Review: Glamping on Sydney Harbour’s Cockatoo Island

Does Cockatoo Island offer Sydney’s best urban camping? We think so.

Despite being in the midst of one of Sydney’s coldest cold snaps earlier this year, we thought it would be fun to camp in the middle of Sydney Harbour with nothing but a tent, some blankets, and a hot water bottle to protect us from the winter chill – and it was amazing!


A UNESCO World Heritage Listed site known for its ship-building heritage, Cockatoo Island is now inviting travellers to linger longer in its purpose built glamping tents on the waterfront – or Millionaire’s Row as I like to call it.

I admit I’ve never been the biggest fan of camping. It’s nice and all, but when your knot skills have never progressed beyond the humble granny knot, it’s sometimes better to admit defeat and leave it to the professionals. Glamping on the other hand, I fully endorse. It offers all the fun of camping with no assembly required.


After arriving via ferry and checking in at the Visitor Information Centre, we were provided a map, a battery operated lantern, and a key to the padlock of our pre-erected glamping tent. Number 8 was our lucky number.

Inside, the two-person tents feature two raised camp beds with all linen, quilts and towels provided, along with a thicker blanket and water bottle in winter. While the length of the camp beds aren’t ideal for those of us over six feet tall, unless you like to dangle your feet over the end of the bed, they are comfortable enough to get a good night sleep.


Toiletries from Australian brand Appelles Apothecary, which now look right at home in our bathroom, are supplied to add a bit of luxury to the experience. A cool box (ice sold separately at the island’s bar) doubling as a bedside table is also provided to store any food items you’ve brought with you to prepare in the onsite camp kitchen. We opted to pre-order a breakfast hamper featuring the ingredients of a couple of bacon and egg rolls.

To take advantage of the incredible location, each of the glamping tents also has its own deck with two sun loungers. At the end of the day, this is the place for people watching, viewing harbour life, and witnessing incredible sunsets over million dollar homes – to the envious looks of passing ferry passengers.


Before sundowners though, it’s worth taking time to explore the island.

Visiting Cockatoo is like a crash course into the history of Sydney. Established as a penal settlement in the mid 1800s, it later transitioned into a service and repair location for Royal Navy ships, and eventually became the major shipbuilding and dockyard facility for the South West Pacific in WWII following the fall of Singapore.

Naval destroyers including HMAS Voyager and HMAS Vampire, both of which were longer than a football field, are just two of the noteworthy vessels constructed on the island. Another is HMAS Success, the largest ship ever built in Australia. Active to this day, the HMAS Success can still be seen in the harbour from time to time.


Shipbuilding continued until 1992, when the dockyard was closed. More than 40 buildings and docks were demolished, turning the island into a ghost town. Cockatoo laid dormant for a decade until Sydney Harbour Federation Trust assumed control of the site and embarked on the monumental restoration task at hand.

As a history buff, I found the island’s heritage sights fascinating. But even if you’re not big on history, there’s still plenty to see. For one, the views of the surrounding suburbs from the numerous vantage points and the urbex-worthy ship building facilities are worth making the trip alone, and will no doubt provide more than a few additions for your Instagram feed.


Though our visit was brief, it certainly won’t be our last.

Cockatoo Island regularly plays host to art exhibitions and major music events, including the Biennale, and makes a fantastic vantage point to watch the NYE fireworks display.

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When You Go

Getting there:

Cockatoo Island is about 10 minutes ferry ride from Circular Quay. Regular ferries depart from Circular Quay, as well as several inner harbour wharfs. You can also get there by water taxi, private boat, or even under your own steam by kayak.

Things to do:
Audio tours about the island’s history are available from the Visitor Centre for $5, or you can skip the audio and simply keep an eye out for the informative signage.

– We stayed as guests of Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

Written by
Chris Ashton

We're Chris Ashton and Simon Ceglinski, two Aussie travellers with a love of exploration and adventure, and the odd bit of luxury thrown in. We seek out street art, street food, and scuba diving wherever we go, and prefer the road less travelled over well-worn tourist paths.

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Written by Chris Ashton