Sydney Harbour islands
Discover the fascinating convict history of Fort Denison on a guided tour. You’ll need to reserve a table for lunch at Fort Denison Restaurant, which has sweeping views of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Pack a picnic hamper and visit Shark Island, where things to do include snorkelling and swimming.
Go camping on World Heritage-listed Cockatoo Island, which was once a harsh penal colony. You can also stay in heritage buildings on the island, which hosts cultural events and has cafés and a bar.
Island hopping on Sydney Harbour
Sydney Harbour is dotted with small islands, some of which can be accessed by visitors. Cockatoo Island and the much smaller Fort Denison were both Aboriginal fishing grounds before European settlement and both played a part in Australia’s convict history.
Fort Denison was known to Aboriginal people as Mat-te-wan-ye, meaning a steep rocky island, before it became a prison and defensive facility. It was nicknamed Pinchgut because convicts were held there in leg irons with rations of only bread and water. The Martello tower, completed in 1857, was built with 8,000 tonnes of sandstone.
Cockatoo Island is named after the sulphur-crested cockatoo, a large white parrot with a distinctive yellow plume. The island’s prison buildings are on the World Heritage list along with 10 other Australian convict sites. You can camp on Cockatoo Island in permanent tents, or stay in heritage buildings associated with the island’s past as a naval shipyard.
Shark Island, so-called because of its shark-like shape, is Sydney’s most popular picnic island with grassy areas to sit on, large trees offering shade and wonderful views of the harbour in all directions. Ferries from Circular Quay, near the Sydney Opera House, service all three islands.