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The other slice of real estate that has been radically altered is Cockatoo Island, which was a shipbuilding hub until the early 1990s. Today, it has been reborn as a cultural haven, with cavernous warehouses that host concerts and exhibitions, including the spectacular Biennale of Sydney, a visual arts festival. Visitors can bed down in dedicated luxury campgrounds or in heritage holiday homes, and Sydney’s largest island at 17.9 hectares is reached by ferry, water taxi and private boat. Or, for the intrepid, this island is one of the only ones in the harbour that can be reached by kayak.

Other smaller dots on the west side of Sydney Harbour, such as the private island of Snapper and the navy base of Spectacle Island, are not generally open to the public. But they can be seen by ferry on the Balmain West-Birchgrove Service from Circular Quay. Quaint summerhouses dating back to the 1920s bring visitors to Rodd Island, a former biological research station nestled in Iron Cove near the Sydney suburb of Rozelle. Today, the 0.5-hectare island can be reserved for weddings and other functions, is a popular picnic site and can be reached by water taxi.

Shark and Clark Islands, located off the harbourside suburb of Darling Point and Rose Bay respectively, became dedicated recreational areas as early as the 1870s and are now great places to watch the boat traffic in Sydney Harbour. The island’s picnic areas offer stunning views across Sydney Harbour, and it is a priceless feeling to sit on a tiny speck of land in the middle of one of Australia’s busiest harbours, watching the ferries and pleasure boats glide past the diamond-crusted waters.

“Most of us feel like we want to go and sit on an island and get away from it all,” said Judy Bennett, a commentator for Captain Cook Cruises. “People go to Shark Island for weddings. It’s very romantic. There aren’t too many people out there.”

Goat Island, located just west of the Harbour Bridge, is known as the “Eye of the Harbour” as it commands magnificent views of Sydney’s greatest natural treasure. It is also a place revered by Aborigines, who conducted spiritual ceremonies on the rocky outcrop until the early 19th Century. The island has had a varied career over the years, serving as a convict stockade, explosives store, police station, boat yard and film set. Relics of Goat Island's convict origins remain, including a seat carved out of stone by Charles Anderson, an inmate who was sentenced to be tied to a particularly large slab of the island for two years.

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