Divers exploring the underwater sea life at Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Credit: Karen Willshaw

Looking to escape the winter chill? It's time to discover two of Australia's most pristine tropical destinations - Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Explore pristine coral reefs, crab migrations, turtles and whale sharks, hunt for fish or simply laze on some of Australia’s best beaches where winter isn’t a thing. 

Located off the coast of WA lies two of Australia’s best kept island secrets: Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Offering a world away but less than a half-day flight from Perth, Australia’s Indian Ocean islands offer a remote escape for travellers seeking year-round warm, weather and outdoor adventures like scuba diving, kitesurfing, snorkelling and fishing in crystal-clear waters  teeming with marine life.

With two flights connecting Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands (Cocos) each week, travellers can spend a week on each island, or take an easy ten day trip. 

When to visit? 

The tropical, savanna climate on Christmas Island and Cocos see temperatures rarely dipping below 24 °C, and the water temperature hovers at a balmy 28 °C. 

This makes the islands a perfect escape from Australian cities in the cooler months, with no passport required.    

On Cocos, there are two main seasons. The calm, doldrum period runs from November to March, then from June/July - September/October, the trade winds blow in, making the destination a mecca for kitesurfers who come to play on the lagoon surrounding the atoll. On land over these months, the breeze is welcome on the usual warm and sunny days.  

Kite Surfing on Cocos Keeling Islands

Credit: Cocos Keeling Islands

For whale shark lovers, Christmas Island offers a chance to swim alongside these gentle giants from November to April which sees their annual migration. From October to November, red crabs transform the landscape into a moving tapestry of red, as millions of crabs cascade towards the ocean from the jungle. 

Whenever you go, you’re in for a tropical getaway that promises hours in the ocean, breathtaking jungle landscapes and the chance to lie on white-sand beaches away from it all. 

Hiking with red crabs in the forests of Cocos Keeling Islands

Credit: Cocos Keeling Islands

A wildlife immersion 

As Australia’s most remote island destinations, you’re likely to encounter more wildlife on the beach or in the water than another human soul.  

Aerial view of secluded beach, with white sand and clear turquoise water

Credit: Cocos Keeling Islands

Surrounded by one of the world’s largest marine parks spanning over 460,000 square kilometres, both islands are home to hundreds of species of tropical fish, majestic manta rays, friendly sharks, and curious, fat turtles.  

Nestled on the edge of the Java Trench, the deepest point in the Indian Ocean, Christmas Island is a paradise for scuba diving, snorkelling, and freediving enthusiasts. Here, divers can encounter impressive pelagic species such as tuna, barracuda, and reef sharks, not to mention over eighty-eight coral species and over six hundred different kinds of fish. 

On Cocos, there are more than 20 dive sites spanning the lagoon with untouched reefs, shipwrecks, and blooming underwater gardens in brightly coloured hues - making it one of the best things to do on Cocos Islands.

Christmas Island offers over 60 dive sites with spectacular coral drop offs, cave diving opportunities and scattered wrecks to explore with 88 coral species and over 650  of fish! 

Dives are run by locals, with Dieter from Cocos Dive the only operator on Cocos who has been exploring the atoll’s depths since 1989. Over on Christmas Island, CI Wet & Dry Adventures and Extra Divers Christmas Island know their way around the mesmerising underwater world. 

For an on-land experience, trek the many jungle hikes and lookout walks  on Christmas Island for awe-inspiring coastal vistas and the chance to spot exotic birds like red-footed boobies, endangered Christmas Island frigate birds and the iconic golden bosun in their natural habitat.

Cocos is a mecca for twitchers too, with the islands known for special sightings of vagrant species from Asia, Europe and even Africa.

Beach days under the palms 

While the azure, warm lagoon offers an underwater paradise for snorkelling, scuba dives and fishers, if whiling away days on white sand with a book in hand are more your thing, the beaches on Cocos and Christmas Island are some of Australia’s finest. 

On Cocos, Direction Island and Pulu Belan Madar were named Australia’s best beaches by Tourism Australia. 

Clear blue water, white sand and palm trees at Direction Island, Cocos Keeling Islands

Credit: Cocos Keeling Islands

You can reach Direction Island in less than 30 minutes from West Island on the public ferry for just $2.50, where you’ll be dropped at a jetty with your esky and picked up six hours later. Home to an infamous natural rip, be sure to pack your swim fins and jump in to spot the huge array of vivid fish, corals, reef sharkers, huge wrasse and parrot fish.

Located on the southern side of the atoll lies Pulu Belan Madar. Visit this picturesque crescent moon beach on a motorised canoe safari with Cocosday or make a day of hopping around neighbouring islands on a private tour with Cocos Blue Charters.

Canoe Tour on Cocos Keeling Islands

Credit: Rachel Claire for Cocos Keeling Islands

On Christmas Island, a leisurely two-kilometre stroll through a lush rainforest on a boardwalk guides you to Dolly Beach.  

Set against the dramatic backdrop of towering coconut palms, and caressed by the clear, azure embrace of shallow waters and a vibrant coral reef, Dolly Beach offers up pristine white sands with unbeatable views. Don't miss the chance to relax in the natural rock pool at the heart of the beach — affectionately known as the Dolly Beach Spa. Keep an eye out for the giant friendly robber crabs and if you’re lucky you might also meet a turtle, who nest on the beaches here year round.  

Woman swimming on her back in the natural rock pool, Dolly Beach Spa

Credit: Cocos Keeling Islands

Beaches aside, you can’t miss The Grotto on Christmas Island too. Take a refreshing dip in the sandy-floored natural pool, nestled beneath the sun-drenched cave entrance, and experience a serene escape from the island's warmth. 

With Virgin Australia offering flights to Cocos Keeling Islands and Christmas Island twice per week, it's the perfect time to book your tropical winter escape!