Cockatoo Island is a lesser known Sydney icon, steeped in history. From it’s rough beginning as a convict prison, to housing a Girls Reformatory school, and finally serving as a naval dockyard, history abounds on the island. Today, the island features as a tourist destination and is the only island in Sydney Harbour with overnight accommodations. Here is our guide for things to do on Cockatoo Island,
Things to do on Cockatoo Island – Old School Tech
Watch history come alive with a things to do on cockatoo island – Coffee – Cockatoo Island has a team of volunteers incrementally completing restoration projects of 100+ year old equipment. We enthusiastically visited the island during the steam crane demonstration in January. Installed in 1891, while the island served as a dockyard, the steam crane is one of the few remaining in Australia. With the expertise of Heritage Restoration volunteers, the wooden dock was rebuilt and crane restored to working order.
I have never watched a steam operated machine in person, and the science stuns us with it’s practicality. The volunteers let us peek into the roaring boiler before firing up the pistons to move the 9.5m jib. Check the website for the next scheduled demonstration.
Things To Do On Cockatoo Island – Cuppa With a View
Grab coffee with a view. Cockatoo Island offers two locations for a weekend cuppa, both on the sparkling harbour. For views of the Harbour bridge, choose Societe Overboard directly across from the visitors center. With shaded picnic tables and a grass area for kids to play, the cafe truly relaxed us. For something a little out of the way, wander through Dogleg tunnel to Marina Cafe and Bar. This cafe is set on the edge of Camber wharf with views of Balmain.
Things To Do On Cockatoo Island – Stay the night
Cockatoo Island offers several options for sleeping in the harbour. If you want to sleep under the stars, choose a camping or glamping package. Alternately, if you want the amenities of home with an excellent view, stay in one of the harbourside apartments or large restored houses on the island.To make the experience even easier, the main restaurant on the island, Societe Overboard, offers BBQ and breakfast packs. All accommodations have access to a BBQ and these meal packs come pre-portioned with everything you need!
We recommend glamping for families, and felt it was the perfect mix of ruggedness and comfort. We weren’t game for pitching a tent with a toddler. CZ happily slept on a camping mattress between our beds, and the quiet of the harbour lulled us to sleep.
Cost: varies by location (see details here)
Things to do on Cockatoo Island – Tours On Now
4. Convict Footprints – watch and learn during this living history theatre production in the convict precinct. Abolitionist Charles Cowper leads you through the convict precinct to discover true tales of convicts and others who lived and worked in Cockatoo Island in the 1800s. The intimate shows are limit the audience to 50, so book ahead if you are interested!
Cost: $55 (family pricing available)
Ages: 10 and up
5. Crooked Characters – A rowdy and engaging tour for kids interested in delving into the fascinating past of Cockatoo Island. Kids become part of the history with reenactments, and a shadow puppet show. We stomped up hills, rested in the shade, and explored the convict precinct on the island. The two enthusiastic guides were silly, funny, and entertaining for all ages. We all took away an anecdote about the former residents and the harshness of prison life during this hour long exploration of the island.
Ages: 10 and up
6. Haunted night tours – With so many interesting characters and convicts, it’s not hard to imagine there are more than a few ghosts still lingering around the property. Join this spooky dusk tour for thrills and chills as you wander amid the solitude and heartbreak of the island’s past.
Edit: unfortunately, the tours are all booked through early April. Check the website for updates.
Cost: $25 adult/$15 child
Ages: family-friendly, but may not suitable for young children
Cockatoo Island hosts a variety of exhibits throughout the year, so make sure to check their What’s on page for the latest details. Last year, our glamping trip corresponded with the 20th Biennale of Sydney, a world-renowned contemporary art festival. We all enjoyed traipsing around the island in search of our favorite installations, and we’ll definitely return next year for the 21st Biennale.