Cockatoo Island (25th June 2011)

"Ah, so nice to have other people make me breakfast," smiled Ken while Jono and I busied ourselves in the kitchen, taking turns to cook pancakes. We were all up around 9am and decided to have breakfast at home - nice mug of plunger coffee each to go with our pancakes drizzled with maple syrup (REAL maple syrup - I've got a part Canadian in the household, remember?). I don't mind the cooking since it was a Saturday and I didn't have to go to work. Plus I enjoy being in the kitchen with Jono preparing food together - fun activity in itself while sharing the effort :)

After breakfast and rounding up the boys to get ready to head out, we finally left home around 11am for Circular Quay where we bought ferry tickets from Sydney Ferries at Wharf 5 to Cockatoo Island (cost us $10.60 return ticket per person). We had just missed the ferry and the next one wasn't till 11.52am so we took a short stroll along Opera Quays to the Sydney Opera House to kill time. It was a beautiful sunny day with a light breeze - Sydneysiders and tourists out enjoying their day by the harbour, and plenty of activity on the water too!

We stopped to pick up takeaway lunch from a cafe on the way back to Wharf 5 only to end up running to catch our ferry and watched it leave without us. Argh, shouldn't have got my tuna sandwich toasted! Now we'll have to wait for the next ferry grr...All the stress and rush for nothing :< Jono found out that there was another ferry leaving in 10 minutes from Wharf 4 and asked the staff on duty if we could catch that ferry instead. Fortunately the staff were understanding and let us through the ticket barrier on presentation of our existing tickets without extra charge. Great job, Jono!

Finally, at 12.10pm, we were on board the ferry to Cockatoo Island. The journey took about half an hour with the ferry stopping several times including Balmain to drop off and pick up passengers along the way. We took our seats on the outdoor deck upstairs, eating our lunch (sadly my tuna sandwich was not any better toasted - yuck) and enjoying the amazing views of Sydney Harbour. I just love cruising on a boat!

Cockatoo Island is the largest island in Sydney Harbour and was Australia's biggest shipyard during the twentieth century. It was also formerly an imperial prison and its prison buildings are listed under the UNESCO's World Heritage list. I had briefly read about this island awhile ago and thought it would be interesting to check it out which was why the mini excursion to the island today (Jono and I had planned to come here last weekend but it was quite windy so decided to postpone the trip). As we approached the island, I was having second thoughts about bringing the boys along with me - all I could see were what looked like large warehouses and not quite the tourist destination I had envisaged. Oh well, we are here so let's see what it's all about...

On arrival at Parramatta Wharf, we were given a brochure with information of the island which included a self-guided tour map. A quick pit stop to grab some coffees from The Canteen (the only cafe on the island) just around the corner from the information centre, we began our walk on the lower part of the island. Walking through Mann Street into the Industrial Precinct, we stopped to check out the empty warehouses which during the island's shipbuilding heyday were filled with the sound of machinery and men at work - today, these warehouses are virtually silent with remains of large machinery to give us an idea of the scale of shipbuilding. There is also a Volunteer Conservation Workshop where volunteers help restore vital pieces of the island's history including its old, rusting machinery.

We continued on past The Dockyard, where its last major work was the maintenance and refit of the Navy's Oberon class submarines (this included the HMAS Onslow that Jono and I visited at the Australian National Maritime Museum sometime ago). If you plan to shortcut across the island, the Dogleg Tunnel takes you from The Dockyard all the way back to where the cafe is. Doubled as a bomb shelter during WWII, it now contains a soundscape that is both captivating and strangely eerie as you walk along a long wooden-beamed tunnel. There was a dark room near the exit which had a projector playing a video clip of a man running down the tunnel. I must say I felt a bit scared watching the video in a room that was pitch black and hearing the sound of heavy breathing - I couldn't see Ken or Jono at all! I think it's time we head out to where the light is...We then walked past the campground (you can hire the tents available and camp overnight at a cost) towards the lookout, looking at the many cranes left on Cockatoo Island and its magnificent brick chimney stack where it once generated electricity for the island.

A steep walk up Burma Road (named after the 1,150km WWII supply road which winds through the mountain range linking Burma with China) that connects the bottom of the island to the top (the upper island aka The Plateau), here you will find the convict-built remains of prison barracks, a military guardhouse (that doubled as a fort), and official residences. At one time, 500 convicts were held in these barracks - all crammed into dark cells gasping for air. And if prisoners decided to revolt, the guards could lock themselves in the guardhouse and fire out through the numbered embrasures.

The Plateau is a great vantage point of the surrounding harbour and city skyscrapers, and is also where you will find the tennis court and holiday houses, both of which can be hired. In fact, you can also hire parts of the warehouse for private events, workshops or conventions. It would be quite cool to have a private party on the island and/or have everyone camp overnight! There were also two exhibitions currently on from 4th June till 31 July on the upper island - A Different Time: The Expedition Photographs Of Herbert Basedow (black-and-white photos taken during Basedow's expedition in central and northern Australia, many of which feature the lives of the local Aboriginal people he met), and Lidcombe Design On Cockatoo Island (an interior design exhibition that visually displays the potential reuse of Cockatoo Island ranging from housing to restaurants).

The whole walk around the island takes about 90 minutes with plenty of time to wander. Frankly speaking, I enjoyed the ferry journey a lot more than visiting the island itself. Surprisingly, many of the visitors today where families with young children - I wonder what would kids find interesting in a small island like this...It was somewhat interesting to learn about the history of Cockatoo Island though I wouldn't recommend it as a tourist spot, especially if you're on a tight schedule visiting Sydney. Photos taken at Cockatoo Island here.

We took the 2.44pm ferry back to Circular Quay and then the train home in time to catch Michelle and Mike on the family Skype call before they headed out to dinner. Ken went to the nearby supermarket to pick up ingredients for dinner (he's cooking for us tonight) - I think he should be able to make his way home on his own okay on his second day in Sydney...

We had a chilled out evening, Jono packing his bag for his flight to USA tomorrow and Ken busy making sushi for dinner. Despite the limited ingredients Ken could find, he managed to improvise and made us all a yummy meal. Everyone had to make their own sushi, flattening the rice on small square nori sheets and adding fillings of our choice - avocado, salmon, teriyaki chicken, tomato in mayo, and tamago (sushi omellette). Messy but yum!

Hmm, last evening with Jono before he goes away to San Francisco for 6 weeks. I miss him already :( I'll be heading over at the end of his 5th week and spend the final week that he would be working doing touristy things in San Francisco on my own. The following week will be spent together travelling to places such as Napa Valley and Yosemite National Park. Looking forward to my upcoming holiday!


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