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.
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!
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.
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!