Review: Cockatoo Island


On the last weekend of the spring school holidays I took the family for a sleepover. A sleepover with a twist; we went glamping on Cockatoo Island.

Hubby and the girls at the accommodation office on Cockatoo Island

Hubby and the girls at the accommodation office on Cockatoo Island

View of the tents on Cockatoo Island. Our tent was near the water. What a wonderful view!

View of the tents on Cockatoo Island. Our tent was near the water. What a wonderful view!

I was so excited and so were the kids. I was looking forward to exploring what the island had to offer, relaxing at a cafe and later at our tent with a glass of wine watching the sun set and the boats go by. Some of this happened but not the way I had envisioned.

Getting to Cockatoo Island

As the name suggests it is an island and the only way there is by boat or ferry. We were lucky to park the car where hubby works so that saved with money for parking for the weekend, and then walked around the corner to the ferry. We had to take the ferry to one stop due to low tide and then get a bus to the next place to get the ferry all the way to Cockatoo Island. This was great for the girls as they loved the fact that we took a car, ferry, bus and then finally ferry again. A big adventure just to get there.

Cockatoo Island Wharf, Cockatoo Island. Sydney Harbour.

Cockatoo Island Wharf, Cockatoo Island. Sydney Harbour.

The girls on the wharf waiting for our ferry back to the city.

The girls on the wharf waiting for our ferry back to the city.

What did we pack?

If you are staying on the island you need to make sure you bring everything you need with you. This is why I decided on glamping as it means we are not carrying too much with us.

We took the following with us:

  • Change of clothes for everyone. Basically just a shirt, shorts and other essentials
  • We all had one pair of shoes, however since it was 34 degrees for nearly both days we were there a pair of thongs could have come in handy
  • Food for dinner, we had a BBQ that we organised ourselves
  • Plates, cups, forks, knives, spoons and so on.
  • Weet-Bix for the twins and 5ooml of milk that was in a cool bag (kids are fussy and having breakfast for them was essential. Hubby and I waited till the cafe was open and had a bacon and egg roll)
View of the buildings and cranes on Cockatoo Island

View of the buildings and cranes on Cockatoo Island

 What can you do on Cockatoo Island?

  • Explore the island
  • Get a tour by a guide or do a self guided tour
  • Learn about the buildings and the history
  • Kids can collect clues and colour in a book that you can get from the vistors centre
  • Relax with a nice drink and watch the stunning harbour view
  • Have a lovely BBQ
  • Camp and stay over on the island


 What did we do?

After we arrived we organised our ice for our esky and then made sure we had wine for the evening. Silly to have to race to do this but the place to purchase wine closes at 4pm and we had a 2pm check-in. Once this was organised we relaxed a bit in our wonderful tent.

The tent and amenities that were provided were wonderful. The glamping tent came with camp beds, linen, towels, toiletries – soap, shampoo, conditioner and the like. It was a huge tent and I am glad I did not have to carry it or put it up. It was good to have it there and ready for us when we arrived.

After we sorted ourselves out we then went off to explore the island. We did get the self-guided tour (headphones that when you enter a number it tells you about a certain area or building), we just explored and had some fun. It was a hot day and the kids had fun running around and looking at the wonderful view.

The beautiful sunset that we saw on Sunday the 5th of October while on Cockatoo Island.

The beautiful sunset that we saw on Sunday the 5th of October while on Cockatoo Island.


I wore my Fitbit Flex and I did the following steps:

  • 17,480 Steps on Sunday (this was the hottest day and of course we did the most walking! The twins met a friend in the tent next to ours and ran around so they must have done well over 20,000 steps as they were running around like mad people)
  • 9,987  Steps on Monday

So as you can see you do a lot of walking! So make sure to wear comfortable shoes.

What did we eat?

I went shopping and got some sausages, chops (otherwise known as roast beef on the bone), and some nice bits of steak for a BBQ. We also purchased some fresh bread rolls, salad and and drinks to take with us. I froze the drinks so that they would stay colder longer. This was a good help especially with a very hot day that I did not expect.  The island has a wonderful kitchen facility for all that stay and we used this area to cook and eat our BBQ feast. Since we made friends with our neighbours we ended up having dinner with them as well. It was a nice evening.

BBQ, Kitchen and eating area for those who camp on Cockatoo Island.

BBQ, Kitchen and eating area for those who camp on Cockatoo Island.

Before I went to Cockatoo Island, I did some research and realised that the pizza place on the island closed at 3pm to families…YES silly really. The weekend we visited, it was the October long weekend, the start of daylight savings and also still school holidays. So why close a place where families can eat and enjoy the island from your cafe/restaurant. I was told when I emailed before our visit that the owner has it as an adults only area after 3pm and if we wanted to come back during the weekday, not school holidays or the weekends it will be fine. I did mention that we were visiting on the weekend and due to school holidays that being there on a weekday would not be possible. I also explained that we were there for a family outing so having children with us was a given.

This is why we chose to take food for a BBQ for our dinner on the Sunday evening.

Other areas that offered food were all closing at about 3pm or 4pm… weird? Why did they not stay open to at least 7pm or 8pm or later… it was of course an island, people were staying there and they in turn could make more money. Strange if you ask me. You are stuck on an island where businesses could earn more if they stayed open and catered more for their customers.

Not sure if there is a reason for this but we could not understand it.

If you are thinking of staying on Cockatoo Island it is a wise idea to bring your own food if you have kids. Most likely places will not be open or if they are your child might not like what is on the menu. It is not like you can go down the shops to get what you need when you are in the middle of Sydney Harbour.


There is a fire pit and the ranger on the island lit it for the evening.

There is a fire pit and the ranger on the island lit it for the evening.


Things that need improvement

  • More family friendly businesses. Families with kids go to Cockatoo Island for something to do and they are prepared to spend when they are there, even more if you are staying on the Island. To not have venues happy to accept families was a major disappointment. I was so looking forward to sipping a cocktail while having dinner and looking at the harbour. This was not to be due to the fact the only place to do this did not cater for families. I spoke to other families and they said the same thing. Families with kids are being discriminated against and this is a big negative for a fantastic venue like Cockatoo Island.
  • Open longer and provide places for kids to be while parents are allowed to eat.
  • We tried to rent a boat to go around the island but when hubby tried to do this he was told to call a number to organise. He said that if he had known this we would have done it before we arrived. However the website said it can all be arranged from the island. We did call the person on the number we were given and the person called back and then found us to discuss renting a boat for all four of us. He took one look at the twins and realised they were tiny. He asked how old and we told him they were six. He said that it depends on life jackets for the kids as we all had to be safe. He came back with the smallest life jacket he had and tried it on one of the girls. It was too big and that meant we could not go on the boat. We understood this and don’t want to not be safe. However if we were able to organise this before we got to Cockatoo Island maybe we might have been able to rent the boat and have this experience. This also means that the money for the boat hire, about $100 was not earnt and this person lost out on the money. Better organisation would mean a better experience and more money in the businesses pockets. A win, win really.
  • Staff argued with us when we questioned why they took the lids off our bottles of wine when we purchased them (Having staff that don’t argue might be a good idea). You are not allowed to take alcohol on the island and we did not. You are only allowed to purchase it there and drink it in certain areas. The cafe/bar where you buy it, or say your tent or BBQ/Kitchen area. We made sure to purchase ice for our esky that was provided and not having any lids on bottles of wine made it hard to fit everything back into the esky. We were told that not having any lids on the wine is for our safety. Really why is not having a lid something that makes it safe?

    Not having a lid makes it more easily spilt, or drunken by other people that are not supposed to have it. Having a lid on a bottle of wine is from my understanding safer than not having a lid on it.

Cockatoo Island Promo Shot from their website. It shows a lid on a wine bottle although this is not allowed for your safety of course.

Cockatoo Island Promo Shot from their website. It shows a lid on a wine bottle although this is not allowed for your safety of course.

  • Seagulls are everywhere, and they are feral! I don’t know what can be done but they need to try and remove them or at least make it easier for the vistors to the island. When we were doing the clue finding with the kids we had to leave many areas as the seagulls were nesting and had eggs that they were protecting. They were getting rather upset and some were looking like they might attack. All they need is a kid to be attacked or something bad to happen and then there might be a major issue. We were fine and left them well alone, however the kids did point out that the island should be renamed, Seagull Island rather than Cockatoo Island.

As you will see the promo image from the Cockatoo Island website shows that you can sit at your tent with a nice glass of wine with a lid on the bottle no less. However when you get there for the same experience, lids were confiscated and the top of the bottle was stuffed with kitchen paper to make up for the missing lid.


Looking at the fire while the sun sets on Cockatoo Island

Looking at the fire while the sun sets on Cockatoo Island

What to pack if you wish to stay on Cockatoo Island

  • Food if you wish to have a BBQ or if you have kids with you
  • Lids for wine or anything that might have lids taken away from you
  • Cups, plates, knifes, forks, spoons, bowls,cups, glasses, and so on if you are bringing food
  • Change of clothes, change of shoes if it becomes cool. We just brought walking shoes and as it was hot did not have thongs or sandals
  • Hat
  • Suncream
  • Toilet paper. The ladies toilets were fine and always had adequate paper but hubby said the mens did not. So we were lucky to have some with us.
  • Note: there is no power for electrical items so make sure you charge your phone and devices ahead of time. My iPhone 4s died early into our first day there so that was not good but to be expected. It is an old phone that has a battery that is on its way out. I am hanging for the new iPhone.
  • Games for the kids. Card game, a ball or maybe a board game for something to do after you are back at your tent
Enjoying the fire and outdoors on Cockatoo Island

Enjoying the fire and outdoors on Cockatoo Island

Did we enjoy Cockatoo Island?

We had a great time but some of the things that we expected made the trip for hubby and I not as great as we hoped. Just a little more work on what they offer from hours and accessibility for families to services, and customer service side would have made it fabulous. From my perspective, Cockatoo Island needs to think about who visits their island. It is most likely families who come for a day or stay over, that said they are there to have fun and spend money. It is hard to do this when you cannot due to businesses not catering for families who are prepared to spend when they are there. Think about returns that they have lost due to such silly decisions to close a venue off to families at 3pm.

I loved camping, being somewhere different and it was great as it was a holiday without having to go to far from  home.

Relaxing at our tent on Cockatoo Island

Relaxing at our tent on Cockatoo Island

The kids loved it and enjoyed racing around and exploring everything. It was the first time for the kids to go camping or really glamping. I did tell the kids that normally we would be camping in a sleeping bag not a bed setup with all the bed made for us.

We would definitely go back. Now we know what we need to do for our next stay or we could just do a day trip. Hubby would like to learn more about the buildings and one day we will go back to learn more.

Have you been to Cockatoo Island? Did you stay over? What did you think? Did you have fun?

Our tent when we were glamping on Cockatoo Island

Our tent when we were glamping on Cockatoo Island

7 Responses
  • Jocelyn T
    October 19, 2014

    Good to have an honest review! I’ve always wanted to go to Cockatoo Island. Sounds like they need to iron out a few problems first!

    • Suzanne
      October 19, 2014

      Thanks Jocelyn, We did have a good time. However if the other things happened we would have had a fabulous time. It is well worth a visit, and the view is amazing. Wish I had a house with that view. Maybe one day. 🙂

  • Jackie
    October 20, 2014

    Hi Suzie, I loved reading your review because it was so full of detail and actually even with those issues that you pointed out I still want to go one day just for fun. The ferry ride there being a definite bonus. 🙂

    • Suzanne Robinson
      January 3, 2018

      Thanks Jackie. Glad it gave you a good idea of what to expect. Yes, the ferry ride was fun.

  • Annie
    February 27, 2015

    That’s a really good review and with some valid points about what needs to be done to encourage more visitors, and ultimately provide better customer service. The wine bottle lid thing is very odd – I don’t know how safe it is to have drinks without lids, meaning kids could access the contents more readily. Never heard of that.

    I haven’t been to Cockatoo Island, and not sure if its on our list anytime soon, but it was great to read of your experience.

  • Kris
    June 6, 2015

    Thank you for this review.. we are on our way to Cockatoo and I know this may have been a last minute research. But this gets me to what I will be expecting for our 2-night stay! Thank you.

    • Suzanne
      June 7, 2015

      Hi Kris, I’m so glad that the review helped you out. Hope you enjoy your time on Cockatoo Island. Suzanne

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