Cockatoo Island

Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour

With a long and rich history, great views and plenty of space for kids to run Cockatoo Island is an awesome place for a Family Day Out. I reckon you could visit a couple of times and not get bored.


Here is a review of Cockatoo Island and guide of how to see it and what to pack! 


Cockatoo Island is great for tourists interested in Sydney’s history and those just wanting to get a different perspective of the harbour. For locals Cockatoo Island is great fun for families with young kids.


What is Cockatoo Island

Cockatoo Island is a UNESCO world-heritage-listed island. It is the biggest island in Sydney Harbour bang in the middle of the meeting of the Parramatta and Lane Cove Rivers.


Cockatoo Island in history 

  • In 1839 Cockatoo Island was chosen by the Governor as the new Convict Gaol.
  • In 1850 building is commenced by the convicts to assist the Royal Navy.
  • From 1850 to 1992 Cockatoo Island was a fully functioning dockyard.

cockatoo island in sydney's harbour is a great day out


How to get to Cockatoo Island

Needless to say you have to get to Cockatoo Island by ferry.  There are plenty of options of getting there:

  • using the RiverCat service from Parramatta which stops at various locations
  • on a harbour city ferry from Darling Harbour or Circular Quay

where is cockatoo island
where is cockatoo island

The closest wharf to Cockatoo Island is Valencia Street wharf at Woolwich is the closest stop to Cockatoo, it’s just a five minute ferry ride. Huntley Hill is also a good option as it is … Minutes away. Both of these options away have unmetered parking as you may be there for quite some time.

You can take a pram and do most of the walk with a pram, it will take you just a bit longer because you will have to back-track in order to get down to the lower level.

The Island is on two levels with a single uneven hill connecting the two – on the other side of the upper level are steps which the non-pram-weilding members of your group can walk down.

Cockatoo island map
There are audio tours, group tours and 2 self guided journeys all detailed on on their website (current as at July 2016).


How to walk through Cockatoo Island

1. Arrive at the entrance and immediately get a coffee. The coffee is good but the service not so put your best smile forward.

2. Get over to the Visitor’s Centre and grab a map. For a few bucks you can get the delux Tour Book which is functional and a great keepsake. I’ve included a picture below so you know what you’re looking for.

cockatoo island history
3. Head off along the water past the tents (yes you can camp there). You will pass tunnels along the way and if you’re with a toddler they will most likely want to explore these, these take you to the other side of the island so may put you off track if you head off that way.

4. Head up the incline to visit the isolation barracks and the houses on the hill. The views from up here are gorgeous.

cockatoo island is great family fun

visiting the old gaol cells on cockatoo island   the old tunnels running through cockatoo island
whats on cockatoo island

5. If you don’t have a pram you can come back down along the stairs and head to the Docks Precinct Side of the island. If like us you had little kids and a pram head back down a maybe have something to eat before exploring the otherside of the Island.

6. Walk through one of the tunnels and check out the Southern side of the Island.

7. Check out the Docks Precinct and maybe have a bathroom and coffee break.

8. Move up to the Ship Design Precinct.

9. Stop to check out the views of the City and then on to the Industrial Precinct.

many movies have been filmed at cockatoo island

We ate at the restuarant at the entrance of the Island and while the food was okay the service was awful and would rather take a picnic that eat there again. Asking for extra ketchup was treated like a hostile takeover or a request for her bone marrow. Maybe she was having a bad day but I somehow don’t think so.


  1. Some food. It’s a long day.
  2.  A scooter or bike.
  3. Jerseys for the little ones, it’s cold on the water in the afternoon, inside the working areas and on the shadowed side of the Island in the afternoon.
  4.  Hats and sunblock.
  5. Camera or at least your phone. The views are gorgeous.
  6. Instead of taking a handbag, take a backpack (never in my life would I thought I would say those words).
  7. Comfy shoes for walking. There is a lot of walking and the surfaces aren’t always even or clean.

beautiful views of sydney from cockatoo island

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