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As you descend upon the glistening waters of Sydney Harbor, a curious sight catches your eye. A tiny isle, sitting atop the dark turquoise waves, beckons you with its charm.
This is Cockatoo Island, a hidden gem in Australia’s crown jewel of Sydney.
What was once a convict prison and a shipbuilding yard, now sings to the melody of adventure and intrigue.
When planning things to do on Cockatoo Island, visitors can explore the sprawling industrial heritage or choose a more rustic way to experience the island.
Camping on Cockatoo Island is one of the most unmissable experiences in Sydney, and here’s why…
About Cockatoo Island
Cockatoo Island originated as a place to house more convicts shipped over from Norfolk Island.
“It opened to the public in 2007.” Ah! Now that is why I have never heard of this place. I was wondering how on earth it managed to escape my travel radar.
To get to Cockatoo Island is a short ferry ride from Circular Quay to Cockatoo Island on the Sydney Harbour.
What was once an island covered with red gums and frequented by the sulfur-crested cockatoos which gave the island its name, is now a UNESCO World Heritage-listed island that is home to historic buildings, an old navy shipbuilding yard and industrial convict precinct, and incredible views admired by the odd visiting seagull
And tourists of course! There is no better way to sit for coffee and cake than at the island’s cafe, Societe Overboard Cafe, which is near the visitor centre and has views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge looming in the background.
There are two parts to the island, each taking about 45 minutes to explore.
The Plateau or upper island is where you will find most of the old sandstone buildings that housed about 500 convicts.
After the prison failed it was used as an industrial school for girls and a reformatory. This was not a success, which was mostly due to the training ship anchored offshore that housed 500 neglected youths used to roaming the streets of Sydney.
Let’s say their inclination to roam now involved the ladies of the island. The lower island is where most of the industrial and shipbuilding activity took place.
Highlights include immense workshops in the industrial precinct, the two dry docks, and a soundscape in the dogleg tunnel.
We really enjoyed touring Cockatoo Island. Kalyra had a ball running in and out of the ruins of the guard house with her cousin, and dancing in the old mess hall.
Camping on Cockatoo Island
The most exciting part of the island is the campground right on the edge of the harbour.
There would be no better place in Sydney to wake up in the morning with unbeatable views of Sydney Harbour, one of the world’s most beautiful harbours, and at budget prices.
There is a barbeque area provided, a vending machine, clean hot showers, and a large grassy area perfect for picnics and beers as you have dinner while the sun goes down.
You will also find a firepit near the campground’s slipways that guests can use.
There is also a campground cinema where you can watch movies under the stars.
When it comes to sleeping, you will find glamorous tent camping or you can bring your own tent.
There are different packages available for a range of budgets.
The tents cater to group sizes of up to four, making them ideal for family vacations.
All tent camping comes with shared toilets and shower facilities. The campground also has a kitchen that guests can use, with fridges and microwaves.
There are no private bathrooms.
You are also welcome to bring your own bikes but be aware there is no secure bike storage, although there are security/rangers on the island.
Deluxe Waterfront Camping Package
If you’re looking for romantic getaways from Sydney, then consider a glamping experience in the form of Cockatoo’s deluxe camping package.
The basic glamping package comes with a tent and sleeping mat, but you need to provide your own sleeping bags and pillows.
It’s well worth upgrading to the deluxe package that comes with a tent, sleeping mat, luxury toiletries, and some linen bedding, but you will need to bring your own sleeping bag.
The deluxe waterfront tents also come with their own sun lounges on the porch.
Cockatoo Island Apartments
But wait, they have apartments too!
Cockatoo Island as a variety of accommodation types with four steady walls. There are Harbour view apartments, garden apartments and a fire station studio apartments. Check prices and availability here.
Final Thoughts on Camping at Cockatoo Island
Cockatoo Island would be one of the best attractions in Sydney. It is the perfect way to spend the day.
You can take a short ferry ride from Circular Quay and take in the amazing Sydney skyline along the way.
Take a picnic lunch, or you can buy your lunch at the Cockatoo Island Marina Cafe. If not lunch, then, at least a cup of coffee from the coffee shops to admire the pretty view with.
Spend the day leisurely walking around the island, or even hiring the tennis court on the edge of the cliff.
And then end the day with a barbecue dinner, a tent, and the peace and solitude that comes with camping under the stars on Sydney Harbour whilst the majestic Harbour Bridge watches over you.
You can check prices and availability for Cockatoo Island accommodation here. It’s definitely a unique place to stay in Sydney!
More Sydney Travel Tips
Are you planning to spend more time in Sydney? Then these other guides may be useful to you…
- Things to do with kids in Sydney
- Kayaking on Middle Harbour
- How to experience the Vivid Sydney Festival with kids
- What to do in Sydney in 48 hours: An exciting 2 day Itinerary
- Would you do the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb?
- 17 Free Things to Do in Sydney
- 13 day trips from Sydney For a weekend getaway
Have you been to Cockatoo Island? Would you like to camp here? Let us know in the comments.