Camping on Cockatoo Island

What a treat! Camping in the middle of Sydney Harbour with uninterrupted views of the sun rising over the Harbour Bridge! Must be a private resort? No!  This harbour gem is owned and managed by the Sydney Harbour Trust and is open to the public.

Cockatoo Island is the largest island in Sydney Harbour.  A UNESCO World Heritage site with a busy history, its been a place for indigenous women’s business, convicts, a reform school for women and girls and most recently a shipyard.

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The bar was serving drinks and hamburgers and closed at 6 PM

The various buildings leftover from these previous uses are still in place and many are open for public viewing.  The island re-opened as a picnic spot and cultural precinct in 2007 after the shipyards closed in the late 1980s.

Camping on Cockatoo Island

Aside from day visits, you can camp on Cockatoo Island. You can either bring all your own gear or rent a tent with beds and linen.  The accommodations are basic but comfortable. There is an amenities block with hot showers and toilets, a laundry block and a camp kitchen. There are three cafes, however these close fairly early in the evening, so don’t rely on them for dinner. (Closure times were affected by COVD restrictions so check it out before you go) You can not take alcohol onto the island although you can buy some limited takeaway supplies from the cafes. Your bags may be checked at the wharf by security or rangers.

The camp kitchen has a toaster, microwaves, fridges and plenty of BBQ plates. There is no other cooking equipment, so you need to come properly prepared as you would for any camping venture. Given you need to take it on a public ferry, you also need to be pretty frugal with your packing!

The campsites are unpowered. There are power points (only 4) at the camp kitchen and in the shower cubicles. Take your own torch for inside the tent, or hire a lanterns from the site officce.

When I visited, in July 2020, the number of tents had been reduced by half to ensure there was adequate spacing between them and to reduce the number of people on the island due to COVID. There were only 2 other tents in use the night I stayed, so it was certainly not crowded! There are rangers and security guards on duty 24 hours, so I felt safe and secure. You might want to take a small padlock to secure the zippers on your tent when you are out and about during the day.

The setting is amazing! Massive metal structures, cranes and slipways all creating tantalizing backdrops for photographers. I wandered around after dark looking for spooky spots! The staff organise a fire pit when the weather is fine so perhaps you’d like to take a guitar and sit around the fire and sing! There is a ghost tour as well if you wanted to book. This is currently on hold due to COVID!

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By happy coincidence, the  Sydney Biennale, an art exhibition, was on during my visit. It is normally on in March but had been postponed because of, you guessed it, COVID!

How to get to Cockatoo Island.

There are very regular ferry services to Cockatoo Island leaving from Wharf 5 at Circular Quay. Rivercat ferries heading downriver to Parramatta and the ‘normal’ green and yellow harbour ferries both visit the Island.  They start early and finish late so you should not have trouble getting there.

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one of the many shipbuilding cranes still in situ.

The bloody seagulls!

My only complaint, if it is one, where the bloody seagulls! There were plenty of them and it was mating season.  They were also very loud and territorial, much more so than the other times I had visited. I didn’t think I would be able to sleep but their raucous squawking did not end up bothering me too much. I didn’t see a single cockatoo!

 

How much does it cost to camp on Cockatoo Island?

The cost of the ferry will depend on what day you go and ranges from $2.50 – $6 one way. The deluxe camping package which is the deal I took was $155 per night. I could have got a 20% Biennale discount but I did not see the promo until after I had already booked. I purchased some groceries from the Woolworths near Wynard Station. This is the closest supermarket to the Quay. I bought items that I could heat up in the microwave.  I had my cutlery kit with me so I was all set for a cheap night in!

Mt rating for this venue is 5 stars! If you had a group of buddies to sit around the campfire with on a frosty winter night – 10 stars! If you’re a photographer – 12 stars!

Victorian Fortifications at Middle Head.

Cheapskate travel in Sydney!

I recently took a day trip from sunny Wollongong (best place on Earth!) to the big smoke of Sydney to check out the Victorian-era fortifications at Middle Head. There is nothing quite like being a tourist in your own patch. You speak the language, know the lingo, and you don’t have to exchange any money. And you don’t have to self-isolate for 14 days afterwards!

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Verdigris – metal meets elements

I am living a Year of Zero and have given myself a strict travel budget to follow. It’s pretty close to zero! I factored in an allowance for some short local experiences to stop me from going completely crazy.  This expedition was cheap!  If you travel on a Sunday, your public transport fares will max out at $2.80, and if you bring your own food, you don’t need to spend anything else all while enjoying million-dollar harbour views. I went on a Friday, but still, the daily cap is just over $16.

It was an easy half-day excursion which I rounded off by heading over to another lovely harbour location – Cockatoo Island for the (free)  Sydney Biennale exhibition. I’ll write a separate post about that.

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One of the metal rails used to slide the cannon.

New “Old” Stuff in Australia.

While Australia may be the continent with the oldest human culture on Earth, it’s not big on castles, paleolithic excavation sites or massive cathedrals. The oldest building in Sydney, Elizabeth Farm, is only 227 years old. The oldest (non-indigenous) structure in Australia is a stone fort built by shipwreck survivors from the Batavia. The Batavia was wrecked in 1629 near the (now) town of Geraldton.

Prior to European settlement, Middle Head was home to the Borogegal People, the Traditional Custodians of Headland Park.  I acknowledge and thank them for their continuing care of the land that is, was, and always will be theirs.

While our indigenous culture is rich and old, our European culture is only a pup in global terms. None-the-less there are still some interesting things to see for those with an interest in history. The Victorian-era fortifications at Middle Head near Mosman are just such a place.

The first fortifications on the site were built in 1801 and the larger battery positions were constructed in 1871.

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Middle Head is, well in the middle of Sydney Harbour, and is a very good defensive point to prevent ships coming into the Harbour itself. In addition to the concrete fortifications, there are some old army barracks from the 1940s, most of which are currently empty, and crying out for gentrification.

The Sydney Harbour Trust and the NSW National Parks rent out the Officers Quarters as holiday lettings. (Currently $400 – 600 for 2 bedrooms with  a total of 4 beds)

How to get to the  Fortifications at Middle Head:

  • From Taronga Zoo: Catch a ferry from Circular Key to Taronga Zoo and then walk along the headlands. Rather than cutting across to Balmoral Beach as shown in the map, walk downhill near HMAS Penguin on Middle Head Road or Chowder Bay Road. After you have finished at the fortifications, you can continue on to Balmoral Beach for lunch and coffee and then catch a number 245 bus back to Wynyard Station. The is a handy bus stop at the corner of Raglan Street and the Esplanade. Be on the shop side of the road. The walk is about 8 km all up. Also, see Wild Walks for good directions.
  • Directly from Wynyard Station: If you don’t want such a long walk, catch the No. 244 bus from Stand A in Carrington Street, and get off at the stop just past HMAS Penguin. Then walk around to Balmoral Beach. It’s a relatively easy walk of about 1.5 km on a paved surface. Catch the No 245 bus back to Wynyard Station from the southern corner of Raglan Street and the Esplanade.

Word of Caution: Check the timetables before you go to make sure you don’t get stuck! The TripView App or the NSW Transport webpage will help here. Google Maps also has info about timetables.

Food, Water and Toilets!

If you decide not to bring your own food, there are two cafes (Middle Head Cafe and Burnt Orange). There are more places to eat at Balmoral Beach. The Bathers’ Pavilion is pretty swanky and definitely beyond my budget. (Set menu $110 pp!)  However, Balmoral Beach is a great place for a picnic, so I’d pack a healthy and more frugal lunch box if you are also keen on saving some money.

I went on this little excursion while some COVID restrictions were still in place and chose only to get a takeaway cup of tea. Things were still a bit awkward as you needed to book ahead, and there was reduced capacity, so it was hard to just rock up and expect service at the cafes. There are some fish and chip places which are not dine-in.

There are toilets at the entrance to the Middle Head Park just past the boom gates and at the building near the round-a-bout as you get off the bus. There are several sets of toilets along the Esplanade at  Balmoral Beach

There are water fountains on Balmoral Beach, or fill up at the taps at the loos.

PS: The Old Chooks made a comeback and travelled with me. Don’t tell Iain he’ll be furious he was left at home on the shelf!

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Trams in Sydney – Mini Doc Week 8

The return of trams to George Street.

This week’s short clip about the return of the Light Rail System (aka trams) to Sydney.

George Street is back in order and the new routes between Circular Quay and Central and  Central out to Randwick are up and running as of the end of January 2020. The line going out to the Inner West suburbs has been operating since 1997, although the final extension to Dulwich Hill was not completed until 2014. This line follows the old goods line route.

The last of Sydney’s old trams ran to Kingsford in February 1961. They were closed down as the popularity of cars increased. In hindsight, not a great decision as traffic has become such a huge problem.

Thankfully, the ugly Monorail which operated from 1988 – 2013 has been pulled down.

 

The next step in Sydney’s transport system is the completion of the now under construction  Metro System. If you’re interested in the old-style trams, visit the  Tram Museum in southern Sydney near the Royal National Park.

The footage was filmed in March 2020, on my iPhone and edited using iMovie on my phone. In the voiceover, I mispronounce Circular Quay but I wasn’t going to do it again!!!!

The music is from Purple Planet.

PS: This may well be the last Mini Doc of the Week for a while! As I have said in previous posts the challenge is becoming too much of a challenge and causing me some unexpected anxiety.  It may become Mini doc of the Month with some other things thrown in in the intervening weeks.