Before planning this tour, check the disruptions to access page for Cockatoo Island to ensure you are allowed on.
Access: from bus stand D at Queen Victoria Building-QVB (or from after 10am also from the Art Gallery of NSW) catch a 441 bus to the end, Birchgrove Park. You can easily get to QVB or the Art Gallery via either Town Hall stations exit QVB, or train to St James Station exit Macquarie Street and walk along Prince Albert and Art Gallery Roads.
Fuel Stop: Pavilion with free WiFi (when you check in on Facebook) opposite the Art Gallery at the beginning of the trip does good breakfasts and cakes. If you train to St James Station, just exit at Macquarie Street and see opposite the Hyde Park Cafe which does decent breakfast. The Museum at the Barracks is also worth checking out.
Further along, on Cockatoo Island, there is a choice of two cafes. One right next to the ferry stop, and one on the other side of the island. You can also take a picnic.
Duration: Half day is ideal, full day also possible.
The walk: Get off at Birchgrove Park, walk down towards the water and enjoy the views of the Harbour Bridge, watch a footy game in the park, or sit on a bench for a few minutes before walking to the ferry stop. Check the timetable from Birchgrove via your TripView app, the ferry usually runs every half hour from Birchgrove and it’s 3 stops to Cockatoo Island. Clicking away a few annoying ads, you can enjoy free WiFi on the ferry for the short 10 minute trip to the island. It is a UNESCO World Heritage listed island, you can bring a picnic, camp, or just come for the day and enjoy a coffee or a meal with awe inspiring views.
When you get to the island, you have access to free WiFi – pop into the Visitor Centre on the right hand side for the password, they usually show it at the door, so you may not even have to go in for it, however it is very informative and they also sell a $5 audio tour. Toilets are behind the visitor centre near the chess game.
To the left of the ferry stop, you see a cafe – they have good coffee and despite the lack of competition “normal” prices.
Wander around the island at your own pace, if you come through the industrial building and turn right you get to the dock – a map can be accessed here or you can grab one from the Visitor Centre. You are guaranteed to have great views from almost everywhere on the island.
When taking the ferry back, unless you must go back to Darling Harbour, try and opt for the “slow” ferry rather than the Rivercat that does not stop at Darling Harbour, even though it only leaves roughly once an hour (check maps and timetables here for the ferry that stops at Woolwich, Greenwich, Birchgrove and Balmain). It is, beside the Manly Ferry, one of the most scenic (and most relaxed) ferry cruises you can do in Sydney. It would be a shame to miss the good bits zipping past on the fast Rivercat. The Rivercat is also at risk of being a whole lot busier – it comes all the way from Parramatta, but does have the benefit of being more frequent.
The ferry, whichever you choose, will drop you off at Circular Quay, where you have access to buses and trains.
Enjoy your day.