A Visit to Cockatoo Island

I’ve been keen to visit some of the small islands in Sydney Harbour for many years. While we were there in March I was lucky enough to be able to visit Cockatoo Island.

Cockatoo Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has been many things ; a penal colony, a dockyard, World War II naval base, submarine repair facility and more recently, movie set and tourist attraction.

Getting to the island was pretty easy as it has a regular ferry service. As it turned out, the day I was there some areas were closed to public access because they were preparing for an upcoming event but as my ankle was sore from previous walking expeditions during the holiday and the weather was hot I decided to just see the things I was mostly interested in.

Camping, Cockatoo Island
Camping, Cockatoo Island

The first thing I could see from the ferry as we approached was rows of tents. You can stay on Cockatoo Island either camping in your own tent or one of theirs “glamping”which is a more fancy version of camping or staying in an apartment or heritage house. I would love to stay there myself but not in summer. I really don’t care for summer in Sydney.

Arriving at the island.
Arriving at the island.
Here is the entrance built during the naval era.
Here is the entrance built during the naval era.

When you arrive at the island there are several options for walks, you can  book a tour or follow a set route with a map or an audio tour. I preferred to wander about with the map.  I’ll describe the different features of the island chronologically even though geographically they are a bit more mixed up than that.

This is what the website has to say about the convict era remnants.

Convict trail:

For those interested in World Heritage and convict history and stories
A convict prison between 1839 and 1869, home at its peak to 550 men who built their barracks, forged their own prison bars and constructed Fitzroy Dock. Cockatoo Island, together with 10 other historic convict sites, is inscribed on the World Heritage List. This trail offers incredible evidence of human endeavour. Some attractions include:

  • Military Guardhouse – A garrison for British army ‘redcoat’ guards from which they could observe the prison block and if necessary fire their muskets through holes in the walls.

  • Mess Hall – Where convicts devoured their generous daily ration of one pound of fresh beef or mutton, twenty ounces of bread, and half a pound of vegetables.

  • Fitzroy Dock – Built for the Royal Navy from 1847-1857 mostly by convicts with their bare hands, often waist deep in water and in leg irons.

  • Convict Silos – Chiselled down by hand out of the island’s bedrock this series of silos are evidence of a remarkable colonial enterprise


One of the convict era buildings.
One of the convict era buildings.
Guardhouse Cockatoo Island Sydney
Ruins of the old Guardhouse
Convict built Fitzroy Dock
Convict built Fitzroy Dock

Maritime History

Although I am interested in our convict past I have to admit that on Cockatoo Island I was more interested in seeing the maritime relics. The first time that David and I visited Sydney soon after we were married I remember that we saw an Oberon Class submarine in the harbour. These vessels were maintained at Cockatoo Island which was still a working dockyard at that time.We were both quite excited about that.

One of the things I was rather intrigued by was the tunnels that crisscrossed the island. These would have been used for air raid shelters during the war years I think. This one, The Dog Leg Tunnel was not totally accessible but I did stop in to see the little theatrette showing historical films although I judged I would not have enough time to see them all.

One of the tunnels
One of the tunnels



This was taken at Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour once a naval dockyard.
This was taken at Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour once a naval dockyard.
An old rusting crane from the dockyard days.
An old rusting crane from the dockyard days.
Dockyard Cockatoo Island
Looking down onto the dockyard

Just look at that rock wall and imagine how hard it must have been for the convicts to cut into it to build the barracks and the docks with just hand tools.I thought the old rusting gantries and cranes made great subjects for photography. Although the stairs that lead down to the dockyard were rather scary to descend I enjoyed that part of the site the most.

rocks Cockatoo Island

My time on Cockatoo Island was too short. I hope on a future visit to go back and see more and who knows maybe even camp overnight. Oh, and the movie set I mentioned.  I didn’t see that particular area but part of the film “Wolverine” was made on Cockatoo Island.

Further Reading:




I was born in England in 1957 and lived there until our family came to Australia in 1966. I grew up in Adelaide, South Australia, where I met and married my husband, David. We came together over a mutual love of trains. Both of us worked for the railways for many years, his job was with Australian National Railways, while I spent 12 years working for the STA, later TransAdelaide the Adelaide city transit system. After leaving that job I worked in hospitality until 2008. We moved to Tasmania in 2002 to live in the beautiful Huon Valley. In 2015 David became ill and passed away in October of that year. I currently co-write two blogs on WordPress.com with my sister Naomi. Our doll blog "Dolls, Dolls, Dolls", and "Our Other Blog" which is about everything else but with a focus on photographs and places in Tasmania. In November 2019 I began a new life in the house that Naomi and I intend to make our retirement home at Sisters Beach in Tasmania's northwest. Currently we have five pets between us. Naomi's two dogs Toby and Teddy and cats, Tigerwoods and Panther and my cat Polly. My dog Cindy passed away aged 16 in April 2022.


  1. That must be for sure a paradise for photographers. Nice photos! Places with history often offer great opportunities for photographers and urban explorers, with all those old buildings. The first thing that came to my mind when I saw your photos was, that it would be a great place to take texture photos of all these walls, bricks, metals and so. I like textures, especially of old structures.


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