In July 2010 Cockatoo Island was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its long and colourful history it is really no surprise! It has many tales to tell.

Cockatoo Island is located in the middle of Sydney Harbour, Australia and is just a short but fantastic ferry ride out to see it. Once there you can be treated to magnificent views of Sydney Harbour that include the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, well once you make it up the hill!

ferry to cockatoo island

Marley on the Cockatoo Island ferry.

Cockatoo Island

Cockatoo Island is the most famous island in Sydney Harbour

Cockatoo Island History, from convicts to UNESCO. quite a story!

Cockatoo Island history spans nearly 200 years. The Island was originally used as a convict settlement from 1839 to 1869 and was mainly used to house repeat offenders. It was also the convicts that had to build the barracks while they were not on any other building task within Sydney at the time. Many were housed here while they worked on other building sites around the growing city. The convicts of Cockatoo Island were also the builders of Australia’s first dry dock also located on Cockatoo Island known as Fitzroy Dock. In 1871 the Island was used as an industrial school for girls and a reformatory for young boys. As there was a ship ‘The Vernon’, anchored nearby the young boys at the reformatory were given naval training.

The Island

Cockatoo Island history includes WW2

Did you know Cockatoo Island Camping is available?

Camp on Cockatoo Island

The campground offers a communal kitchen and shared bathroom facilities. Glamping tents include bed linen, blankets, towels and toiletries. Cockatoo Island Camping tents have a sleeping mat and chairs. Can you think of a better place to camp than in the middle of Sydney Harbour?

For booking information click HERE.

For more Sydney accommodation choices – Top Destination Sydney

The ship yard - Cockatoo Island

Cockatoo Island was well known for its shipbuilding

Shipbuilding started at the Island in 1870 and the Island became an important part of the Shipbuilding industry in Australia with Cockatoo Island transferring over to the Commonwealth Government to be used by the Royal Australian Navy in 1913. Although there are still many buildings, cranes and jetties on Cockatoo Island none are able to be operated anymore.

The kids enjoyed the Cockatoo Island Ferry

Riding on a ferry is not something kids do much in Melbourne so catching the Cockatoo Island Ferry was a highlight of the day for them. The views of the Sydney Harbour are absolutely magnificent as you cruise around on the ferry.

 cockatoo island

Visit the world famous Taronga Zoo Sydney.

Overlooking magnificent Sydney Harbour, Taronga Zoo is just 12 minutes by ferry from Circular Quay and offers amazing wildlife experiences with stunning harbour views. Nestled on the shores of the world’s most beautiful harbour, Taronga Zoo is surrounded by lush bushland of Bradley’s Head National Park, popular for early morning walks. Ferries depart from Circular Quay every 30 minutes.

For more information and booking click HERE.

cockatoo island

Circular Quay to Cockatoo Island ferry timetable can be downloaded at the end of the page

Although nothing is operational on the Island, this does not take away its magnificence. As you walk around the Island you can really get a feel as to how hard life must have been for the convicts, children and for the shipbuilders alike. While you can now enjoy Cockatoo Island camping or ‘glamping’, bbq and generally relax on the island it was a very different way of life for the convicts living up on top of the hill. We started from the dock and walked up past the Cockatoo Island camping grounds. I was very surprised at how modern and comfortable they looked. We all thought it would be a great place to come back to camp the night (We still have not returned but it will definitely be on the list!) From there we ventured up to the convict area. Both the girls were very interested in how all the buildings were built there and that led to talking about our countries history. Down near where the ferry drops you off is the toilet block that is well maintained and was really clean. We did find that having some light snacks and some frozen water bottles helped us keep the girls happy as we wandered the Island. The Cockatoo Island restaurant was not open on the day that we visited as it was under renovations but the Cockatoo Island Cafe was. It was quite a warm day when we were there so the amount of walking was getting the girls hot. It did not seem to matter that we were the crazy ones pushing them in a pram!

Cockatoo Island

The girls enjoying exploring the Island. Do you want to visit Cockatoo Island?

The Cockatoo Island ferry leaves from Circular Quay

The sandstone buildings were still amazingly well preserved. The girls loved looking around the guard house and then on to the buildings that were the barracks and the hospital. We then kept wandering until we hit the Superintendent’s house where the girls sat on the steps for a well-earned rest before being harassed for photo’s with the bridge in the background. The walk down the hill made them more than happy while we explored around the old dockyards and warehouses.

What’s more Australian than surfing?

This fun 2-hour beginner’s surfing lesson on Bondi Beach lets you experience the thrill of catching your first wave. You will be taught surfing basics in a group of 5 students or less–a great way to increase your surf knowledge, technique, and confidence.

For more information and booking click HERE.

While standing in some of the warehouses you were reminded of how small we really are. They were massive! As we walked around and took in all the different sights like cranes, docks, building and the plants that have made the Island their home we realised just how important taking care of places like this really is. Cockatoo Island history is very important to how Sydney was built back in the day. Taking the ‘shortcut’ through the tunnel back to the dock was the highlight of Willow’s trip, I think. She loved that it was spooky!

Cockatoo Island

A Sydney harbour view. One of the other reasons to visit Cockatoo Island!

We enjoyed a cool drink from the small Cockatoo Island cafe while we were waiting for the next ferry to take us back to Sydney. The Island is a really great place to learn about our history and now the girls are older another visit seems like a great idea! Sydney is a great place for families and there are so many other things to do in Sydney with kids! Also between you and me, it is one of the cheap things to do in Sydney. The only cost is the Cockatoo Island ferry and then you can wander the island free of charge. Now, that’s a good deal I would say when there really is not many cheap things to do in Sydney. Now it is time for you to visit Cockatoo Island!

Visitor Tip:

How to get to Cockatoo Island is really easy and the ferry is a great ride. I suggest that you have a ferry timetable to Cockatoo Island with you so you can plan while you are walking especially if you have kids with you.

You can download a copy of the ferry timetable from Circular Quay to Cockatoo Island HERE

We hope you enjoy your trip to Australia. Our country is big, unique and has some of the most amazing places to see. Here I have included two more posts on our great land for you to enjoy. Just click on the images to go to the story!