Sydney Harbour is one of the city’s most spectacular natural assets. With inlets and harbour beaches there’s an endless supply of nooks and crannies to uncover. If you catch a ferry in Sydney Harbour, you’ll also see a splattering of islands. There are 5 islands in the Port Jackson area, all of which hold both cultural and historical significance. Many of the islands have Aboriginal heritage and reflect the European past with convict built structures and old forts.
Set in the middle of the harbour, Fort Denison is a short trip across the water by ferry from Circular Quay, Sydney Opera House and Woolloomooloo Bay. The fort, with its distinctive Martello tower, was completed in 1862. Often referred to as Pinchgut, it served as a jail for wayward convicts. It has also been used as a fishing spot, defense structure, navigational guide, tide gauge station, weather station and time marker. Today, it serves as a restaurant, events space and historic museum. Fort Denison is open every day to visitors – there are also tours available.
Shark Island is a small island at the mouth of Rose Bay. Up until 1975, Shark Island served as an animal quarantine area, a public recreation reserve and a naval storage depot. Today, Shark Island is a recreation reserve and part of the Sydney Harbour National Park. It has picnic shelters, a gazebo, large grassed area and a shallow beach - on Saturdays and Sundays there are four trips daily to the island from Circular Quay. The local Aboriginal people refer to the island as Boambilly, but the name Shark Island comes from its shape which is claimed to resemble that of a shark.
Clark Island lies opposite Darling Point. With wide grassy recreation areas and stunning views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, it’s the perfect spot for a picnic. The island is named after Officer Ralph Clark of the First Fleet, who set up a vegetable garden on the island. Today, the island is part of the Sydney Harbour National Park.
West of Circular Quay, Goat Island lies opposite the suburb of Balmain, and is situated at the junction of Darling Harbour and the main Sydney Harbour channel. Before the island became part of the Sydney Harbour National Park, it served as a quarry, convict stockade, explosives store, police station, fire station and boatyard! The island was even the film set for the popular Australian Drama Water Rats. Today the island is popular with picnickers – regular ferry services stop here.
Cockatoo Island is the largest in Sydney Harbour. Like the other islands, it has had a varied past. Initially a convict prison, it also served as an industrial school for girls and finally Australia's biggest shipyard. You’ll find the island near the Balmain peninsula where the Parramatta and Lane Cove rivers meet. Today, the island is open to visitors, who can explore the old sandstone convict jail, as well as the huge and cavernous industrial sheds, wharves, and sheds left over from its maritime past. There’s even a camping ground where you can pitch your own tent or stay in one provided. In the summer months, Cockatoo Island Bar opens, and day trippers can enjoy cocktails and drinks with the beautiful Sydney Harbour vista before them.
If you’re visiting Sydney, it’s worth paying a visit to Sydney Harbour’s beautiful islands. Make a day trip of it and hop on a ferry from Circular Quay for a picnic. It’s easy to get to Circular Quay from your accommodation – Sydney Harbour is a short distance from most inner city hotels in Sydney .