Cockatoo Island

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Cockatoo Island , Sydney Overview

Dotted with charming industrial relics, the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Cockatoo Island sits in the middle of Sydney Harbour in New South Wales, Australia. A kaleidoscopic blend of convict and wartime history, this little island is one of Sydney’s best-kept secret.

Cockatoo Island is a unique island and if you haven’t been to the city, you won’t hear about it much. Previously this place was used as a prison and houses a massive shipyard where naval vessels and boats were repaired during the Second World War. The shipyard was operational until the 1990s. The remnants of the old buildings belonging to ancient times are visible even today. They have survived the test of time and look unusual and intriguing. This tour will open up a new world of possibilities and rekindle a sense of adventure. The luxuriant panorama, serene surrounding and pretty cafes let you escape from the hustle of the city. No wonder, it is a perfect getaway for travellers seeking solitude and tranquillity. Indulge in an audio tour that would reveal fascinating stories about the convict period and allow you to explore the island’s past.

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Cockatoo Island History

Cockatoo Island Dock 1872
Cockatoo Island was Used as a Penitentiary since the 19th Century (Source)

Cockatoo Island boasts a glorious past dating back to 1788. The island was frequented by the Aboriginal people of the coastal region who named it Waremah. Later in 1850, the Governor of New South Wales established Cockatoo Island as a penal settlement to prevent overcrowding on Norfolk Island. The convicts built a military guardhouse; stone prison barracks official residences and granary silos. However, their notable work is the Fitzroy Dock that was started in 1847 and took 10 years to complete. It can be seen even today. In the year 1869, the settlement was shut down resulting at the end of the convict era. Cockatoo Island again turned into a gaol from 1888 – 1908. The island became a naval dockyard during the Second World War in 1913. However, the shipbuilding came to a major decline during the 1970s and the dockyard was finally shut in the year 1992. The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust came into existence in 2001 and worked on the island restoration. In the year 2010, Cockatoo Island was listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Things to Do at Cockatoo Island

There are a number of activities to entertain the visitors coming to Cockatoo Island. From historic exhibitions to film screening and sports, there are ample things to do here to entertain adults as well as children.
  • Shipyard Stories: Witness an exhibition that showcases archival images of the island’s maritime history. This activity takes place in the Biloela House on the upper plateau.
  • Kids activity book: The kid’s activity book is suitable for children of 12 years and below. The booklet is full of challenges that encourage the little ones to understand the rich history of the island. It is free and available at the Visitor Centre.
  • Corn hole: Corn Hole is an outdoor game where players attempt to throw bean bags on a platform with a hole. This activity is free and perfect for visitors of all ages.
  • Chess: Have the best time of your life while playing chess on the massive chess board and admiring the view of the Sydney Harbour.
  • Basketball: At a short distance from the wharf, there is a harbourside basketball court. The basketball can be rented from the Visitor’s Centre at AUD 5.
  • Campground Cinema: The indoor cinema in the Convict Precinct is an opportunity for the campers to relax in a bean bag and watch movies. It can accommodate up to 30 individuals. The accommodation team can arrange for cinematic experiences in groups (AUD 5 per person with popcorn).
  • Campground firepit: When it is dark, indulge in an exciting bonfire and share spooky tales while enjoying roasted marshmallows. Marshmallow bags are available at the Visitor Centre for AUD 5.
  • Hoopla, Finska, Quoits, Frescobol: These are fun outdoor games to play with your family. They are available at the Visitor Centre for AUD 5.

Cockatoo Island Tours

1. Ghost Tour
Timings: Saturday: 9:00 PM to 11:00 PM,
Price: AUD 45 per adult (and booking fee)
Enter the world of supernatural realms with the Ghostyard Tour designed only for the adults. You get to explore different buildings that are rarely open to the general public. During this tour, the guide carries a K-II EMF Reader, a device used in detecting paranormal activities.

2. Haunted History Tour
Timings: 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM,
Price: AUD 25 per adult (and booking fee), AUD 15 per child (and booking fee),
Cockatoo Island is all about scandals and skeletons. This Haunted History Tour is for visitors of all ages. It is your chance to explore the legendary landmarks including the Dog Leg Tunnel, grain silos, Biloela House and convict workshops. The professional guide will escort you and unveil the mystery. Kindly note this tour might contain images and stories of deceased people.

3. Convict Precinct Tour
Cost: AUD 12 per person, AUD 5 per child,
Meeting Point: Convict Precinct,
Discover the UNESCO listed convict site through this 45-minute Convict Precinct tour.  This guided tour will be taking place in the upper plateau where you will learn the island’s history of the ancient penal establishment. The guide will escort you to the iconic landmarks namely Barracks, Guardhouse, Military Quarters, Mess Hall and Solitary Cells. This tour can be booked online or in the Visitor’s Centre on the same day. Kindly note, that this tour contains stories and images of deceased people

4. Self Guided Audio Tours
Price: AUD 5,
Duration: 1 ½ hour,
Get to know more about the convict era and learn about the daily work of the engineers who contributed to the growth of Cockatoo Island. A special map and a headset would be provided by one of the volunteers. You get to hear original audio clips from the people who inhabited the island in the 20th century.

5. Guided Group Tour
There are two kinds of guided group tours available on the Cockatoo Island
  • On-Demand History Tour: This tour is for people who want to learn about the island’s history at their own pace. The tour gives an overview of the island’s history and reveals interesting stories about convict life and other characters. Price: AUD 16 per person,
  • Seniors Tour: Enjoy a day out at the Heritage listed Cockatoo Island. This is an on foot tour that gives an extensive summary of Cockatoo Island’s rich history. In order to enjoy this tour, the participants need to be physically fit. Kindly note, this tour requires a minimum of 10 individuals. Price: AUD 12 per person
6. Crooked Characters Tour
Price: Free,
Did you know thieves, rogues and tricksters once thrived on the Cockatoo Island? If you are curious to know about them, consider the Crooked Characters Tour. This hour-long tour is suitable for all ages and will take you on a fascinating journey through the island's glorious past.

7. Steam Crane Demonstration
Price: Free,
Attend the steam crane demonstration and travel back in time. There are two kinds of cranes that can be found on the Cockatoo Island namely Mort’s Dock Crane and the No. 2 Travelling Crane. The cranes were set up at Fitzroy Dock and were responsible for the smooth operation of the dock. They are the oldest surviving steam cranes in Australia that has a history dating back to early 1900s. Today, the cranes are carefully restored by the Harbour Volunteer Restoration Team.

Cockatoo Island Camping

Camp under the stars and feel the essence of the best harbour in Australia. There are five types of camping options available. You can either bring your own tent or it can be arranged on the island itself. You can also choose a tent on the waterfront that exudes comfort and boasts amazing views.
  • Camping site (BYO Tent): If you are on a budget, you can bring your own tent and set it up.
  • Camping and Deluxe Camping Packages: A pre-erected tent can be arranged so that you can relax and unwind. It costs about AUD 89 per night for regular camping and AUD 130 per night for deluxe camping.
  • Deluxe Waterfront Camping Packages: Here are two options available for you. You can either choose a usual tent or a dual tent on the waterfront that is luxurious and comfortable. The price is between AUD 150 and AUD 310 per night.

Cockatoo Island Ferry

A ferry-ride is the easiest way to reach Cockatoo Island. Harbour City Ferries operates regularly and departs from Circular Quay, Barangaroo, Darling Harbour and wharves.

Circular Quay to Cockatoo Island:
  • Monday - Friday: 6:44 AM, 7:14 AM, 7:44 AM, 8:14 AM, 8:44 AM, 9:14 AM, 10:14 AM, 11:14 AM, 12:14 AM, 1:14 PM, 2:14 PM, 3:14 PM, 4:14 PM, 5:14 PM, 5:44 PM, 6:14 PM, 6:44 PM, 7:14 PM, 8:14 PM, 9:14 PM, 10:14 PM, 11:14 PM,
  • Saturday: 7:14 AM, 8:14 AM, 9:14 AM, 10:14 AM, 11:14 AM, 12:14 PM, 1:14 PM, 2:14 PM, 3:14 PM, 4:14 PM, 5:14 PM, 6:14 PM, 7:14 PM, 8:14 PM, 9:14 PM, 10:14 PM, 11:14 PM,
  • Sunday, Public Holidays: 9:14 AM, 10:14 AM, 11:14 AM, 12:14 PM, 1:14 PM, 2:14 PM, 3:14 PM, 4:14 PM, 5:14 PM, 6:14 PM, 7:14 PM, 8:14 PM, 9:14 PM
Cockatoo Island to Circular Quay:
  • Monday - Friday: 6:47 AM, 7:17 AM, 7:47 AM, 8:17 AM, 8:47 AM, 9:17 AM, 9:47 AM, 10:47 AM, 11:47 AM, 12:47 PM, 1:47 PM, 2:47 PM, 3:47 PM, 4:47 PM, 5:47 PM, 6:17 PM, 6:47 PM, 7:17 PM, 7:47 PM, 8:47 PM, 9:47 PM, 10:47 PM, 11:47 PM,
  • Saturday: 7:47 AM, 8:47 AM, 9:47 AM, 10:47 AM, 11:47 AM, 12:47 PM, 1:47 PM, 2:47 PM, 3:47 PM, 4:47 PM, 5:47 PM, 6:47 PM, 7:47 PM, 8:47 PM, 9:47 PM, 10:47 PM, 11:47 PM,
  • Sunday, Public Holidays: 9:47 AM, 10:47 AM, 11:47 AM, 12:47 PM, 1:47 PM, 2:47 PM, 3:47 PM, 4:47 PM, 5:47 PM, 6:47 PM, 7:47 PM, 8:47 PM

Cockatoo Island Food

Cockatoo Island offers delightful food options that are a treat to the taste buds

1. Societe Overboard
Monday - Thursday: 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM,
Friday: 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM,
Saturday: 8:30 AM to 9:00 PM,
Sunday: 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM,
Price: AUD 40 for 2 people,
For legendary breakfast and lunch options, head to Societe Overboard. They serve fish and chips, burritos, burgers as well as wine and beer.

2. Marina Cafe and Bar
Monday - Wednesday: 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM,
Thursday: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM,
Friday, Saturday: 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM,
Price: AUD 50 for 2 people,
Just a short stroll away from the campground, there is Marina Cafe and Bar. The cafe has a soothing ambience and serves treats like pizzas and nachos. They serve sumptuous burgers with fries, popcorn chicken as well as fish and chips from Thursday till Sunday. Alcohol purchased from the cafe must be consumed in their licensed area.

3. Picnic Space and BBQ area
Visitors have the opportunity to pack the food and absorb the scenic vistas from any of the picnic spots. There are shady spaces available in both Upper and Lower Island. However, you cannot carry alcohol. It needs to be consumed in licensed areas only.

Opposite the Visitor Centre, there are two public barbecues that are available for visitors to use. However, it is prohibited to use them during adverse weather conditions. Benches are set that can sit up to eight people. Also, there are ample of shaded grass areas where guests can relax and enjoy. Kindly note that the BBQ’s are subject to availability, they cannot be booked in advance.

Campground kitchen can be exclusively used by the guests during their stay. From Monday to Thursday, non-campers can hire the campground BBQ space for lunch up to 50 people. They have to submit an application in advance.

Cockatoo Island Wharf

Located in Sydney Harbour, the ferry wharf serves Cockatoo Island. In the year 2007, the wharf re-opened for a time period of three months and coincided with the reopening of Cockatoo Island. Currently, there are ferries operated by Sydney Ferries River Services that sail to Circular Quay and Parramatta.

Cockatoo Island Prison

Cockatoo Island was chosen for the establishment of a new penal settlement in 1850. It was the beginning of the convict era on the island.  The prison was appalling and the prisoners worked on different projects around this region. The prison was closed in 1869 when the convicts were shifted to Darlinghurst Gaol.

Cockatoo Island Dockyard

The Cockatoo Island Dockyard was built in 1857 to take care of the naval warships. Later on, it played an important role in building and repairing civilian and military ships. The dockyard was shut down in 1991 and the remnants are carefully preserved.

How to Reach Cockatoo Island

Cockatoo Island is the largest island in the Sydney Harbour. It is just a short ferry ride from the Circular Quay, the main harbour in Sydney. The most convenient way to reach the island is by hopping on a public ferry. The Harbour Ferries run daily from Circular Quay, Barangaroo, Darling Harbour and wharves along River Parramatta ferry route.

Tips for Visiting Cockatoo Island

  1. As Cockatoo Island is an ancient industrial site, the terrains are rugged and uneven. Please mind your step and keep an eye over the kids. Cockatoo Island is wheelchair friendly.
  2. Do not bring alcohol on the island. However, the guests staying in the houses and apartments are exceptions to this rule. Both the food joints are licensed to serve alcohol.
  3. Climbing the historic structures is strictly prohibited.
  4. Swimming is not allowed anywhere around Cockatoo Island
  5. There are several on-street car parking points available near the ferry wharves at Greenwich, Chiswick, Woolwich, Drummoyne, Huntleys Point, Balmain and Birchgrove. The Valentia wharf at Woolwich is the nearest stop with five minutes ferry ride away from the island.

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