6 Things You Didn❜t Know About Cockatoo Island

  • Family

By: Alex Harmon, ellaslist
Nov 23, 2018

Did you know Sydney has its own treasure island? Except the treasure is mystery and history and haunting tales. Cockatoo Island has been a convict-era prison, a girl’s reformatory and a naval dockyard - For Sydney’s Aboriginal people, Cockatoo Island was known as Wareamah, believed to mean ‘women’s land’. Cockatoo Island intersects with the lands of the Wallemedegal, Wangal, Cammeraygal and Gadigal people.

To us parents it's a beautiful island in the middle of sparkling Sydney Harbour that represents an important part of Australia's history that offers guided tours, cafes, picnic spots, some of the best views of Sydney Harbour and plenty of opportunities to explore the Island’s layered history. It's so important that in 2010 parts of the Island became UNESCO world-heritage-listed along with 11 other sites.

Here are some more things you might not know about Cockatoo Island...

Family Ghost Tours

Every Saturday evening from 7pm, you can join an all-ages Haunted History Tour. Put on your brave face and experience Cockatoo Island’s most atmospheric landmarks, including the convict workshops and gaol, the grain silos, Dog Leg Tunnel and Biloela House. The guide will shiver your timbers with ghost stories that blend history with mystery! Find out more here. There’s also an adults only paranormal version that runs Saturday evenings from 9.30pm.

Sunset Sessions

It's not all gloom on the island, in fact there's lots of joy to be found including live music against the breathtaking backdrop of Sydney Harbour. Every Saturday evening (from 10 November 2018 to 16 February 2019) listen to home-grown musical heroes as they take to the stage on Biloela Lawn to perform original acoustic tunes.You can also enjoy food and drinks courtesy of the Marina Café & Bar. Find out more here.

Stay Overnight

Probably the most popular glamping spot in Sydney is found right here on Cockatoo Island. I mean it's not every day you get to go camping in the middle of world-famous Sydney Harbour AND have your tent put up for you. Bring the whole family and pretend you're hardcore campers... as you indulge in a few luxuries like toiletries from Appelles Apothecary, hot showers, a communal camp kitchen - and did we mention waterfront harbour views? Find out about our camping trip to Cockatoo Island here.

Steam Crane Demos

The kids will love this! Installed on Cockatoo Island during the early 1900s, the No. 2 Travelling Steam Crane is amongst the oldest surviving examples of its kind in Australia. Today, thanks to the Harbour Trust’s Volunteer Restoration Team, the crane has been restored to its former, steam-powered glory and you can be part of the action if you attend one of the upcoming steam crane demonstrations! Find out more here.

School Holiday Activities

Imagine the stories kids would have to tell their friends after doing vacation care in an old prison! Kids get to experience the escapades of the early convicts through fun and physical games, shadow puppetry and performance. Offered every school holidays, (Monday to Friday) for just $12 per child. Find out more here.

Guided Tours/Day Visits

Why should the kids have all the fun? Cockatoo Island is also open for day visits and entry is free to the public.

With its panoramic Harbour views, tranquil picnic spots and waterfront cafés, Cockatoo Island is an ideal R&R setting, removed from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Be part of a guided tour of the island, or if you prefer things at your own pace, take a self-guided audio tour (be warned this could feel rather spooky!) Learn about the history of Cockatoo Island, the incarcerated prisoners and sad tales of those who drowned trying to escape. Choose from 60min or 90min tours. Find out more here.

Looking For More Unique Sydney Fun?

Sydney's Secret Beaches
Things To Do At Lane Cove National Park
Best Sydney Festival Events For Families 


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Images supplied by Harbour Trust