Cockatoo Island

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Cockatoo Island for grey nomad campers
Bright lights, big city ... the amazing view from Cockatoo Island. Photo: Tourism NSW

While a trip into the heart of Sydney doesn’t normally put grey nomads in mind of magnificent camping, and the opportunity to explore historic islands, that could all be about to change.

The Sydney Harbour Federa­tion Trust, which manages the world-heritage-listed Cocka­too Island, is on a mission to attract more nomads … and the appeal is clear to see. If you’re looking for a super central location to stay while you leave your caravan or motorhome elsewhere, then Sydney Harbour’s largest is­land could be the perfect place for you.

What has been billed as the world’s first urban waterfront campground is just a short ferry ride from Circular Quay, Darling Harbour and several other inner city wharves. You can bring your own tent, or bring your own sleeping bags to sleep in an already set-up tent, or treat yourself to a full luxury ‘glamping’ experience. For those nomads really keen to indulge themselves, there is also a range of ‘non-canvas’ accommodation options avail­able.

While camping on a water­front site with views over one of the most spectacular harbours in the world is an experience even the most diffi­cult-to-impress nomad would definitely want to note in their travel journals, day trippers can still have a memorable experience here.

Cockatoo Island has an amazing history. It was a convict gaol from 1839-1869, a reformatory and industrial school from 1888-1908, and a dock and shipbuilding yard from 1847-1992. The shipyard closed in 1992 and, in 2001, the Sydney Harbour Fed­eration Trust took ownership of the site. After extensive remediation works, Cocka­too Island was opened to the public in 2007.

The best way to explore Cock­atoo Island is on foot, and the Harbour Trust has cre­ated four self-guided walking journeys and included them on a map which is available from the Visitor Information Centre. Alternatively, an audio tour can bought for $5 which guides visitors to 26 stops across the island.

Besides learning about the island’s fascinating history and enjoying its amazing views, visitors can hire a boat to hit the water, or they can do so in their own kayak, or they can take some amazing photos of the harbour and the historic convict buildings, or just enjoy a picnic or barbecue on either the Upper or Lower Island.

There are also a number of cafes for a coffee or a snack, and the waterfront Island Bar, which is made from recycled shipping containers, is open in the spring and summer months.

It’s unique, interesting and exciting. And, like Tasmania’s Port Arthur before it, this is one former convict colony you won’t be in any hurry to escape from.

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