Love is Rediscovering Our City's History

Words: Catherine Hollyman    Photography:  Jamie Williams; Ben Symons - Courtesy 2014 Biennale of Sydney;  Mark Merton; Geoff Magee - Courtesy Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

Words: Catherine Hollyman  

Photography:  Jamie Williams; Ben Symons - Courtesy 2014 Biennale of Sydney;  Mark Merton; Geoff Magee - Courtesy Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

A weekend spent in the great outdoors in the middle of Sydney Harbour might seem an unusual choice to some, but COVERED. travel writer Catherine Kirk can really recommend the experience.

At 18 hectares, Cockatoo Island is Sydney Harbour’s biggest island. Serving as a convict site from 1839 to 1869, it housed a reformatory school for girls between 1871-1911 before becoming a dock and shipbuilding yard until 1991. 

In 2001 the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust took ownership of the site and in 2007, after extensive work, Cockatoo Island was opened to the public. In 2010, parts of the island were included on the UNESCO World-Heritage List, preserving the paradoxical mix of industrial landmarks and green parkland that today makes for the perfect urban camping retreat from the Northern Beaches.

Getting There & Around
It doesn’t get better than a ferry ride from Manly Wharf to Circular Quay connecting with the F3 route to Cockatoo Island, passing under the harbour bridge and through parts of Sydney’s waterways that you don’t get to see on a daily commute to the city.

Once on Cockatoo Island, head through the Dog Leg Tunnel and stop at the small cinema to learn more about the island’s history. Continue on to the Visitor Centre where the friendly staff will give you a map of the island, the keys to your accommodation, a lantern and a welcome pack of popcorn and hot chocolate.

Our two-person glamping package included a pre-erected waterfront tent with two raised camp beds, double-layer blankets, two pillows, towels, reclining camp chairs and an Esky. Complimentary Apelles toiletries and the all important hot water bottles that meant we stayed warm and snug despite temperatures dropping to five degrees that night, were also provided.
Accommodation options include heritage holiday houses, apartments, four-person glamping and BYO camping.

See & Do
Cockatoo Island is best explored at a leisurely pace. The $5 self-guided audio tour is a great way to learn about the island’s illustrious history and how it continues to play a significant role in the preservation of Sydney. 

Over the winter, they hold two movie screenings in the Convict Centre, an early session for children followed by a 9.30pm session for adults. It doesn’t get more atmospheric than watching Shutter Island on Cockatoo Island! 

Other activities include workshops, exhibitions, events, and ghost tours. Or you can simply kick back, relax and enjoy the view.

Eat & Drink
Like any campsite, you need to take your own food, soft drink, cooking and eating utensils. The clean campground kitchen has fridges, electric BBQs, microwave, toaster, sinks, a ZIP hot water system and a large covered dining area overlooking the water.

As a heritage-listed island, there’s a strict no alcohol policy on Cockatoo Island, but you can buy beer and wine from the two licensed cafés for consumption on their premises.

Both Marina Café and Societe Overboard offer a small but tasty selection of food, just take note of their opening hours so you don’t go hungry. Societe Overboard also has BBQ Packs available if you order a minimum of 48 hours in advance. 


  • If you are a light sleeper, take some earplugs – the seagulls can be pretty loud in the morning!
  • Don’t wait for the 2pm check-in - arrive early, especially during the shorter days, and use the coin-operated lockers to store bags while you explore the island.

For prices and to book your stay, visit: