Quail Island lies in the flooded crater of an extinct volcano, a short Black Cat ferry ride from Lyttleton. While it is Canterbury’s largest island, Quail Island is only 81 hectares in area and easily explored in half a day. Rich in history and boasting a wealth of activities, the uninhabited island makes for a fascinating day trip from Christchurch.
Before the arrival of Europeans, Maori often visited the island it to collect food. In fact, the Maori name for Quail Island is Otamahua, meaning ‘the place where children collect sea-bird eggs’. The European name was assigned in 1842 by Captain Mein Smith, who spotted the now-extinct native quail there.
From farm to leper colony…
In 1851, the land on the island was cultivated and used for farming, though this was only one of the many uses over the past centuries. Aside from farming, the island served as a quarantine site for new immigrants, a leper colony and the training ground for dogs and ponies used by Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their Antarctic expeditions.
… to park
In 1934, Quail Island was again used for farming, though this ended in 1975 when it was turned into a recreational reserve. Today, the island plays host to visitors who boat in from Lyttelton. The island’s attractions are outdoor activities including swimming, water sports, bird watching and walking. It takes approximately two hours to to circumnavigate the island, while more leisurely strolls lead past shipwrecks, leprosy graves and abandoned kennels.
The Quail Island Treasure Hunt
In the summertime, from the 1st of December to the end of March, Black Cat runs the Quail Island Treasure Hunt. Maps and entry forms are available on board the ferry. Those who find the seven clues on the island and solve the mystery go in to win a family trip to Stewart Island!
Check out our Quail Island ferry.