Snezana Belevska-Bennell packs up three generations of her
family and escapes to Sydney’s Cockatoo Island for the ultimate
combination of Australia’s newest camping phenomena.
When I first saw the word
‘gramping’ I thought it was
a typo for ‘glamping’, which
is camping with a bit of
glamour (and plenty of
creature comforts). As it turns out, gramping
is the cool way to describe Australia’s latest
outdoor trend: camping with grandparents.
Although we’ve always talked about going
camping with my in-laws, none of that ever
materialised thanks to a web of busy schedules.
So when the opportunity presented itself for a
mini escapade to Sydney’s Cockatoo Island,
we jumped at the chance to turn it into a
wonderful glamping and gramping weekend.
Our mini adventure started with a scenic
ferry ride across Sydney Harbour from
Rushcutters Bay, past the Opera House and
under the bridge. Cockatoo Island, with its rich
history of docks and houses built by convicts
in the early 1800s, was a marvellous sight on
approach, rising out of the reflective waters
where the Parramatta and Lane Cove rivers
meet. The two-tiered island is one of Sydney’s
World Heritage sites with old sandstone prison
buildings, empty warehouses and enormous
old shipbuilding yards.
Upon arrival, we checked into our waterfront
tents with wooden floorboards, beds and a
deck with chairs overlooking a garden.
Fortunately, I had allowed the boys to bring
their scooters along. There was so much open
space – lush grass, abandoned warehouses
and tunnels to explore – and the entire island
was just perfect for scooting. The kids were
completely free to ride wherever they pleased.
After wandering amid the industrial remains,
we stopped for lunch at the Island Bar. This
eatery blends the stunning Sydney views with
the vibe of a European beach haunt
surrounded by greenery, white picket fences
covered in bougainvillea, striped umbrellas,
sunbeds and European waiters running from
customer to customer. On weekends after 3pm
it’s an adults-only zone, so if you want a date
night while camping with the grandparents
your babysitting is already sorted.
Perks of the simple life
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the
island, only pausing our expedition for a game
of tennis, before enjoying a family barbecue
dinner. In true glamping style, we opted for
gourmet food packs available on the island,
stocked with everything we needed from
steaks to salad dressing. There are a few
options, including vegetarian and breakfast
sets, but remember catering requires 48 hours’
notice. You can also bring your own family
favourites and store them in the esky provided.
As night fell over the harbour, the kids’
requests to go for a night-time scoot became
irresistible – the looming shadows of forgotten
industry promised a perfect mix of scary and
fun. The rest of the evening was spent relaxing
at our tent, simply chatting under the stars
and watching the lit-up boats sail by.
Young kids mean early mornings, so
naturally we were all up at the crack of dawn.
We took a leisurely stroll along the foreshore
and enjoyed coffees and cakes from Societe
Overboard, a cute little café beside Parramatta
Wharf, before cooking up a big barbecue
breakfast feast with other families.
Our final adventure before leaving was
another scoot through Dog Leg Tunnel,
emerging from the dark and damp to discover
the Marine Centre at Camber Wharf with its
charming pop-up vintage Airstream Café.
The trip was a great excuse to get away
without having to go too far from home, and
a wonderful way for the kids to spend time
with their grandparents, all in the wondrous