamount that rises from a depth of 5,000 metres, Cocos (Keeling) Islands is comprised of 27 small, coral islands with a total land area of approximately 15.6 square kilometres.

The most northerly island, Keeling Island, is a restricted national park which is home to nesting sea birds and the wreck of the Germany warship, the SMS Emden.

Charles Darwin: Theory of Atoll Formation

A hand-painted map of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, showing the circular shape of the barrier islands.

A hand-painted map of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, showing the circular shape of the barrier islands.

During his epic voyage on the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin charted reef systems around the world. It was in 1836 that Darwin visited the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and, after surveying the islands, formed his theory of atoll formation.

In Darwin’s theory, he proposed corals first form a fringing reef around the shores of a volcano. As the volcano collapses and erodes, the fringing reef remains, with corals building up over time, eventually forming a series of circular barrier islands.

At the time it was proposed, his theory was ridiculed. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century, when researchers performed an experiment on the remote Pacific atoll nation of Tuvalu, was Darwin’s theory proven to be correct.

The experiment, which took place between 1896 and 1898, involved researchers from the Royal Society of London and an Australian geologist, Sir T.W. Edgeworth David, a Welsh-born Australian geologist from the University of Sydney.

The aim of the experiment was to drill a bore hole deep into Tuvalu to determine whether the atoll was formed over a volcano. Over the course of three separate expeditions, the scientists were able to drill to a depth of 340 metres (1,1154 ft) at which point they encountered volcanic material, proving Darwin’s theory to be correct.

The place where this significant experiment took place is today marked by a very unceremonious white PVC pipe which sticks out of the footpath in a suburban street in Funafuti (click here to read my Tuvalu Travel Guide and to see a photo of the PVC pipe).

Fresh Water Supply

An old well on Home Island shows the shallow depth of the fresh water lens.

An old well on Home Island shows the shallow depth of the fresh water lens.

One characteristic of an atoll is that any rainwater which falls seeps through the sandy soil into a subterranean fresh water reservoir, known as a lens. Due to fresh water being lighter than salt water, this “lens” floats above the seawater below.

The tap water on Cocos is drawn from this lens and is some of the freshest and purest drinking water in the world. It was baffling to see that supermarkets were selling imported, bottled water.

Traditionally, fresh water on Cocos was drawn from the lens through wells, many of which can still be seen on Home Island. Located just a couple of metres below ground, the lens is approximately 60 cm in depth.

Today, the Australian government has installed a series of pumps which extract the fresh water. This is then filtered, before being piped to each household. It tastes amazing!

All of this could be under threat! The porous structure of an atoll means that any sea level rise, resulting from climate change, will have a devastating effect on this fresh water supply.

The coral substructure of atolls naturally allows seawater to permeate. Should the salt water level rise, it is conceivable that the sea will push the fresh water lens above the surface, so that instead of being protected underground, freshwater sources become a series of polluted, fetid puddles.

History

Now housed in the Home Island museum, this bust of John Clunies-Ross used to reside in the library at Oceania House.

Now housed in the Home Island museum, this bust of John Clunies-Ross used to reside in the library at Oceania House.

Uninhabited and undisturbed for most of its history, the remote Cocos (Keeling) Islands were first discovered in 1609 by the British sea captain William Keeling, who passed by without laying any claim to the islands.

The islands remained in obscurity until the early 19th century when, in 1825, Scottish merchant seaman Captain John Clunies-Ross stopped briefly at the islands while sailing to India on the ship Borneo. In true English style, he nailed a Union Jack to a tree! He also decided to return to this idyllic paradise and settle on the islands with his family.

One year later, in 1826, Alexander Hare, a British merchant, and infamous polygamous, had also decided to settle on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands where he would live with his harem. Hare, who lived on Borneo, had been given a royal title and was known as the “English White Rajah of Borneo“. 

A former coconut plantation on Home Island.

A former coconut plantation on Home Island.

Hare hired Robert Clunies-Ross (brother of John) to carry him, a team of indentured labourers and a volunteer harem of 40 Malay women to the islands, where he hoped to establish his private residence and live happily ever after in a hedonistic tropical paradise.

As can be expected from a polygamous, he placed the men on Home Island and the women on Prison Island. The only person happy with this arrangement was Hare!

The following year, in 1827, John Clunies-Ross arrived on the islands with his family and eight sailors and settled on Pulu Gangsa (now the site of the cemetery and now part of Home Island.) Due to tensions with Hare, Clunies-Ross moved to neighbouring South Island.

This abandoned warehouse on the Clunies-Ross estate was formerly used to store Copra until an export ship arrived, which was once every 6 months.

This abandoned warehouse on the Clunies-Ross estate was formerly used to store Copra until an export ship arrived, which was once every 6 months.

In 1829, Hare exported the first coconut oil to England aboard the Borneo. At this time there were 98 Malays living on the island.

In time, a feud between Hare and Ross escalated and, by 1831, Hare decided to leave the islands for Batavia (modern day Jakarta). He later settled in Bencoolen (on the south coast of Sumatra), where he died in 1834.

The Clunies-Ross family then took control of the islands and ruled them as a private fiefdom for almost 150 years from 1827 to 1978.

The patriarchs of the family styled themselves as “kings” and were called Ross I (John Clunies Ross 1786–1854), Ross II (John George Clunies-Ross II 1823–1871), Ross III (George Clunies-Ross III 1842–1910), Ross IV (John Sydney Clunies-Ross IV 1868–1944), Ross V (John Cecil Clunies-Ross (1928–).

Meanwhile, in 1857, a Monty Python-esque historical event involved the arrival of Captain Fremantle on the HM Juno who had been instructed to “go and annex the Cocos Islands in the name of Her Majesty“.

He arrived on the islands, carrying a wooden proclamation sign, declaring the Cocos Islands for Her Majesty. The only problem – he was in the wrong place! He was supposed to annex the Cocos Islands in the Andaman Group.

Dating from 1857, this wooden proclamation sign, which is today displayed in the museum on Home Island, declares the 'Cocos Islands' as a British territory.

Dating from 1857, this wooden proclamation sign, which is today displayed in the museum on Home Island, declares the ‘Cocos Islands’ as a British territory.

The proclamation sign, which was once kept at Oceania House, is today housed in the Home Island museum. Due to this mistake, John George Clunies-Ross was designated as governor of Cocos.


What’s in a name?

This confusing event explains why the islands today are named Cocos (Keeling) Islands. It avoids confusion with the other places around the world which are called “Cocos Islands”.

The islands have had various names over the years, having been known as Cocos Islands, the Keeling Islands, the Cocos–Keeling Islands and the Keeling–Cocos Islands.

The territory’s Malay name is Pulu Kokos (Keeling).


The crumbling brick walls which surround the Clunies-Ross estate on Home Island.

The crumbling brick walls which surround the Clunies-Ross estate on Home Island.

In 1886 Queen Victoria granted ownership of the Islands to the Clunies-Ross family for perpetuity. The following year, in 1887, George Clunies-Ross built an estate which he called Oceania, which was set on 12 acres of garden, overlooking the lagoon on Home Island.

The centrepiece of the estate is the 2-storey Oceania House which today is a guest house (see the ‘Accommodation‘ section for more details).

Cocos Rupee

The early sheepskin version of the Cocos Rupee, on display at the Home Island museum.

The early sheepskin version of the Cocos Rupee, on display at the Home Island museum.

With which currency does a family operating an isolated fiefdom pay its workers? Its own, home-made, currency of course!

During their rule, the Clunies-Ross family paid their Cocos Malay workers with the Cocos Rupee, a private currency, which was redeemable only at the family-owned, company store on Home Island.

This closed monetary system was especially frustrating for the locals, especially when the occasional trading boat visited the islands and the locals, not possessing any exchangeable currency, were unable to purchase goods.

The modern version of the Cocos Rupee was in the form of coloured plastic tokens.

The modern version of the Cocos Rupee was in the form of coloured plastic tokens.

The Cocos Rupee was first issued in 1879 on sheepskin, and bore the signature of George Clunies-Ross. There were 100 cents to every 1 Rupee.

The Clunies-Ross family kept a close eye on all released and circulated currency with six denominations in circulation – 5, 3, 2, 1, ½, and ¼ Rupee. Later, in 1902, Ross IV introduced the 1/10 Rupee and dispensed with the 3 Rupee.

Later versions of the currency were released on Ivory tokens and then, in the 1960’s as plastic tokens. The machine which made these plastic tokens is on display in the Home Island museum.

Today, you can view a selection of currency at the Home Island museum.

The former Clunies-Ross company store on Home Island, which today serves as the islands' gym.

The former Clunies-Ross company store on Home Island, which today serves as the islands’ gym.

In 1955, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands were transferred from British to Australian control, although the Clunies-Ross family continued to operate the island as a fiefdom.

By the 1970’s, the Australian government had become dissatisfied with the family’s feudal style of rule. The issue of an indentured labour force being paid in a private currency didn’t help matters.

In 1978, Australia forced the family to sell the islands for the sum of A$6,250,000, using the threat of compulsory acquisition. By agreement, the family retained ownership of Oceania House.

Cocos Islands Cooperative Society

Following the removal of the Clunies-Ross family in 1978, the Cocos Islands Cooperative Society was formed, which allowed the local Cocos Malays to acquire the business operations of the Clunies-Ross estate. The Cocos Malays are members of this co-op, with members electing a board of 8 directors who serve three year terms.

The co-op has interests in retail, hospitality and logistics. Involved in many aspects of island life, the co-op owns the supermarket on West Island, the hardware store on Home Island, the only inter-island ferry, the one public bus on West Island, the Cocos Beach Resort, the Tropika restaurant and more. The co-op is also responsible for the operation of the airport.


Breadfruit

Breadfruit growing on Home Island.

Breadfruit growing on Home Island.

It was interesting, but not surprising, to see Breadfruit growing on Home Island.

The story of British involvement with Breadfruit is fascinating and starts with Captain James Cook, who first discovered it on Tahiti (French Polynesia) where he referred to it as ‘bread growing on a tree’.

Upon his return to England, he reported its existence to the King of England, who decided that a starchy staple that grows on a tree would be ideal to feed a growing slave population in the Caribbean.

The King then commissioned Captain William Bligh to sail the HMS Bounty to Tahiti, to collect, then transplant, 150 young breadfruit trees to the Caribbean.

This journey ended abruptly, off the coast of Tonga, when Fletcher Christian and crew staged their Mutiny on the Bounty! The mutineers settled on Pitcairn Island, which they eventually outgrew. Queen Victoria then granted them Norfolk Island as a new, much bigger, island home.

Meanwhile, after rowing 6,500 kilometres west, across the Pacific Ocean, in a small row boat, Captain Bligh reached Batavia (Jakarta) where he then hitched a ride back to England.

Determined as ever, Bligh set sail again for Tahiti, collected a new batch of breadfruit trees, then transported them to the Caribbean, where they were planted on various British-controlled islands.

Today, Breadfruit is a staple of the Caribbean diet and forms an integral part of Jamaican BBQ. One of the original breadfruit trees, which was planted by Bligh, can be seen today in the Kingstown Botanical Garden, in the capital of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines!

The British eventually transported breadfruit around the world, planting it in those tropical areas where it could grow, providing a valuable food source for young colonies and settlements.

The story of the dispersal of breadfruit from its native Tahiti is a global one, and has been included in many of my Travel Guides. I have included links (above) to those reports which contain mentions of the breadfruit story.


People

Two Cocos Malay girls, enjoying some strawberry milk, on Home Island.

Two Cocos Malay girls, enjoying some strawberry milk, on Home Island.

Due to its isolated location, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands remained uninhabited until 1826 when the first settlers were bought to the island by the English merchant Alexander Hare.

Today referred to as Cocos Malays, these first settlers were drawn from various parts of South-east Asia, including modern day Malaysia and Indonesia.

A family of Cocos Malays on Home Island harvesting coconut meat for an upcoming wedding feast.

A family of Cocos Malays on Home Island harvesting coconut meat for an upcoming wedding feast.

Over generations, the Cocos Malay have developed their own unique culture and identity, based on the customs of their Malay ancestors, mixed with aspects of Islam and some European practices.

At the core of this identity lies strong family values and a firm belief in Islam, which is practised by 75% of the population (as per the 2016 census).

While younger Cocos Malays speak English, many older Cocos Malays only speak Malay (Bahasa). Knowing a few words of Malay can help with interactions, especially on the more traditional Home Island.

While clinging to their traditional culture and identity, the younger generation of Cocos Malays are as much at home on the islands as they are on the Australian mainland, where they spend time in modern, cosmopolitan, metropolises, such as Perth, finishing secondary school, attending tertiary institutions and developing careers, friendships and lives.

As I ate my breakfast each morning at the Island Brunch cafe on Home Island, a steady stream of young locals would cruise in on their buggies, ready to order a pancake stack, a cappuccinocafé latte or a babyccino for their kids.

Wildlife

Typical of a remote atoll, there are very few endemic species on Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The most northern island, Keeling Island, is designated as a national park – the Pulu Keeling National Park – which is managed by the Australian National Parks. The island, which is off-limits to visitors, is home to a seabird rookery and is the site of the wreck of the SMS Emden.

Birds

Of the land species, migratory seabirds are common. As on other tropical islands, terns, boobies, noddies, frigatebirds and white-tailed tropicbirds can be seen in abundance.

White terns on South Island.

White terns on South Island.

 

A Brown noddy on South Island.

A Brown noddy on South Island.

 

A Pacific reef heron on Home Island.

A Pacific reef heron on Home Island.

Crabs

Cocos (Keeling) Islands is home to an abundance of crabs, with one of the funkiest being the Horn-eyed ghost crab, which is easily distinguished by its “horns” which protrude from the top of its eyestalks.

A Cocos Purple land crab on West Island.

A Cocos Purple land crab on West Island.

Unlike neighbouring Christmas Island, where the not-so-shy Christmas Island red crab can easily be photographed, the Cocos Purple land crab is much more skittish, often fleeing into their burrows before you get anywhere near them.

A curious crab on Home Island.

A curious crab on Home Island.

Three species of hermit crabs appear in large numbers throughout the atoll with the smaller, Red hermit crab, outnumbering the larger Purple hermit crab and Tawny hermit crab.

A Red hermit crab on South Island.

A Red hermit crab on South Island.

Reptiles

A Mourning gecko on Home Island.

A Mourning gecko on Home Island.

The only reptiles on the atoll are three species of geckos which have been introduced, the Mourning gecko; Four-clawed gecko and the House gecko.

A House gecko on Home Island.

A House gecko on Home Island.

If you have an interest in photographing the geckos of Cocos (Keeling) Islands, you can find them basking in the sun on the Home Island ‘Welcome’ sign, opposite the ferry dock.

Flag

Cocos (Keeling) Islands Flag

The flag of Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

How often does a teenager get to design a national flag? In 2003, Mohammed Minkom, a local teenager, won a design contest for a new flag which was then adopted on 6 April 2004.

The flag of Cocos (Keeling) Islands flying on Home Island.

The flag of Cocos (Keeling) Islands flying on Home Island.

The flag consists of a green field, with a palm tree on a gold disc on the hoist side; a gold crescent moon in the centre of the flag and a gold southern cross on the fly side. The colours used are the Australian national colours – green and gold.

Souvenir flags of Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Souvenir flags of Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

The palm tree represents the islands’ tropical flora and the history of the atoll as a centre for the production of copra, while the crescent represents Islam, the religion of the Cocos Malays who make up a majority of the islands’ population.

The Southern Cross, a constellation which is clearly visible in the night sky, appears on many flags throughout the Southern Hemisphere.

Currency

The Australian dollar is the official currency of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

The Australian dollar is the official currency of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

The official currency of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands is the Australian dollar (A$), which trades under the international currency code of AUD.

Having the distinction of being the world’s first polymer currency, the dollar is issued in bank notes of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 and is divided into 100 cents (c), with coins being issued in denominations of 5c, 10c, 20c and 50c, $1 and $2.

All bank notes are printing in Melbourne by Note Printing Australia (a division of the Reserve Bank of Australia), who also print polymer bank notes for Central banks around the globe.

Like mainland Australia, most transactions on Cocos (Keeling) Islands are cashless with credit cards being widely accepted.

To check the current exchange rate between the Australian dollar and the US dollar, click here.

Banking Services

There are no banks on Cocos (Keeling) Islands but cards can be used at the post office to withdraw cash from Australian banks.

Costs

Not cheap!

I met few budget travellers on Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and, local tourism operators told me that they have no desire to attract the cheap and cheery holiday crowd. The island has limited capacity for tourists, with higher spending visitors being the target market.

Considering its isolated location, and the fact that everything is freighted in, costs are not totally outrageous with airfreight adding about $9 per kilo to everything.

The two major expenses are flights and accommodation.

Some sample costs:

  • Return Virgin Australia airfare to Cocos (Keeling) Islands from Perth: $A910 (US$705)
  • Room (per night) at the Cocos Village Bungalows on West Island: A$265 (US$205)
  • Room (per night) at Oceania House on Home Island: A$250 (US$194)
  • Park Suite (per night) at the Cocos Beach Resort: A$195 (US$150)
  • Motorised Canoe Excursion with Cocos Islands Adventure Tours: A$130 (US$100)
  • CappuccinoCafé latte: $A5 (US$3.90)
  • Bottle of beer at the Cocos Club: $A6 (US$4.65)
  • Bacon and eggs breakfast at Saltmakers: A$19 (US$14.70)
  • Chicken Parmigiana dinner at the Cocos Club: $A25 (US$19.35)
  • Local bus to the ferry wharf on West Island: $A0.50 cents (US$0.40)
  • Ferry between West Island and Home Island: A$2.50 (US$1.95)

Philately

The Red-Footed Booby stamp, one of the newer stamp issues from Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

The Red-Footed Booby stamp, one of the newer stamp issues from Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Overseas philatelic subscriptions use to keep a handful of staff at the Cocos (Keeling) post office busy, with about 3,000 standing orders being processed every time a new issue was released.

Today, stamps can be purchased online from the Australia Post website, although issues have been reduced, with typically just two new issues released each year.

The 'Garden Fruits of Cocos' stamp issue shows four exotic fruits which have been introduced to the islands.

The ‘Garden Fruits of Cocos’ stamp issue shows four exotic fruits which have been introduced to the islands.

Staff at the post office on West Island reflected nostalgically on the good old days, when many more issues were released each year and the island had its own philatelic bureau.

You can purchase stamps from the friendly staff at the West Island and Home Island post offices.

Sightseeing

West Island

The sunset view from <i>Saltmakers by the Sea</i> on West Island.

The sunset view from Saltmakers by the Sea on West Island.

West Island (population: 140) is the gateway and main tourist hub of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and home to the small Cocos ex-pat community.

Everything is centred around the airport, with the Cocos Keeling Visitor Centre, Post Office, Supermarket and the few dining options within a few steps of the terminal building.

When flights arrive, accommodation providers greet their guests outside the arrivals area, then walk them to their bungalows. It’s all very casual and relaxed with even the local police welcoming visitors to the island in their uniform of shorts and reef shoes.

The sunset view from West Island.

The sunset view from West Island.

The one main road, which runs the 15-km length of the island, provides access to all the places of interest. You have the option of exploring the island using a rental car, bicycle, scooter or on foot. While the island can be explored in a few short hours, it makes for a good base to explore the other islands of the atoll.

If you wish to partake in any activities such as diving, motorised canoe trips, snorkelling, fishing trips etc, you will need to be staying on West Island, since all of these activities depart from the island.

In the north of the island, Trannie’s beach is a protected swimming beach on the exposed, ocean side of the island. On the lagoon side, there are many ideal swimming beaches where the water is much calmer, while in the south, Scout’s park is home to a beautiful beach.

Scuba Diving

The abundant marine life on Cocos (Keeling) Islands is diverse and plentiful and easily observed on either a snorkelling or diving trip.

Dive trips can be organised by contacting the island’s dive master – Dieter Gerhard at scuba@cocosdive.com

South Island

Cruising around the southern islands of the atoll in my motorised canoe.

Cruising around the southern islands of the atoll in my motorised canoe.

One of the highlights of my trip to Cocos was a Motorised Canoe tour which was conducted by Ash and Kylie James, the friendly and enthusiastic owners of Cocos Islands Adventure Tours. The tours are very popular, with advanced reservations recommended.

As part of their business, which is run out of their beachfront home, Kylie and Ash offer car hire, a bus tour of West hour, kayak and canoe rental plus much more. They have both worked in a variety of roles on the islands over the years and, as such, are a wealth of information.

Once you’ve completed their motorised canoe tour, you’re able to rent one of the canoes yourself.

Our colourful motorised canoes at South Island.

Our colourful motorised canoes at South Island.

Despite the fact that a pesky tropical depression was hanging over the island, and that it poured rain the whole evening before our tour, we still departed early in the morning.

The uninhabited South Island is the southernmost and easternmost island of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

The uninhabited South Island is the southernmost and easternmost island of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

We were eventually rewarded for our determination with the skies clearing in time for a magnificent snorkel through a channel which was brimming with marine life, including turtles and two black-tip reef sharks.

A view of the lagoon from South Island.

A view of the lagoon from South Island.

Ash, who has a clear love of the islands, is an entertaining and animated host. The tour started with breakfast on a remote beach. Sparkling wine, croissants, cheese, salmon, muffins and more.

Red hermit crabs on South Island, competing with the much larger Purple hermit crabs for food scraps.

Red hermit crabs on South Island, competing with the much larger Purple hermit crabs for food scraps.

Any food scraps were fed to the multitude of hermit crabs who inhabited the beach. After breakfast we each selected a Hermit crab for the inaugural South Island Hermit Crab race, with the winning crab being the first one to make it beyond the outer perimeter.

After breakfast on South Island, it was time for a hermit crab race.

After breakfast on South Island, it was time for a hermit crab race.

While on South Island, we climbed a slight slope to reach the highest point on the Cocos (Keeling) islands which is located at 9-metres above sea level. The high point is covered with an old concrete slab, which once served as the floor of a military installation.

At 9-metres (30 ft) above sea level, this concrete platform on South Island, marks the highest point on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

At 9-metres (30 ft) above sea level, this concrete platform on South Island, marks the highest point on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.    

Home Island

The Home Island 'Welcome' sign.

The Home Island ‘Welcome’ sign.

Located a short ferry ride across the lagoon from West Island, but a world away, Home Island (population: 450) is home to the small Cocos Malay community who live in the sleepy village of Bantam. This traditional community is home to a mosque, two cafes, one supermarket and a post office.

Home Island has been the centre of Cocos life since the first settlement was established in 1825. One of the highlights of the island is the small Home Island Museum, which is always locked, but can be accessed by asking for the key from the receptionist in the adjacent Cocos Shire building.

The island has a relaxed, chilled atmosphere with the silence only being broken by the call to pray which is broadcast five times each day from the mosque.

While many of the elderly Cocos Malays do not speak English, the young Cocos Malay, who travel to Perth to complete high school, are fluent in English, speaking it with a distinct Aussie twang.

I spent four nights at Oceania House (see the ‘Accommodation’ section for details) where I was the only guest. The only other tourists I saw on the island were day-trippers from West Island.

Home Island Buggies

The buggies of Home Island.

The buggies of Home Island.

At less than 1 square kilometre in area, the island is easily covered on foot. Locals drive golf buggies rather than cars with a full range of buggies plying the streets of the island.

If you wish to hire a buggy, you can do so through Home Island Hire.

The buggies of Home Island.

The buggies of Home Island.

Home Island Museum

<i>Wayang Kulit</i> puppets adorn the doors of the <i>Pulu Cocos Museum</i> on Home Island Museum.

Wayang Kulit puppets adorn the doors of the Home Island Museum.

Despite its small size, the Home Island museum includes a broad range of engaging displays which cover various aspects of Cocos life, from the culture of the Cocos Malays, the rule of the Clunies-Ross family, the local fauna and flora and naval war history, including the sinking of the SMS Emden during WWI.

Displays at the Home Island Museum.

Displays at the Home Island Museum.

Located a short stroll from the ferry jetty, the museum is open Monday to Friday during Shire office hours. The key for the museum can be obtained from the receptionist in the blue Cocos Shire building which is located behind the museum.

One of the many artefacts from the Clunies-Ross family which are displayed at the Home Island museum.

One of the many artefacts from the Clunies-Ross family which are displayed at the Home Island museum.

Perhaps not surprising, one of the main subjects covered by the museum is the Clunies-Ross era. If you wish to gain some insight into the way they ruled the islands, the museum (and Oceania House) are the two must visit places.

A bust of George Clunies-Ross, displayed at the Home Island museum.

A bust of George Clunies-Ross, displayed at the Home Island museum.

Displays include family artefacts, five busts of the different ‘kings’ of Cocos, a selection of the Clunies-Ross currency (including the machine which was used to manufacture the plastic token currency in the 1960’s) and much more.

Made of teak, the very fine <i>G.C.R.</i> boat was designed in 1911 by George Clunies-Ross and is based on a design from the Shetland Islands.

Made of teak, the very fine G.C.R. boat was designed in 1911 by George Clunies-Ross and is based on a design from the Shetland Islands.

One of my favourite items was a very finely crafted teak boat which was designed and built by George Clunies-Ross in 1911 and is apparently based on a design from the Shetland Islands, the birthplace of John Clunies-Ross.

An abandoned oven, which was once used for drying coconuts, and renovated Jukong boats at the Home Island museum.

An abandoned oven, which was once used for drying coconuts, and renovated Jukong boats at the Home Island museum.

The grounds of the museum include a shed which houses an old oven, which was one used to dry coconuts. This shed, like others in the vicinity of the museum, house many beautifully restored Jukong boats.

Jukong Boats

Jukong wooden boats at the Home Island Museum.

Jukong wooden boats at the Home Island Museum.

The iconic Jukong boat is a common sight on Home Island and in important part of the Cocos Malay culture.

It was especially useful that John Clunies-Ross was a shipwright, since the only way to transport coconuts from the outlying islands, back to Home Island for processing, was with small boats which could easily navigate the shallow waters of the lagoon.

He developed the Jukong which served as the workhorse of the Cocos Islands’ coconut oil industry. Home Island is home to a large collection of these finely crafted boats, with many on display at the Home Island Museum.

Jukong Race

Once a month, locals from the Cocos Islands’ Jukong and Sailing Club race their Jukongs in the lagoon off Home Island.

I was fortunate to be on the island on race day and have included some photos here.

All Jukongs are painted with the same colour scheme.

All Jukongs are painted with the same colour scheme.

 

An interior view of a Jukong, which is constructed from local Ironwood.

An interior view of a Jukong, which is constructed from local Ironwood.

 

A Jukong sailing team on Home Island, preparing their boat for the big race.

A Jukong sailing team on Home Island, preparing their boat for the big race.

 

A very competitive race as the different Jukong teams round one of the buoys.

A very competitive race as the different Jukong teams round one of the buoys.

 

The Jukong was originally developed to transport coconuts across the shallow waters of the lagoon.

The Jukong was originally developed to transport coconuts across the shallow waters of the lagoon.

 

The leading boat in the race.

The leading boat in the race.

 

A photo finish between the leading boats.

A photo finish between the leading boats.

 

The winners of the Jukong race.

The winners of the Jukong race.

 

One unfortunate team managed to capsize their boat after crossing the finish line.

One unfortunate team managed to capsize their boat after crossing the finish line.

 

Cocos Malay locals on Home Island, watching the Jukong race from the comfort of their buggies.

Cocos Malay locals on Home Island, watching the Jukong race from the comfort of their buggies.

Home Island Mosque

The one mosque on Home Island, where 75% of the population are practising Muslims.

The one mosque on Home Island, where 75% of the population are practising Muslims.

One of the busiest places on Home Island is the mosque, with the call to pray ringing out five times each day. The minaret is painted in the same (Australian) green and gold colours which adorn the territorial flag.

The green and gold minaret of the Home Island mosque.

The green and gold minaret of the Home Island mosque.

Home Island WWII Memorial

The Home Island WWII memorial.

The Home Island WWII memorial.

During WWII, a single Japanese bomber attacked Direction Island, which was home to a communications station. After the attack, the bomber turned towards Home Island, where it dropped two bombs; one aimed at Oceania House, which landed in the lagoon and one aimed at several houses in the village.

The plane then returned to dump fuel on the house fires which had resulted from the attack. In total 27 houses were destroyed.

Two children died as a result of the attack, with a third person, who was out sailing in his Jukong, never found.

A memorial opposite the ferry jetty is dedicated to those who lost their lives during the attack.

Home Island Cemetery

Graves in the Islamic section of the Home Island cemetery.

Graves in the Islamic section of the Home Island cemetery.

Home Island Cemetery is at located at Pulu Gangsa, at the northern tip of Home Island. The land use to be a separate island but is now a peninsula of Home Island. 

The grave of Clara Clunies-Ross, in the Christian section of the Home Island cemetery.

The grave of Clara Clunies-Ross, in the Christian section of the Home Island cemetery.

The cemetery is divided into two sections; an Islamic and Christian section with almost all the graves in the Christian section belonging to members of the Clunies-Ross family.

A Celtic cross, in the garden at Oceania House, marks the final resting place of many members of the Clunies-Ross family.

A Celtic cross, in the garden at Oceania House, marks the final resting place of many members of the Clunies-Ross family.

The first burial site for the members of the Clunies-Ross family was in the garden at Oceania House, around a large, granite, Celtic cross.

The gravestone for John-Clunies Ross, which is located in the garden at Oceania House.

The gravestone for John-Clunies Ross, which is located in the garden at Oceania House.

Home Island Beaches

Offering a wide sweep of sand, Sandy Point is the most beautiful beach on Home Island

Offering a wide sweep of sand, Sandy Point is the most beautiful beach on Home Island

There are a couple of fine beaches on Home Island, one of which is located directly in front of Oceania House, while the other is at Sandy Point, which is located near the cemetery at the northern end of the island.

Sunset on Home Island, as seen from the front of Oceania House.

Sunset on Home Island, as seen from the front of Oceania House.

Avril, the owner of Oceania House, told me that when Oceania House was designed, it was laid out on the 4 points of the compass, with the sun setting directly in front of the house each evening.

A view of the lagoon from Sandy Point on Home Island.

A view of the lagoon from Sandy Point on Home Island.

Both beaches lie on the west coast of Home Island, offering unrivalled vantage points to watch the spectacular sunsets each evening.

A fiery sunset at Sandy Point, the finest beach on Home Island.

A fiery sunset at Sandy Point, the finest beach on Home Island.

I swam at Sandy Point most days and always had the beach to myself. The sunsets there are amazing!

Watch Tower

The remains of a watchtower on Home Island.

The remains of a watchtower on Home Island.

Located on the east coast are the remains of the foundation of an old watchtower which was made from bricks and wood. The tower was equipped with an oil lamp at the top to warn ships at night to stay away from the reef. It was also used as a lookout tower.

Accommodation

Accommodation on Cocos (Keeling) Islands is limited. With the exception of the historic Oceania House on Home Island, all accommodation options are located in West Island, within a short walk of the airport. It’s best to check accommodation availability before you book your flight.  

The best place to search and book accommodation is on the Accommodation page of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Visitor Centre website.

One strange quirk on Cocos (Keeling) Islands is that there are no door keys! I stayed in two different properties and at no stage was I given any keys. There is no crime on the atoll, it’s all wonderfully safe. Locals told me that their homes normally remain unlocked.

West Island

My bungalow at Cocos Village Bungalows on West Island.

My bungalow at Cocos Village Bungalows on West Island.

Cocos Village Bungalows

While on West Island, I stayed at Cocos Village Bungalows, which offers large, spacious bungalows, arranged around a well-maintained, tropical garden.

My comfortable room at Cocos Village Bungalows on West Island.

My comfortable room at Cocos Village Bungalows on West Island.

Located 100 metres from the airport, Cocos Village Bungalows feature ten tropical-style bungalows which cost $A240 per night. With wooden floors and wood panelled walls and ceilings, each bungalow features a large bedroom, kitchen, balcony and bathroom.

My spacious, airy bathroom at Cocos Village Bungalows on West Island.

My spacious, airy bathroom at Cocos Village Bungalows on West Island.

The Cocos Village Bungalows are an ideal accommodation option on West Island.

Home Island

Oceania House

The former residence of the Clunies-Ross family, Oceania House offers a truly memorable accommodation experience.

The former residence of the Clunies-Ross family, Oceania House offers a truly memorable accommodation experience.

How often does one have the opportunity to stay as a guest in a house that is of significant historical importance? Oceania House is the heritage-listed, former residence of the Clunies-Ross family, the third home that the family built on their sprawling estate.

Named after the last Clunies-Ross woman to live in Oceania House, the <i>Daphne</i> room was my room during my four-night stay.

Named after the last Clunies-Ross woman to live in Oceania House, the Daphne room was my room during my four-night stay.

Built between 1887 and 1904 using local labour, the house contains four spacious, opulent guest rooms ($250 per night) which are named after members of the Clunies-Ross family – the George, Daphne, Rose and John Sidney rooms.

Oozing with history, Oceania house is a compulsory stay for anyone with an interest in the history and ‘story’ of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The triple-glazed, white, bricks which cover the house were imported from Glasgow as ship ballast during the 1880’s.

The vestibule of Oceania house features an antique bishop's chair.

The vestibule of Oceania house features an antique bishop’s chair.

The house is located on a 5-hectare estate which occupies the south-west corner of Home Island, fronting the beach and lagoon on the south and west sides. Each evening, the sun sets directly in front of the house.

The <i>John Sidney</i> room is named after John Sidney Clunies-Ross who took control of the islands in 1910, after his father's death.

The John Sidney room is named after John Sidney Clunies-Ross who took control of the islands in 1910, after his father’s death.

The actual ground of the estate is covered in about one foot of fertile soil which was imported from Christmas Island. This allowed the family to plant a garden which could otherwise not have grown in the sandy, coral soil that is found elsewhere on the island.

The <i>Rose</i> room is named after Rose Nash, who was married to John Sidney Clunies-Ross.

The Rose room is named after Rose Nash, who was married to John Sidney Clunies-Ross.

Oceania House is today owned by a Perth couple, Avril and Lloyd, who have spent years lovingly restoring the house and filling each of the immense rooms with an abundance of antiques.

The dining room at Oceania House.

The dining room at Oceania House.

During my 4-night stay, I was the only guest in this huge, stately home, sharing it with Avril, who is a font of information on the Clunies-Ross family and the history of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Each evening, Avril would relate stories of the family, slowly weaving together the tapestry that is the story of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

The drawing room at Oceania House.

The drawing room at Oceania House.

It is a fascinating history and what better place to learn about it than in the house which the Clunies-Ross once called home. It was a truly remarkable stay and one I cannot recommend highly enough! It was a highlight of my stay on Cocos.

The library at Oceania House.

The library at Oceania House.

 

History for Sale

If you wish to stay at this historical property, then you should do it sooner rather than later! Oceania House is currently for sale, and who knows what the new owner will do with the property.

If you’re an investor and interested in enquiring about the property, you can contact the owners through the Oceania House website.

The staircase at Oceania House which is constructed from Western Australia Jarrah.

The staircase at Oceania House which is constructed from Western Australia Jarrah.

Home Island Homestays

Homestays are available on Home Island, and can be arranged through Zulaika at the Island Brunch Cafe.

Eating Out

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands 'Weekly Dining Guide' is an indispensable restaurant guide for visitors.

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands ‘Weekly Dining Guide’ is an indispensable restaurant guide for visitors.

The restaurants and cafes on Cocos (Keeling) Islands keep sporadic opening hours. To avoid any confusion, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Visitor Centre publishes the very useful Weekly Dining Guide which lists the opening times of restaurants in a handy calendar format.

While there are a total of four dining options on West Island, there are just two options on Home Island.

Restaurants/ Cafés

West Island

Being the main island for tourism, West Island is blessed with exactly four dining options, all of which are open sporadically, and are located a short stroll from each other.

Salty’s Bakery

<i>Salty's Grill and Bakery</i>, home to the only freshly baked Sourdough on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Salty’s Grill and Bakery, home to the only freshly baked Sourdough on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Housed in the airport terminal building, Salty’s Grill & Bakery is open in the mornings only on flight days (Tuesday and Friday).

From Thursday to Sunday, the restaurant is open from 5 pm to 8 pm with Kebab’s being served on Thursday, Fish and Chips on Friday, Burgers on Saturday and Pizzas on Sunday.

The smiling Barista at Salty's Grill and Bakery on West Island.

The smiling Barista at Salty’s Grill and Bakery on West Island.

The bakery is known for its freshly baked sourdough bread, the only Sourdough produced on the island, which is available on Fridays. Along with Barista coffee, the bakery also produces some fine pastries, including the best Lemon Meringue tarts on the atoll!

A schedule of Salty’s opening hours can be found on the Cocos Keeling Visitors Centre website.

Saltmakers by the Sea

Dinner at <i>Saltmakers By The Sea</i>, the culinary highlight of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, shouldn't be missed.

Dinner at Saltmakers By The Sea, the culinary highlight of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, shouldn’t be missed.

Located a short stroll from each other, both Saltmakers by the Sea and Salty’s Grill & Bakery are the brainchild of the clearly talented and industrious, Tony Lacey.

Dining under the fairy lights, and stars, at Saltmakers, directly opposite the beach and setting sun, was the dining highlight of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

I dined at Saltmakers on the evening of their ‘Coconut Dinner Experience‘, enjoying a two-course meal which featured lots of fresh, local, coconut prepared in a variety of ways.

My main course consisted of freshly steamed, local, lagoon fish, which was served in a creamy coconut sauce with rice and vegetables.

Desert consisted of a warm coconut fondant with homemade coconut and salted caramel ice cream. It was, by far, the best food I tasted on Cocos (Keeling) Islands. This is the one place on the islands from which you can order cocktails, which are divine.

Highly recommended!

A schedule of Saltmakers opening hours can be found on the Cocos Keeling Visitors Centre website.

Tropika Restaurant

The one restaurant on West Island which is open every morning and evening, is the less-than-remarkable Tropika restaurant, which is part of the Cocos Beach Resort. The restaurant and resort are part of the Cocos Islands Co-op.

If you wish to eat dinner at the restaurant (on some evenings this is the only restaurant open), you need to ensure you write your name on the whiteboard, which is located next to the front door, before 4 pm. This allows the staff to cater the correct amount of food, which is served buffet-style from 6 pm to 8 pm.

Dinner consists of a selection of mediocre Malay and Western-style dishes.

Home Island

An important note if you’re staying on Home Island is that neither of the two dining options are open beyond 1 pm, except for the Seafront Restaurant which offers a buffet dinner each Wednesday evening and à la carte dining on Friday evenings.

With no dinner options available, I pre-ordered takeaway meals each morning, which I then reheated in the evening at my accommodation.

Island Brunch Cafe

My 'go-to' cafe on Home Island, <i>Island Brunch cafe</i> offers wonderful food, coffee and friendly service.

My ‘go-to’ cafe on Home Island, Island Brunch cafe offers wonderful food, coffee and friendly service.

In terms of dining options, Home Island is a culinary desert! The one oasis is the Island Brunch cafe which is open each day from 8 am to 1 pm.

Iced tea at the Island Brunch cafe on Home Island.

Iced tea at the Island Brunch cafe on Home Island.

Located next to the post office, the ever-changing blackboard menu includes both Malay and Western options. Whether you’re in the mood for eggs on toast, pancakes, Mie Goreng or Nasi Goreng, you’ll find a good range of appetising meals at the Island Brunch cafe.

During my stay, the island ran out of eggs which reduced the menu somewhat. Eggs are delivered, via air freight from Perth, once every 2 weeks.