Camping in the heart of Sydney on Cockatoo Island

Cockatoo Island, in the middle of Sydney Harbour, has had a diverse history in its time. Although today it plays host to happy campers and day trippers, it has done time as both a colonial penal establishment and Australia’s biggest shipyard. The island’s latest incarnation is an increasingly popular tourist destination, which blends its industrial heritage with more modern day pursuits – camping, partying, a coffee stop for intrepid harbour kayakers. Cockatoo Island’s dockyard past is abundantly displayed in the large cranes and oversized rust-coloured metal constructions that remain scattered about the place, artworks in themselves. The convict quarters are now a photo opportunity for children and the massive turbine factory an exhibition space, available for rent.

We camped overnight, meeting up with friends. While our posse of children ran about, climbed a tree and played at adventuring and football, we sat around drinking G&T’s against the backdrop of this most beautiful harbour. Against the city skyline, yachts with bright red sails cavorted on the water, catching the blustery winds. Despite being literally in the middle of the city, a mere swim away from Balmain, the very nature of camping makes you feel “away from it all”, at peace and in the moment. Spending time with friends while the kids largely entertained themselves just added to the overall feeling of peace and wellbeing.

We zoomed over in our little boat, bouncing along the tops of the swell that the wind and clouds and ferries created in the harbour, much to my consternation. All morning I kept looking out the window at the trees blowing sideways and the heavy grey skies, saying “are you sure this is a good idea?”. But my dearly beloved, who has to put up with much wimpyness from me, was firm in his assertion that it would be okay and we stuck to the edges and stayed away from the main channel and of course it was fine. We even stopped over at the Fish Market for lunch on the way.

Despite being a less enthusiastic boatie, I actually love going to the fish market by boat – no cars, no parking queues and a generally feeling of smugness that we get to live in this beautiful city and take advantage of the water and sunshine and do something as ridiculously great as travel by boat!

Even though we weren’t officially “glamping”, camping at Cockatoo Island is so easy. The tents, mattresses and chairs for sitting in and watching dusk settle on the shoulders of Sydney are all provided as part of the package. Fridges, hot water, clean BBQ’s and bench seating for hungry children and chilled out adults make dinner and breakfast a breeze. If you are a bit bleary eyed in the morning, you can join the queue for a freshly made cappuccino from the cafe.

As everyone settled down for the night and I made my way back from last minute ablutions past dark and quiet tents, the sky cleared up and I could see Orion’s belt a million light years away. Out on the water, a party boat, an outline of orange lights and muted laughter, sailed by and Sydney, bedecked in its evening jewels of red and blue and white lights, twinkled on the far shore. All in all the perfect ending to a fabulous day.

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