Cockatoo Island

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My eyes flutter and, for a moment, I’m confused. There’s a storm rumbling somewhere outside and dark shapes dancing outside my window. I reach for my watch, sitting, on the bedside table. It’s 3am. It takes me a moment to realise I’ve woken up in the midst of a storm on Cockatoo Island Sydney.

The house is creaking and groaning. And there’s a loud knocking sound. I turn over in bed and pull a pillow over my head as tales of convicts and ghosts play through my head. It’s a ghost, I think, or perhaps just a loose blind blowing in the wind, hitting against a wall somewhere in the old rambling house. A few minutes later, I’m wide awake and roaming through the house that was once the home of Cockatoo Island’s doctor or was it the engineer?


Where is it?

Cockatoo Island sits at the junction of the Parramatta and Lane Cover Rivers. It’s Sydney Harbour’s largest island. Although it’s an island, it is very accessible to Sydney and only a 10-minute ferry trip from Circular Quay. It’s away from the city centre yet close enough to be a base from which to explore Sydney. Here are some things to do in Sydney.



What’s there to do?

Well, Cockatoo Island plays a part in Sydney’s history. It was originally a penal establishment used to house convicts, who were put to work on the island. The convicts built prison barracks, a military guardhouse and houses. There’s also the Fitzroy Dock and a workshop used to service Royal Navy ships.

Head to the Visitor Information Centre and take a self-guided audio tour to learn about the islands secrets or just relax in your apartment and enjoy the view. Cockatoo Island is also a venue for festivals and events, so check out the website for what’s happening during your visit.

cockatoo island


The island was also used as an Industrial School for girls, a reformatory and as a ship building facility. In 1913 it became the Commonwealth Naval Dockyard and where Australia’s first steel warship was constructed.


What about the accommodation?

Cockatoo Island is the only harbour island that allows visitors to stay overnight. There’s a range of accommodation to suit most budgets, from camping sites to luxury houses. Campers can hire sleeping bags and mats and cook in the camping kitchen.


Glamping is a popular choice because it allows you to sleep under canvas without the hassle. The glamping option includes a pre-erected tent that is cosy but large enough to fit two people comfortable. Tents have two camp beds (which can be arranged as one double) and come stocked with linen, towels, sun lounges, a large esky and a lantern.



The Harbour View Apartments have large balconies with sensational views of the harbour. Originally, the building was the home of Cockatoo Island’s launch driver and coxswain but I’m sure the original occupants would be amazed to see it now. It has polished floorboards,  quality furnishings and facilities you’d expect in any luxury city pad.

The Garden Apartment has been beautifully renovated. It has two bedrooms and can accommodate four. The décor has a Scandinavian chic feel with contemporary furnishings and a bright airy feel.


I stayed in one of two Heritage Holiday Houses. Mine has four bedrooms and lovely views of the harbour. In the past, it was either the home of Cockatoo Island’s medical officer or engineer.

What’s there to eat and drink?

If you’re camping you can bring your own food. There’s a café that sells food and drinks. You can buy beer and wine on the island. In summer, the Island Bar is a funky spot to hangout. The two-storey bar is built from recycled shipping containers and has deck chairs where you can drink and drink in the views of Sydney harbour. Societe Overboard café serves up breakfast and a light lunch.



What’s the bottom line?

Cockatoo Island offers a unique Sydney harbour experience that combines history, great views and it’s a short ferry ride from the city. From 19 January to 30 June 2015, book your two-night camping or glamping package and receive 25% off each night’s stay at Cockatoo Island.

cockatoo island

The writer was a guest of Cockatoo Island. 

Discover New South Wales

For more ideas on things to do in northern New South Wales see

Looking for more? Here are some things to do in Wollongong worth considering.

What else to do in NSW? Explore the scenic south coast and make plans to see these Kiama attractions. Cockatoo Island

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Christina Pfeiffer Travel Writer
Christina Pfeiffer is a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia. She has lived in three continents and her career as a travel journalist has taken her to all seven continents. Since 2003, she has contributed travel stories and photographs to mainstream media in Australia and around the world such as the Sydney Morning Herald, CNN Traveller, The Australian and the South China Morning Post. She has won many travel writing awards and is a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.