Things to do · Australia & New Zealand
July 30, 2019 Words: Alexandra Wilson

Everything You Need to Know about Cockatoo Island

From Glamping to Ghosts.


A UNESCO World Heritage site, a popular music and arts venue, and a former (and apparently very haunted) penal colony and institution for wayward girls, Cockatoo Island offers an eccentric range of experiences, to say the least—from waterfront camping to ghost tours to a world-renowned art fair held every two years from March to June. The island, which is believed to have been named for the Sulphur-crested cockatoos that used to frequent its shores, was cut off from the public for 100 years, and is now held up as a significant artifact of colonial expansion and the labor movement. It’s easily accessed by ferry, departing via Circular Quay, Darling Harbour, and Barangaroo. Enjoy!

A Short History of Cockatoo Island

Cockatoo Island has a dark and fascinating history. For the Eora people, the aboriginal people of Sydney’s coastal region, Cockatoo Island was called Waremah; it was mostly left alone by settlers until 1839, when a penal colony was established on the island—kind of like an Australian Alcatraz. Convicts, living in terrible conditions, built prison barracks, a military facility, residences and more. Escapes into the shark-infested surrounding waters were, er, understandably rare. It’s one of 11 Australian Convict Sites in the country, a place where visitors can learn about the history of forced migration from Great Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries, and how the convicts were exploited to further colonial development.

During the early 20th century, Cockatoo Island became the naval dockyard of the Royal Australian Navy, and during World War II served as a key ship repair facility in the southwest Pacific. In the years following, a union movement helped secure better working conditions for workers who had been serving in dangerous, substandard environments. Cockatoo Island’s dockyard finally closed in 1991.

The Sights of Cockatoo Island

The island is easily explored by foot—make sure to grab a map from the Visitor Centre before you get going. You can go it solo or join an On-Demand History Tour to discover the island’s unique heritage. (Make sure to book ahead of time.) Seniors tours are also offered. Shoot hoops at the harbor-side basketball court (basketball rentals available); play a game of chess on the island’s giant outdoor chessboard; or head to the Biloela House on the upper plateau to look through archival imagery of the island’s maritime history. If you’re hankering for a snack, grab a relaxed bite to eat on the waterfront at the outdoor Marina Cafe and Bar, or sip on a glass of wine and take in the sights of the harbor at Societe Overboard.

What’s up with the Cockatoo Island Ghosts?

Cockatoo Island is said to be one of the most haunted places in Australia, and considering the island’s grim history of untimely deaths and institutional abuse, that’s no huge shock! If you’re a thrill-seeker—better yet, a chill-seeker—this is the place for you. The island has allegedly been host to inexplicable sights, sounds, and smells, and even a poltergeist or two. A paranormal tour on the island, running Saturday nights, takes visitors on a creepy tour of the island’s violent past and uses EMF readers to detect paranormal activity. Brave overnighters can opt for a Ghostyard Deluxe Camping Experience. Trust us: it’s spooky.

How to Go Camping on Cockatoo Island

If you’re hoping to sleep under the stars but not so interested in encountering a ghost, you’ve got some great options. The island’s award-winning waterfront campground offers five different camping options at a range of budgets—a campsite where you can pitch your own tent; a camping package set up with a tent and sleeping mats; a deluxe camping package for two complete with raised beds, linens, and toiletries; a deluxe waterfront camping package for two with more space and amenities; or a two-bedroom deluxe waterfront camping package. All campers have access to bathrooms/showers, a firepit, and a communal kitchen, and there’s even an indoor cinema that can be booked. For more details, check out the website.

shutterstock 1342814840



Sign Up for Special Offers

By clicking on “Submit” and providing contact details Seabourn will use the information provided to contact me with marketing and promotional messages. You can opt out at any time. For more details, see the Seabourn Privacy Policy and Website Terms of Service.

Thank you for signing up for Special Offers.