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We arrived at Cockatoo Island with no expectations. We had simply chosen a destination within the ferry network that is wheelchair accessible and might make a fun family outing for the day. Almost a mystery accessible day in Sydney. Cockatoo Island

The ferry was full and it was an unusual mix of people heading to Cockatoo Island for the day. I started to wonder if we were on the wrong ferry. It turned out Cockatoo Island’s visitors could be broken up into three groups:

Group 1 – those heading for a relaxing day at the bar. Sitting in a deck chair, drink in hand, the only exertion would be watching the harbour activities.  They were suitably attired for a less taxing day so high heels and maxi dresses appeared to be the dress code for the girls. I felt decidedly frumpy in my sensible clothes.

Group 2 – this group had bags packed ready for a camping/”glamping” stay and were practically dressed. Most had a large esky (cooler box) with food supplies.

Group 3 – day trippers, like us, in practical outfits ready to see the sights. In retrospect Group 1 had a good plan!


Cockatoo Island
Cockatoo Island Bar

The bar looked like the place to be. There was a level path to get to the bar and front row seating to relax and enjoy Sydney Harbour. Not a bad way to spend a summer’s afternoon. We were there as a family so we didn’t go to the bar so I can’t give you any first hand experience, except to say it was busy.

More information on the bar and other food outlets here.


Cockatoo Island
Glamping at Cockatoo Island

We had a peek inside the “glamping” tents and chatted to some of the families.  The people we spoke with were on their second glamping trip to Cockatoo Island and were full of praise. The day we visited was a very hot summer’s day and there was little shade for the tents. I would think it would be uncomfortably hot in mid-summer but there were plenty of people doing it.

I am not a fan of camping or even “glamping”, preferring a hotel, but luckily I have a friend who has done this. She has a son the same age as Braeden and who also uses a wheelchair. She has kindly shared their family’s experience of ‘glamping’ so I can share it here on Have Wheelchair Will Travel.

Cockatoo Island
Glamping on Sydney Harbour

Janet’s family stayed one night doing the “glamping” option which included a two person tent (they hired 2 for their family), camp beds (2 singles or a double), and a bedside table that had a lift up lid which doubled as an esky (insulated). They also were provided with reclining deck chairs and lanterns.  The awning area provided enough shelter for their wheelchair and Kaye walker overnight but in substantial rain they felt it would have to be stored elsewhere.

The camp site itself is flat and accessible, with wide concrete pathways surrounding the area. There is easy access to the showers and toilets via paths.  The showers and toilets are basic as you would expect when camping but they are easily accessible, including bench seat in the shower.

There is a camp kitchen at one end of the campsite which includes undercover facilities including a communal fridge, tables and seating, BBQ and sink.

Janet’s family took the easy option and bought takeaway pizza from the bar for dinner and ate breakfast in the café (egg and bacon rolls and banana bread).

Janet said they found the lower level of the island mainly flat and accessible (including the old stores tunnel). The top part of the island their son managed in the Kaye walker (he must be a real champ because it is incredibly steep) but he needed to use his manual chair on the return trip. Zig-zagging down the hill works best to counteract the steepness.

The seagulls were an alarm clock in the morning and the boats on the harbour could be heard at night but Janet said “it’s all part of the experience of sleeping in the middle of Sydney Harbour!”

Overall Janet said it was “a great way to experience sleeping in a tent with minimal effort, all necessary equipment was provided and we easily filled in our time there (only 24 hours – for us this was enough as there’s not really that much to do although plenty of interesting history especially for ship enthusiasts) fantastic views and minimal travelling time”

Thanks Janet and family, I really appreciate the effort you went to sending me your impressions and experience of Cockatoo Island so I could share it with others.

For rates and more information go check out the Cockatoo Island website.

Check out a range of accessible Cockatoo Island accommodation on including glamping tents and cabins.


We enjoyed our day at Cockatoo Island, but I have to say unless you are sticking to the lower level the rest of the island is very steep. We managed it (well when I say ‘we’ that would mean Hubby managed to push Braeden in his manual wheelchair). The beautiful historic sandstone convict buildings are at the top of the island. The views from the top are spectacular with unobstructed views of the harbour. In an electric wheelchair it would certainly be easier.

Cockatoo Island

There are several self-guided walks suggested on a map when you get to the island. Audio tours are also available for a small fee. There is an outlined wheelchair accessible tour which covers the lower part of the island which is the workshops for the shipyards. Hubby thought this area was fascinating so I imagine lots of people would enjoy it. It wasn’t particularly of interest to the rest of us, though.

The convict buildings and residence on the island are beautiful buildings, but do involve going to the top of the hill.

If you are thinking of going to Cockatoo Island I would highly recommend checking their website to decide if it is going to be right for you, and planning your visit with the information they provide.

Cockatoo Island
Machinery at Cockatoo Island

We enjoyed catching the ferry to Cockatoo Island, having lunch at the café overlooking the harbour and a totally different Sydney experience. There’s a lot on this island but not all of it can be accessed with a wheelchair easily. Power wheelchair users, or those using a scooter will be able to explore much more of Cockatoo Island.

Cockatoo Island


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