Cockatoo Island, Sydney, New South Wales

Cockatoo Island is the largest island nestled in the Sydney Harbour, and offers stunning views of the city skyline.  The island is located at the joining of two rivers – the Parramatta and Lane Cove rivers.

The island, which is a national heritage-listed island, was opened as a tourist destination just a few years ago, in 2005 with the Cockatoo Island 2005 Festival.


The island has a strong history – it was home to an old imperial prison, reformatory, gaol, and industrial school.

The penal settlement, which was active in the 1800s, was shut down in 1908  having been replaced by a strong shipbuilding industry.  In fact, the island was the site of one of the country’s largest shipbuilding yards, with two dry docks (the island contains the only remaining dry dock in Australia that was constructed using convict labour). During World War One, over 2,800 workers worked on the island including 1,550 who toiled on military vessels (including the repair submarines); that number burgeoned to over 3,300 by 1920.  Twenty ships were built during the Second World War to support the Allied war effort.  The yard ceased operations in 1992.

Natural environment

Cockatoo Island has been affected by human development. The island’s sandstone was mined for the construction of wheat siloes and the wharf. The island’s elevation was reduced almost three metres due to extractive work, and the island’s land mass was increased by over 30% to its current size.

Activities (Nature and Wildlife Interest)

The main activity on Cockatoo Island is an educational and historical tour of the island. Visitors are encouraged to learn about the island’s history by walking around the island’s historical buildings with the help of either a self-guided audio tour, or a more in-depth guided tour.  Buildings include the prison structures, such as the administrative buildings, housing for prison management, and cells.

Visitors often picnic or barbecue, or visit the café after their walk around the island’s historical attractions.

The island is growing in popularity for its hosting of cultural events – including a contemporary art exhibition in 2008, a music festival in January 2009, and a comedy festival in October 2009.


Popular as both a day trip destination and for longer stays, Cockatoo offers accommodation in two Heritage houses, or welcomes visitors to its one campsite.

The island has two refurbished historical Federation houses, which are available for vacation rentals. Each can accommodate up to 10 guests within four bedrooms. These self-contained houses are stocked with linens and full kitchen and cooking equipment, and have a BBQ area and outdoor seating.


A waterfront campsite on the island was opened in 2008, the only camping ground within the city of Sydney.  Campers can bring their own tent, or purchase a camping package which includes a pre-erected tent.   The camp site has basic kitchen and BBQ facilities and an amenities block.

New Year’s Eve camping is extremely popular because of the great views of the Sydney skyline; in 2009 over 2000 campers came to the island for the fireworks show.

Getting There

Cockatoo Island is just 10 kilometers west of Sydney, and can be reached via a 10-minute ferry west from Harbour Bridge. The ferry runs from Circular Quay.

Related posts:

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  2. Nowra Wildlife Park, North Nowra, New South Wales
  3. Sydney Aquarium, Darling Harbour
  4. Waterfall Springs Wildlife Sanctuary, Kulnura, New South Wales
  5. Blackbutt Reserve, Newcastle, New South Wales

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