Quail Island escape

Christchurch’s very own island escape is waiting for you. Spend a fascinating full or half-day exploring Quail Island by taking our Quail Island ferry.
Named after the now extinct native Quail (koreke) by Captain William Mein Smith, the island was originally used as a quarantine station and as a small leprosy colony by the early European settlers.

At the same time as the lepers were confined to their one small bay, Antarctic explorers, Scott and Shackleton took advantage of the island to train their sled dogs and ponies before setting off on their ill-fated voyages. The last polar explorer to quarantine dogs on the island was American Commander Byrd, whose huskies were interned on the island between 1928 and 1930.

From 1934 till 1975 Quail Island was leased out for farming, and then converted to a recreational reserve. Today the focus is on restoring native vegetation and the island is home to many native flora and fauna as well as native birds including the fantail, kingfisher, silvereye and many sea birds including the rare white flippered little blue penguins.

Take your lunch and swimming costumes with you for a great family day out.

Staying on Quail Island

If you wish to have an overnight adventure on Quail you have two options, both need to be booked in advance through the DOC Website.

The Ōtamahua Hut, Originally built between 1910 and 1920 as the island Caretaker’s cottage, has now been transformed into a 12-bed hut. 

Book Hut

Camping is newly available on the Island. You have two beaultiful site options, Whakamaru Beach or Skiers Beach

Book Camping

Quail Island Schedule

Please note we have a new booking system where you will need to first select your departure and then continue shopping and select your return ticket. Please ensure you select the correct date when adding both tickets to your cart.

Large Group bookings of 10 adults or more will have to be split over multiple bookings or can be organised through our office.



All Year 10.15am daily

Dec to Mar 10.15am & 12.15pm daily


All Year  3.30/3.40pm daily

Dec to Mar 12.30pm & 3.30/3.40pm daily


All Year 3.15pm daily or any other scheduled sailing.


Please see the calender below for up to date schedule and availability.

Departures at other times can be arranged for groups.

If you have any questions – please email us [email protected]

Tour Highlights

Download your very own handy tour-map

Quail Island Information Map

  • Walkway The Quail Island Walkway starting at the new wharf offers a circumference walk (2 hours round trip), and a shorter one-hour option. The easy walk takes in a view of the shipwrecks, leprosy graves and the kennels used for Scott’s quarantined dogs.
  • Volcanic Cliffs There are excellent examples of volcanic cliffs, which show how the island was formed 16 million years ago.
  • The Wards Settlement The Ward brothers bought part of Quail Island in 1851 and erected a small cottage. They farmed the island for just 2 months before tragedy struck; the 2 brothers where drowned taking firewood to the island.
  • Ballast Quarries Early sailing ships arriving into Lyttelton often had to load up on return journeys with ballast rocks to keep their ships stable. Two sites on the island can be seen where tonnes of rock was taken from 1850 -1874.
  • Shipwrecks Investigate 8 shipwrecks, which can be seen on the western side of the island.
  • Leprosy Colony In 1907 the island was home to the first and only leprosy colony in New Zealand. One lonely soul died here and his grave can be viewed on the island. Up to 9 patients were housed here at its peak.
  • Antarctic Links Robert Falcon Scott used Quail Island for quarantining and training dogs, ponies and mules for his Antarctic expeditions in 1901 and again prior to his ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1910. A replica kennel can be seen. Ernst Shackleton also used the island for this purpose in 1907.
  • Human and Animal Quarantines In 1874 a quarantine station was built to isolate those immigrants who had spent 3 months at sea in cramped conditions with lack of fresh food and exercise. These conditions increased chances of disease and sickness. All imported stock from England had to be quarantined before arriving in Lyttelton.
  • Maori Use The island was used for the collection of food – seabird eggs and fishing mostly by Maori children. The Maori name for the island is Otamahua, which means ‘place to gather sea-bird eggs’.
  • The Quails In 1842, the first European to set foot on the island, Captain Mein Smith, flushed a number of now-extinct native quail from the bush and named the island after the birds.

how to find us

How to Get to Lyttleton

Lyttelton is around 15 to 20 minutes drive from the centre of Christchurch. See http://maps.google.com/ for detailed information about how to drive yourself. Print this map out to help you navigate.

By Car

We are located at B Jetty, Lyttelton Harbour.  At the end of the Lyttelton tunnel turn left onto Norwich Quay. The 2nd turning to the right is the Oxford Street overbridge, you will need to park on Norwich Quay and walk over the bridge. Follow the footprints on the pavement and signs to Black Cat ferries and Quail Island.

Public Transport

Alternatively, you can catch the number 8 bus. A regular bus service runs between Christchurch and Lyttelton.

Frequently asked questions

Whilst there is a lovey beach to sunbathe and swim we also recommend that you should also bring warm clothes as it can be cool on the island especially with the prevailing sea breeze. Bring your swimming costume and a towel because there’s a great beach on the island

Please bring your own food if you plan on spending the whole day on the island. If you’re planning to visit for half a day bring a drink and a snack.
There are no shops on the island but you can purchase snacks and drinks on the ferry.

Depending on the time of year you can spend a whole day or half a day. Please check our departure times as they vary from season to season. If you have time you can walk the full loop track around the island. This takes approximatley 2 / 3hours and can be done on a half day visit.

We don’t recommend Quail for anyone in a wheelchair because the tracks are relatively steep and can get muddy depending on the weather. In addition the jetty steps are a bit steep for those in a wheelchair.

Book the hut (Otamahua Hut)through DOC’s website: https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreationwhich will also give you a discount code to use when booking the ferry with Black Cat.

For group bookings please contact us by phone or email

Schools & Groups

For group bookings and school groups please call (03) 328 9078 or email [email protected]


Quail Island is an affordable option for Outdoor Education pursuits or EOTC – Education Outside The Classroom. To Download a teacher resource document click here.

We can cater for large groups of over 100 people at a time.

We believe we can offer your students many options to extend their knowledge base of nature, wildlife and geography while having fun, exercising through walking and team building at the same time.

For more on Quail Island and for a walking map click HERE

An information sheet and map of the island will be given to you on board the ferry.

We find the best times which seem to suit most schools are as follows:-

Depart Lyttelton: 9.15am arrive Quail Island at 9.30am

Depart Quail: 2.15pm arrive Lyttelton 2.30pm.

This usually gives enough time for the buses to get back to school by 3pm depending of course on how far away your school is.  The ferry journey is approximately 15 minutes.

Suggested Activities

•   Follow the walkway around the island.  En route discuss the historic features, interpretive panels, native plants, geological features and the uniqueness of ötamahua/Quail Island.  Get students to sit/lie on their own.  What can they hear/see/feel/smell?  Students could compare their responses to a city environment and record the results as a poem, or a story.

•   Create a picture. Use cardboard/ice cream container lids/coat hangers to form frames.  In pairs students select an area to sit in.  They sit back to back and as one describes the scene they see through their frame the other draws it.  The first person gets 5-10mins then the pairs swap roles.  Equipment required for this activity could be made before your trip or borrowed from your local DOC office.

•   Conduct transect plant studies.  Estimate the number of plants required to re-vegetate a section of the island.

•   Survey visitor profiles and numbers or native/exotic plant and animal sightings.  Why are these numbers important?  What do they mean?

•   Explore the variety of shapes and objects found in nature, by touching, observing and talking about them.

•   Draw a sketch map of the island as you walk around it.  Include all the animal and plant species you see.  Why are they on the island?  How did they get here?  This sketch could be compared with the school environment, examining the different habitats, land formations, wildlife etc.

•   Make a sea creature. Using sand, seaweed, shells, rocks etc students could create a natural, historical or mythical sea creature.  They could emerge from the water as that sea creature and tell a story about how it relates to Ötamahua/Quail Island

Book Now by phoning: 03 328 9078


There is reasonable cell phone coverage on the island and an emergency phone is available

Toilet Facilities

These are available and are situated near the beach/picnic area.


You will need to contact the Department of Conservation for permission to camp on the island. DOC also have a hut you can book via their website.

No Bikes or Dogs

Unless a guide dog is necessary


You will have to supply your own equipment


The water on the island is drinkable but we advise people to take their own refreshments


A shelter is situated near the jetty.


There are 2 walkways available, one offers a walk of the circumference of the island and takes around 2 hours to complete and a shorter one hour option which also takes in a view of the shipwrecks, leprosy graves and the kennels used for Scott’s quarantined dogs.

Visitor Center

situated near to the telephone, here you will find information and displays featuring the island fascinating past.

for school or group bookings, contact us today!


[email protected]


(03) 328 9078


The award-winning Black Cat Cruises is not only an acclaimed success in New Zealand’s tourism industry but also internationally recognized as an eco-tourism pioneer. We hold the honour of being the first to introduce cruises in Akaroa, and we're proud to be acknowledged as New Zealand’s very first eco-tourism operator.


Our Nature Cruises and Dolphin Swimming experience depart from the stunning Akaroa harbour which is only a 90 minute scenic drive from Christchurch. The Diamond Harbour and Quail Island ferry depart from Lyttelton in Christchurch.