A day trip to Direction Island is one of the things to do when you visit the Cocos Islands. It is home to a unique and spectacular snorkel called The Rip. The beach is exquisite – the white sand and turquoise water is breathtakingly beautiful – and it is a place with significant military history.
To get to Direction Island, first you need to get to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands which are 3000km northwest of Perth, they are the most western part of Australia. Virgin Airlines fly there twice a week via Exmouth and Christmas Island. For a full run down on getting to Cocos Island and what to expect when you get there, read our Cocos (Keeling) Island Holiday Guide.
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Getting to Direction Island
A ferry service runs between West Island, where the main settlement is, and Direction Island. The Direction Island ferry runs on Saturdays and Thursdays leaving from Rumah Baru Jetty. The ride takes between 30 and 60 minutes depending on whether it goes straight to Direction Island or goes to the other settled Island in the group, Home Island, first. It is a good value ride. The Direction Island ferry costs $5 for a return fare. Tickets are paid for in cash on the ferry.
Very occasionally the ferry is cancelled when the tides are too low for the ferry to cross the lagoon, but this only happens 2 or 3 times a year. You shouldn’t be too concerned about getting seasick. The ferry is a decent size and generally the water in the lagoon is calm. If you want to take in the views there is an open air section up top or, if you want to keep out of the sun, there is a comfortable lounge on the main deck.
Read our full guide to plan your Cocos (Keeling) Island Holiday here
What to take to Direction Island
Everything! Direction Island is uninhabited, there is nowhere to buy food or water. As is the case for the Cocos generally, you will need to self-cater your day trip to Direction Island. Eskys, freezer bags, picnic baskets, water coolers – you’ll see people lining up with all these things at the jetty for the trip across. We took over a supermarket cold bag with some ice bricks in it and that kept our water and snacks for the day chilled.
You’ll definitely want to bring your snorkelling gear, there is nowhere on the island to hire anything. There are 7 shelters scattered along the foreshore which provide shade and a couple of picnic tables so you will have somewhere to sit and eat out of the sun. There are also a couple of toilet blocks and wood BBQs dotted along the path between the shelters.
What to Expect when you Arrive
When you arrive at the small Direction Island jetty you will see the shelters along the beach running to the right as you leave the jetty. For keen snorkellers who want to spend their day at The Rip, there is a bit of a foot race to get to the last of the shelters along the beach which is the closest to the entry point for The Rip.
Keen to secure our position at the last shelter we were amongst the first off the ferry and legged it to Hut 7. We arrived at the same time as another group and we each claimed one of the picnic tables there. To be honest though, there was plenty of room and as other people came and went over the day there was always room to have a seat and take a break between swims. People tended to be in the water more than they were sitting around.
Things to do on Direction Island
There is not a whole lot to do on Cocos – which isn’t a knock, it’s one of the great things about the place – but a day trip to Direction Island is one thing you can put on your activity list. Even if you don’t explore its most well-known attraction – The Rip snorkel – it has a stunning beach and some interesting history.
Snorkel The Rip
Between one end of Direction Island and what’s left of neighbouring Prison Island is a channel of water known as The Rip. Water feeds in from the ocean over the outer reef, funnels between the two islands and empties into the Cocos Lagoon. There is amazing coral and fish life in the channel, you can spot everything from colourful tropical fish to reef sharks, big rock cod and giant trevally.
The idea is that you get in the water near the start of the channel and let the current take you into the shallow lagoon where you can pretty much walk back to shore and do it all again. It’s a lot of fun, the water is crystal clear and it’s like going for a ride through an aquarium. But there are a few things you need to know about The Rip.
The Rip – Tips & Tricks
The Rip is a stunning snorkel but it’s not without its challenges. Here are some things to know before you give it a go.
- To get to The Rip, turn right at the end of the jetty and follow the path along the grass until you reach Hut 7. Just beyond there is a viewing platform that looks over The Rip and there are some steps from the platform to the water.
- Between the platform and the water, you need to get across a rocky shoreline. Reef shoes are highly recommended.
- This is no ordinary drift snorkel. From when you enter the water you are swept through the channel at speed – it is quite a ride! We are experienced swimmers and snorkellers and the speed of the current caught us by surprise so don’t panic when you feel how fast you are moving.
- Don’t fight the current – it will wear you out and some people could even find the lack of control distressing – just go with it. At the end of the ride, you are quite a way offshore – probably a couple of hundred metres – but it is shallow enough to stand up and walk back in.
- If you just want to go with the flow, you can get away without fins but if you want to try and swim across the channel or swim in a bit quicker, wearing fins is the way to go.
- If you do wear fins, one of the toughest parts of The Rip ride is getting in. The water can be a bit rough and it is rocky so get your fins on as fast as possible and get into the channel.
- The Rip flows a little less strongly at low tide, so keep this in mind if you want a less hectic snorkel.
- At low tide you also have a better chance of being able to reach down and grab a rock ledge so you can stop and watch all the fish. If you can get a hold somewhere, it is a great way to slow down and take in all the marine life.
- You can see hundreds of fish species in The Rip so this is a snorkel you can do again and again. You will also be much more relaxed on your second and third Rip snorkels so give it a few goes while you are on Direction Island.
Direction Island Snorkelling
If you walk up to the viewing platform, take one look at The Rip and decide it isn’t for you, there is still plenty to see outside of the channel. Pop your snorkelling gear on and cruise around any of the coral bommies or rocks in the shallows and you’ll see plenty of fish. Even quite big fish cruise along in the clear shallow water so it’s a great spot to go fish finding for families or less experienced snorkellers.
More on Cocos Island Snorkel Spots here
Relax on Cossie Beach
You might think that Direction Island is a long way to go to relax on a beach, but this is no ordinary beach. Picture coconut palms leaning out over fine clean sand and the bluest turquoise water lapping at the shore and you start to get a picture of Cossie Beach. You’ll find yourself staring along the coastline wondering if it’s possible you could be looking at something so beautiful.
Set up for the day at one of the shelters where you can get out of the sun and just metres away have this idyllic coastline to relax by. There are toilet and BBQ facilities by many of the shelters too. Go for a dip or snorkel or just watch the cute little hermit crabs lug their shells around the white sand.
You can do worse than BYO hammock (we recommend the go anywhere Nakie Hammocks as a staple for any trip) and book and just relax on what is one of the most photogenic beaches Australia has to offer.
Camping is allowed at some of the shelters, but you’ll need to bring everything with you. Camping fees and conditions apply which can be found on the Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands website.
Direction Island Historic Walk
Direction Island has played a role in both the World War 1 and World War 2. The most significant event, which is memorialised by the Gazebo at the end of the jetty, was the victory had by the relatively new Royal Australian Navy. The HMAS Sydney defeated the German SMS Emden which retreated and was beached on North Keeling Island.
In World War 2, the Japanese attacked the island and were tricked by the Australians into thinking that they destroyed the communications relay station. The Australians lit decoy fires and painted shell damage on the walls of the buildings and the station continued operating.
There is a 3.5km interpretive trail that covers most of the island and there are 25 informative sign boards along the trail describing the islands military significance and history. The generally shaded path takes you from one end of the island to the other with a couple of detours and loops along the way. It is a bit overgrown in places and the amount of washed up rubbish at the Western End is an awful sight. But if you are there for the day and feeling snorkelled out, it is an interesting stroll and there are plenty of cute hermit crabs to watch out for along the way.
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