Monday, 2 April 2018

COCOS ISLANDS: A Nature And Water Lover's Paradise

The Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands or simply Cocos Islands or Keeling Islands is in the middle of the Indian Ocean some 2750km north-west of Perth, and 900km west south-west of Christmas Island.

The Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands is an Australian external territory in the Indian Ocean, comprising a small archipelago approximately midway between Australia and Sri Lanka.

It is part of Southeast Asia and is in the Southern Hemisphere. The territory's dual name since 1955 reflects that the islands have historically been known as either the Cocos Islands or the Keeling Islands.

The territory consists of two atolls made up of 27 coral islands, of which only two West Island and Home Island are inhabited.

The population of around 600 people consists mainly of Cocos Malays, who practise Sunni Islam and speak a dialect of Malay as their first language.

The territory is administered by the Australian federal government's Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, and together with Christmas Island forms the Australian Indian Ocean Territories administrative unit.

However, the islanders do have a degree of self-government through the local shire council.

Many public services including health, education, and policing are provided by the state of Western Australia, and Western Australian law applies except where the federal government has determined otherwise.

The islands were first discovered in 1609 by William Keeling, but no settlement occurred until the early 19th century.

One of the first settlers was John Clunies-Ross, a Scottish merchant; much of the island's current population is descended from the Malay workers he brought in to work his copra plantation.

The Clunies-Ross family ruled the islands as a private fiefdom for almost 150 years, with the head of the family usually recognised as resident magistrate.

The British formally annexed the islands in 1857, and for the next century they were officially administered from either Ceylon or Singapore.

The territory was transferred to Australia in 1955, although until 1979 virtually all of the island's real estate still belonged to the Clunies-Ross family.

The islands have been called the Cocos Islands from 1622, the Keeling Islands from 1703, the Cocos–Keeling Islands in 1805 and the Keeling–Cocos Islands 19th century.

Cocos refers to the abundant coconut trees, while Keeling is William Keeling, who discovered the islands in 1609.

John Clunies-Ross, who sailed there in the Borneo in 1825, called the group the Borneo Coral Isles, restricting Keeling to North Keeling, and calling South Keeling the Cocos properly so called.

The form Cocos (Keeling) Islands, attested from 1916, was made official by the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955.

The territory's Malay name is Pulu Kokos (Keeling). Sign boards on the island also feature Malay translations.

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands consist of two flat, low-lying coral atolls with an area of 14.2 square kilometres (5.5 sq mi), 26 kilometres (16 mi) of coastline.

A highest elevation of 5 metres (16 ft) and thickly covered with coconut palms and other vegetation.

The climate is pleasant, moderated by the southeast trade winds for about nine months of the year and with moderate rainfall. Tropical cyclones may occur in the early months of the year.

North Keeling Island is an atoll consisting of just one C-shaped island, a nearly closed atoll ring with a small opening into the lagoon, about 50 metres (160 ft) wide, on the east side.

The island measures 1.1 square kilometres (270 acres) in land area and is uninhabited. The lagoon is about 0.5 square kilometres (120 acres).

North Keeling Island and the surrounding sea to 1.5 km (0.93 mi) from shore form the Pulu Keeling National Park, established on 12 December 1995.

It is home to the only surviving population of the endemic, and endangered, Cocos Buff-banded Rail.

South Keeling Islands is an atoll consisting of 24 individual islets forming an incomplete atoll ring, with a total land area of 13.1 square kilometres (5.1 sq mi). Only Home Island and West Island are populated.

The Cocos Malays maintain weekend shacks, referred to as pondoks, on most of the larger islands.

There are no rivers or lakes on either atoll. Fresh water resources are limited to water lenses on the larger islands, underground accumulations of rainwater lying above the seawater. These lenses are accessed through shallow bores or wells.

In 2010, the population of the islands was estimated at just over 600. The population on the two inhabited islands generally is split between the ethnic Europeans on West Island with an estimated population of 100 and the ethnic Malays on Home Island with an estimated population of 500.

A Cocos dialect of Malay and English are the main languages spoken, and 80% of Cocos Islanders are Sunni Muslim, the other 20% are of another religion.

On 23 November 1955, the islands were transferred from the United Kingdom to the Commonwealth of Australia.

Immediately before the transfer the islands were part of the United Kingdom's Colony of Singapore, in accordance with the Straits Settlements (Repeal) Act, 1946 of the United Kingdom and the British Settlements Acts, 1887 and 1945, as applied by the Act of 1946.

The legal steps for effecting the transfer were:

The Commonwealth Parliament and the Government requested and consented to the enactment of a United Kingdom Act for the purpose.

The Cocos Islands Act, 1955, authorized Her Majesty, by Order in Council, to direct that the islands should cease to form part of the Colony of Singapore and be placed under the authority of the Commonwealth.

By the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act, 1955, the Parliament of the Commonwealth provided for the acceptance of the islands as a territory under the authority of the Commonwealth and for its government.

The Cocos Islands Order in Council, 1955, made under the United Kingdom Act of 1955, provided that upon the appointed day of 23 November 1955, the islands should cease to form part of the Colony of Singapore and be placed under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia.

The population of the islands is approximately 600.

There is a small and growing tourist industry focused on water-based or nature activities. In 2016, a beach on Direction Island was named the best beach in Australia by Brad Farmer, an Aquatic and Coastal Ambassador for Tourism Australia and co-author of 101 Best Beaches 2017.

Small local gardens and fishing contribute to the food supply, but most food and most other necessities must be imported from Australia or elsewhere.

The Cocos Islands Cooperative Society Ltd. employs construction workers, stevedores, and lighterage worker operations. Tourism employs others. The unemployment rate was 6.7% in 2011.

The Cocos Islands are strategically important because of their proximity to shipping lanes in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

The United States and Australia have expressed interest in stationing surveillance drones on the Cocos Islands.

James Cogan has written for the World Socialist Web Site that the plan to station surveillance drones at Cocos was one component of US President Barack Obama's pivot towards Asia, facilitating control of the sea lanes and potentially allowing US forces to enforce a blockade against China.

After plans to construct airbases were leaked Australian defence minister Stephen Smith stated that the Australian government views the Cocos as being potentially a long-term strategic location, but that is down the track.

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands have fifteen kilometres (9.3 miles) of highway.

There is one paved airport on the West Island. A tourist bus operates on Home Island.

The only airport is Cocos (Keeling) Islands Airport with a single 2,441 m (8,009 ft) paved runway.

Virgin Australia operates scheduled jet services from Perth Airport via Christmas Island.

After 1952, the airport at Cocos Islands was a stop for airline flights between Australia and South Africa, and Qantas and South African Airways stopped there to refuel. The arrival of long-range jet aircraft ended this need in 1967.

An interisland ferry, the Cahaya Baru, connects West, Home and Direction Islands.

There is a lagoon anchorage between Horsburgh and Direction islands for larger vessels, while yachts have a dedicated anchorage area in the southern lee of Direction Island. There are no major seaports on the islands.

The islands are connected within Australia's telecommunication system with number range +61 8 9162 xxxx. Public phones are located on both West Island and Home Island.

A reasonably reliable GSM mobile phone network number range +61 406 xxx, run by CiiA or Christmas Island Internet Association, operates on Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

SIM cards and recharge cards can be purchased from the Telecentre on West Island to access this service.

Australia Post provides mail services with the postcode 6799. There are post offices on West Island and Home Island.

Standard letters and express post items are sent by air twice weekly, but all other mail is sent by sea and can take up to two months for delivery.

.cc is the Internet country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for Cocos (Keeling) Islands. It is administered by VeriSign through a subsidiary company eNIC, which promotes it for international registration as the next .com

.cc was originally assigned in October 1997 to eNIC Corporation of Seattle WA by the IANA. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus also uses the .cc domain, along with

Internet access on Cocos is provided by CiiA Christmas Island Internet Association, and is supplied via satellite ground station on West Island, and distributed via a wireless PPPoE-based WAN on both inhabited islands.

Casual internet access is available at the Telecentre on West Island, and the Indian Ocean Group Training office on Home Island.

The National Broadband Network announced in early 2012 that it would extend service to Cocos in 2015 via high speed satellite link.

There are two inhabited islands in the group West Island and Home Island.

Passenger ferries run to Direction Island every Thursday and Saturday.

There are several uninhabited islands.

- Horsburgh Island

- North Keeling Island - A national park, with access only with permission from Parks Australia.

- South Island

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are located in the middle of the Indian Ocean some 2750km north-west of Perth, and 900km west south-west of Christmas Island, its closest neighbour.

Cocos lies approximately 12° south and 96.5° east, locating the islands in the humid tropical zone.

There are 27 coral islands in the group. Captain William Keeling discovered the islands in 1609, but they remained uninhabited until the 19th century.

Annexed by the UK in 1857, they were transferred to the Australian Government in 1955. The population on the two inhabited islands generally is split between the ethnic Europeans on West Island and the ethnic Malays on Home Island.

Grown throughout the islands, coconuts are the sole cash crop. Small local gardens and fishing contribute to the food supply, but additional food and most other necessities must be imported from Australia.

There is a small tourist industry.

Cocos experiences two main seasons which tend to overlap: the trade wind season from April / May to September / October and the calmer doldrum season from November through to April. Expect higher rainfall during March through to July.

January through to August, may also generate the occasional low pressure system, usually between February and April. However these systems do not normally interfere with holiday plans.

Rain usually falls in the evenings, bringing glorious sunny days. The average annual rainfall is 2000mm.

Temperatures are fairly consistent no matter what the season, remaining around a comfortable 29°C with a minimum evening temperature rarely dropping below 20°C.

The landscape is flat, low-lying coral atolls, thickly covered with coconut palms and other vegetation.

Australia's last unspoilt paradise lies in the azure waters of the Indian Ocean offering spectacular snorkelling, world-class diving, excellent fishing and the adrenalin-rush of kitesurfing.

Relax on empty beaches, visit uninhabited islands by canoe, watch spectacular birdlife or catch the ferry to Home Island to stay at the original Clunies-Ross residence and discover the culture and traditions of the Cocos Malay people.

Situated 2750 kms northwest of Perth, Western Australia, the Cocos Keeling Islands are a group of coral islands that form two atolls. Only two of the 27 islands are inhabited - the rest are waiting for you to explore them.

Cocos (Keeling) Islands Tourism Association Inc., PO Box 1030 Cocos (Keeling) Islands Indian Ocean WA 6799. Monday: 0800 to 1700 Tuesday - Thursday: 0800 - 1430 Friday: 0800 - 1600 Saturday (early flight): 1300 - 1600 Saturday late flight: 1400 - 1700 Sunday & Public Holidays: Closed.

There is one airport on West Island that receives two Virgin Australia flights a week from Perth, stopping over at Christmas Island on the way on one flight and the way back on the other. One way flights are at least $500.

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are one and a half hours behind Western Standard Time (WST) and three and a half hours behind Eastern Standard Time (EST).

Australian citizens do not need a passport, but must carry some form of photographic identification.

The Cocos Islands are a popular stopover for sailing vessels en route to Mauritius. There is a sheltered anchorage at Direction Island where sailing vessel came anchor for $50 per week.

Travel between the direction Island anchorage and Home Island is possible via tender, or scheduled ferry service which operates between Direction Island and Home Island on Thursdays and Saturdays.

A local bus service from West Island Settlement to the jetty operates approximately 20 minutes prior to the departure of the ferry to Home Island.

On Thursday and Saturday the ferry diverts to Direction Island to allow tourists and locals access to this remote paradise. The ferry returns in the afternoon to return you to West Island.

Timetables are available from the Tourism office or the Duty Free Shop.

A Car Rental. Contact Geof Christie for availability and rates.

Cocos Autos, U12 Sydney Highway, Cocos Islands. Cocos Autos offers visitors to Cocos (Keeling) Islands an extensive and diverse range of vehicles.

Choose from single and dual cab utilities or 4WD dual cab utilities. Baby seats and booster seats are also available.

AW & KJ James Car Hire. Quality vehicles available for hire. Contact Ash or Kylie for availability and rates..

Cocos Surf Shop, In the Airport Complex.

Take cultural tours with some of the local tour operators or guide yourself around the islands to explore why they call the Cocos Islands a nature and water lover's paradise.

During the year, as well as the traditional events such as Easter, New Year, Christmas etc, Cocos hosts a number of unique events.

These include the annual Lagoon swim, where competitors swim from Home Island across the lagoon to West Island.

Individuals or teams may enter and whether you are a serious contender or wish to join in with the Hash House Harriers who always seem to get themselves disqualified for one thing or another, everyone has a load of fun.

It finishes in the evening with dinner and presentations to the winners and boat drivers.

Other unique events are the mid-year Cocos Ball, quiz nights, Music & Wine festival, Ardmona Cup and Cocos Olympics.

All visitors are encouraged to join in with these festivities and activities. Exact dates vary from year to year. Please check with the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Tourism Association before booking for particular events.

Don't forget visitors to the Island are also welcome to participate in the School Fete, Sports Carnival and concert events.

Cocos Diving, Cocos Dive, PO Box 1015, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Indian Ocean WA 6799,Australia. AUD $200-2320.

2nd Wind Sailboards. July through to September only. Watersport holidays. Windsurfing, SUP'ing, kiting.

Pulu Keeling National Park.

Cocos Islands Golf Club. Thursdays. Play the most westerly golf course in Australia that also includes an international runway. Locals and visitors meet every Thursday afternoon for a friendly game of Scroungers Ambrose.

Be at the Donga next to the West Island Supermarket at 3.30pm. All adults are more than welcome, club hire is available and a full bar. You won't play this kind of golf anywhere else in the world, not to be missed.

Hash House Harriers. Contact Mike Wacuda Keogh - Honorary Piss Poor, West Island. Mixed hash which runs every Monday at 1630 Adults only event as there are Down Downs involved.

Run or walk through coconut trees, along white sandy beaches and through the inner lagoon taking in the length and breadth of West Island visiting places not normally seen by visitors and locals alike.

Notice is written on the Cocos Club board with the location of the event every Monday after lunch. All participants to bring six beers or UDL’S, ciders, wines, champers whether you drink or not.

Also bring a few dollars for the raffle and dress in Hash attire. Don’t be shy in asking what a tubing is when in the circle. 6 beers.

Supermarket, Clunies-Ross Avenue.

Community Resource Centre, Administration building. Monday to Friday 8.00am - 3.00pm. The Cocos Islands Community Resource Centre provides internet access and printing facilities.

Mobile phones are available for hire and wireless vouchers for your laptops. Come in for a coffee and check your emails, get some information, grab a tide chart or take home a classic Cocos Calendar. Open Mon - Fri (8am - 3pm).

Australia Post.

Cocos Club. Open 7 days a week.

There are two restaurants and a couple of cafes on Cocos. The Tropika Restaurant is on West Island, whilst Bunga Melati is on Home Island.

Malay cuisine is a selection of rice, noodles, curry and chilli, featuring chicken, beef, lamb and seafood dishes.

Food is prepared to be flavoursome and not particularly hot, unless requested. The Tropika has a mix of Malay and western style meals with a selection of meats, vegetables and salads available from the bistro.

Tropika, Located on West Island in the Cocos Beach Motel buffet dinner $33.

Dory's Cafe, Located on West Island just south of the medical centre. M-F breakfast and lunch, Sunday breakfast. a range of light meals from $15 up.

Bunga Melati, Located on Home Island in the small business centre. The restaurant will open for lunch or dinner on request.

Don't want to eat at a restaurant? Usually, every third Friday, the different social clubs of Cocos prepare a food night at the Cocos Club. Excellently priced meals are offered along with raffles and good-natured fun.

Come along, share a meal. The Cocos Club also offers visitors a great venue to get to know the locals and join in with any activity that is happening.

Cocos Beach Motel. AUD $140 and up. This 28 room motel is centrally located right in the middle of town, right on the beach and only across the road from the Cocos Club, airport and a short walk to the supermarket.

Many of the rooms have direct views to the Indian Ocean. Ideally suited to couples, singles or twin. Private ensuite and air conditioned. Three family rooms are available. On site restaurant: The Tropika.

Cocos Cottages. Architecturally designed cottages, purpose built tourist accommodation, overlooking the golf course and the lagoon. They offer spacious bedrooms, fully equipped kitchens, large undercover deck areas and on site BBQ area.

Located within easy walking distance of the supermarket, Cocos Club, tennis courts, golf club, restaurants and other facilities.

Cocos Castaway. $150 - $390.

Cyclone season is October to April.

Fresh water resources are limited to rainwater accumulations in natural underground reservoirs.

Tourism Observer
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