At the ship graveyard on Otamahua/Quail Island
Image: Brendon Gloistein | Creative Commons


Explore historic sites such as the ships' graveyard and the quarantine barracks, as well as swimming and waterskiing beaches and a bird-watching barricade.

The easy grade makes these walks suitable for small children and family groups.

Track overview

4.5 km

Walking and tramping

2 hr 30 min for complete island circuit Easy: Walking track

Dog access

No dogs

About this track


Whakamaru Beach (Swimmers beach)

Time: 10 min
Grade: Walking track

Although the track from the ferry jetty is a little steep, it’s worth the climb down to the beach and the track surface is suitable for mountain-buggies. The beach is a safe place for swimming as it shelves out gently and the bay is reasonably sheltered from the winds that might whip up the harbour waters. It is a great spot to spend some time, have a picnic lunch, fossick amongst the rocks or beach-comb for shells and seaweed to decorate a sand sculpture.  

Discovery Trail

Time: 1 hr
Grade: Walking track

Take the main track from the ferry jetty. It’s a bit of a climb up behind the shelter, through a wooded area above the rocky shoreline to the heritage centre. The heritage centre in the old farmhouse on the island has panels on the cultural and natural history of the island, plus a scale model of the island.

From the centre, follow the tractor path behind the building that heads towards the island summit at the centre of the island. You will pass through a large area of replanting, the work of the Ōtamahua / Quail Island Ecological Restoration Trust. The trust and DOC are working in partnership to remove pests, re-plant the island, and re-introduce native wildlife.

When you reach a sign-posted junction, turn left. This will lead you past the dog kennels and then down to Whakamaru Beach.

Ōtamahua/Quail Island Walkway (full island circuit)

Time: 2 hr 30 min
Grade: Walking track

From the heritage centre, take the track that passes across the front of the building, through open grassland and along the basalt cliff tops to the Ward brothers' old cottage site. From here it leads to the northern point of the island and the bird observation barricade. Views extend down the harbour and across to Rapaki.   

Turn south-west and skirt the stock dam to reach a vantage point where there is an excellent view of the ships’ graveyard, which contains wrecks of at least fourteen ships scuttled off-shore. 

Continue along to the southern-most point of the island above Walkers Beach and past the quarry workings. The grave of Ivon Skelton, the only leprosy sufferer to pass away on the island, is found here within a neat picket fence. 

Around the point the track turns north behind the skiers beach to the terraces where the leprosy colony buildings once stood. View the replica cottage (built by students of Catholic Cathedral College) and walk past the stone terraces admiring the craftsmanship of early twentieth century prisoners from the Lyttelton Gaol. Turn left to climb a short distance to the dog kennels’ site, and view a replica kennel also built by the students. 

Return back to the main track through the oak grove, and then descend to Whakamaru Beach and human quarantine barracks. Wind around the beachfront past the historic stock jetty and back to the ferry jetty.

Getting there

Ōtamahua/Quail Island lies within Lyttelton Harbour/Te Whakaraupō, close to Christchurch City.

A regular bus service runs between Christchurch City and Lyttelton (#28) and includes a stop at B jetty. Further information about bus services is available from BUSinfo phone +64 3 366 8855. 

Black Cat Cruises operate a regular 7 day ferry service to the island during Summer. Between May and September each year there is no ferry service.

Black Cat Cruises website or phone +64 3 328 9078

Know before you go

  • Toilets are located at Whakamaru Beach (Swimmers Beach) and Skiers Beach.
  • Most track surfaces on the island are evenly graded or grassed, but sturdy footwear is recommended for the longer walks for your comfort and safety.
  • Carry adequate clothing and be prepared for sudden changes in the weather - parts of the island are very exposed.
  • All walking times are approximate.
  • There are preciptitous unfenced cliffs. Small children should be kept under close supervision at all times.
  • There is a danger of windfall or treefall in high or gusty wind conditions.

Ōtamahua / Quail Island is at times subject to extreme fire danger. If fire breaks out on the island:

  • Head to the nearest beach or coastal area, if it is safe to do so.
  • If you have a mobile, dial 111 for fire.

Look after the island

  • All wildlife, plants, and natural and historic features are protected. Avoid damaging recently planted trees.
  • Animals, including dogs, are prohibited, as is the carrying of firearms.
  • Take home all your rubbish.
  • No unauthorised vehicles (including mountain bikes) allowed.
  • No fires except gas-fired BBQs in the picnic area on Whakamaru Beach (swimmers beach).
  • No camping.
  • Bait stations and predator traps are in use at all times, read the warning signs on the wharf and around the island.
  • Do not use the historic stock jetty - it is unsafe.
  • Do not remove rocks from the sea wall along the beach.


Ōtautahi / Christchurch Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 3 379 4082
Address:   Co-located with the Christchurch i-site
28 Worcester Boulevard
Christchurch 8140
Full office details
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