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Cockatoo Island

Home > Sydney > Camping | Day Trips | Family | Outdoor | Places of Interest
by Sue Hinchey (subscribe)
A freelance writer living and loving in the northern beaches of Sydney...travelling, writing, outdoor activities, gardens, and Pilates are a few of my favourite things. Visit me or
Published July 10th 2016
Historic Harbour Happenings and Cool Coffeeshops
Come to Cockatoo...a peaceful picnic pit-stop on a Sydney Harbour ferry ride. Maybe you pass it every day on your commute to work, or maybe you have no idea where it is or what its history is.

Cockatoo Island
Entrance to Cockatoo Island

This tiny speck of an island in the middle of the harbour, barely a 10 minute ferry ride from Darling Harbour, was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2010. It is the world's first urban waterfront campground and, these days, an in-demand site for cultural events. But Cockatoo Island has a fascinating an illustrious story to tell.

waterfront campground
camping with water on one side and shady fig trees on the other

Taking its name from the sulphur-crested cockatoos that nested here, the indigenous Eora people used its shores as a favourite fishing spot. In 1839 Governor Gipps declared it the site of a new gaol, prison barracks and working dock.

A working dock

It was an industrial gem for ship building, refitting submarines, and in 1984 our last ship, the HMAS Success was built here. Many young men learnt trades and older tradesmen provided invaluable apprenticeships and expertise. Joiners, pattern shops, drawing offices, and blacksmiths were just some of the trades that were carried out here, and a massive turbine shop provided the housing necessary for the trades.

The Turbine Warehouse

I felt like I was on a movie set. Historic buildings and defence heritage sites - which for many years were hidden away from public view - are now open to the public. Grab a brochure and audio set and do your own self-guided walking tour. You only need an hour or so to take in the industrial landscape, explore tunnels, and view old dockyards.

cranes machinery
old machinery & cranes

You can't get any more 'waterfront cafe' than the two perched here on the sandstone rocks, just metres from the water's edge. Societe Overboard offers breakfast and lunches, and the opportunity to purchase BBQ packs for your camping weekend. The Marina Café has snacks and lunch options, drinks and ice-creams, and shady umbrellas to keep you cool as you soak in the surrounds and watch the ferries and yachts putter past.

waters edge
stroll the water's edge

historic buildings
the surroundings have a movie set vibe

Spend the day here. There are plenty of options to keep the whole family entertained; hire tennis gear, basketballs, quoits, or board-games. There's a life-size chess game, a cinema in 'Dog-Leg Tunnel' showing film clips of the island's past, and nice spooky tunnels to feed young imaginations.

Some tunnels were used as air-raid shelters

Cockatoo Island is a piece of not only Sydney's, but also Australian history. It was Australia's first naval dockyard for the Royal Australian Navy from 1913-21, and a major shipyard and repair facility during WWII. A steam-driven crane is still on site, brought by tugboat from Iceland to enable huge war ships to dock, previously not possible in the South Pacific.

historic crane
historic steam-driven crane

The staff and volunteers manning the Tourist Information Office are friendly, knowledgeable and extremely helpful. If you're feeling energetic you could kayak here and leave your kayak at Slipway No. 2. A small netted area allows ocean swimming, and with the best harbour views in the world, you won't want to leave.

sydney harbour
Harbour Views at Every Turn
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Why? Family Fun and Historic Site
Phone: 02-89692100
Where: Cockatoo Island
Your Comment
This is my backyard & I've never been over to it but I must now :) such an awesome article!
by Chloe Doyle (score: 3|1365) 1223 days ago
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