Quail Island

Lying in the flooded crater of Lyttelton’s extinct volcano, this 81 hectare island offers beautiful scenery, great walks, wildlife, ships’ graveyard and glimpses into the past through the Information Centre and track panels.

During the peak of Antarctic exploration, 1901–1929, the island was a quarantine and training area for the sled dogs and ponies of Scott and Shackleton’s expeditions.

It also housed New Zealand’s only leprosy quarantine colony.

Prisoners from Lyttelton Gaol did much of the heavy work, building stone terrace walls and tracks, and planting trees.

Vising Quail Island

Ōtamahua / Quail Island is an inner harbour island, reached via a short ferry ride or kayak paddle from Lyttelton.

It's Canterbury’s largest island but is easily explored in a day.

Easy grades make the walks on this island suitable for small children and family groups.

Quail Island Ecological Restoration Trust

For those who would like to help plant trees in the winter, join the Quail Island Ecological Restoration Trust on a planting day:


Trails & Overnight Options

For more information on trails & overnight hut or camping, see the Department of Conservation site:


Quail Island Historical Sites

  • Quarantine Station & Antarctic Expedition Training Barracks
  • Antarctic Sled Dog Kennels
  • Leper Colony Foundations & solitary leper grave 
  • Ship's graveyard - eight vessels
  • Ward brother's homestead foundations

This may surprise you. Although many New Zealanders can trace their roots back to 19th-century migrants, just two immigration-related buildings survive from this period, both from quarantine stations: on Quarantine Island in Otago Harbour and Quail Island in Lyttelton Harbour.

Māori knew Quail Island as Ōtamahua, the ‘place to gather sea-bird eggs’.

Bird life must have been important, for Captain William Mein Smith named it after the now-extinct native quail.

Europeans farmed the island from 1851 but its importance increased after 1874 when the provincial government accepted Thomas Potts’s offer to use it as a quarantine station.

Sir Julius Vogel’s assisted migration scheme was peaking and immigrants were flooding into the southern provinces especially.

New Zealand’s European population surged from 60,000 in 1860 to 470,000 by 1881.

Although most migrants arrived fit and well, the authorities implemented disease prevention measures at the major ports.

Before anyone disembarked, officials checked the health of the government migrants and the condition of the ship, and heard complaints.

Ships with sick people aboard had to raise the yellow flag and go into quarantine, a dismal introduction to the New World for people who had already been cooped up for three to five uncomfortable months at sea.

More antarctic connection site information