Cockatoo Island

Taking its name from the sulfur-crested cockatoos that frequent it, Cockatoo Island is Sydney Harbour’s largest island.

Cockatoo Island

My mum came to visit for the long weekend and so I was racking my brain (Google) for an interesting day out that wasn’t the typical tourist spot. This place offers a great mix of fresh air, exploring and history.

Cockatoo Island

It’s a 10-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay and you can either wander around freely or follow a self-guided tour – whichever works best for you. When you arrive, make sure to pick up a guide from the visitor centre to read about the island’s convict and maritime history.

Cockatoo Island

The Island has a long history dating back to the time of first settlement:

  • Up until 1839, it was largely undisturbed until NSW Governor George Gibbs chose it as a site for a new convict gaol due to its proximity to Sydney Cove. It became one of the most extreme penal establishments of the colony – the home for the ‘worst of the worst’.
  • In 1842 there were 323 convicts living on the island and later as many as 500 men were crammed into the inadequate dormitories
Dog Leg Tunnel: At 180m long, this tunnel was built to move workers and materials from one side of the island to the other. When World War II broke out the tunnels were used as air-raid shelters.
  • In 1869 the settlement was closed and the prisoners were transferred to Darlinghurst Gaol, marking the close of the convict period. The island was then put to use as a reformatory and Industrial School for Girls, and hosted a training ship nearby which housed wayward and orphaned boys. 
  • From 1888 – 1908, Cockatoo Island reverted back to a gaol due to overcrowding elsewhere. During the 20th century, the island then became the major shipbuilding and dockyard facility for the South West Pacific in World War II. The dockyard closed in 1992.
Cockatoo Island: Crane to lift boat parts
  • In 2001, The Harbour Trust began to reintegrate the island into the cultural life of Sydney and opened it to the public in 2005.

After 2 hours of exploring Colonial buildings, convict barracks, and its heritage shipbuilding legacy, we stopped at The Island Bar for cocktails and pizza (from a traditional wood-fired oven) while lying back in deck chairs overlooking the harbour. The bar is constructed from recycled shipping containers, giving it a funky industrial look and in keeping with the history of Cockatoo Island as a shipbuilding yard and Commonwealth naval base.

The Island Bar

Cockatoo Island also offers a great camping and glamping experience, with amazing views of the harbour from your tent. 

What? Cockatoo Island

Where? Sydney Harbour

When? Anytime

Price? Free





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