At the ship graveyard on Ōtamahua/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 Easiest: Short walk
Easy: Walking track

Dog access

No dogs

About this track


Whakamaru Beach (Swimmers beach)

Time: 5 min
Grade: Short walk

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 to explore the interpretative displays in the historic Barracks buildings. 

Ōtamahua/Quail Island Loop Track (full island circuit)

Time: 2 hr 30 min
Grade: Walking track

The Ōtamahua/Quail Island Loop Track circumnavigates the island and takes approximately 2.5 hours to complete. The track can be walked in either direction, but most follow the road from the Ferry Jetty towards the Caretaker's Cottage.

After a short, steep hill follow the track to the right towards the historic stables. The track will lead you behind the stables and through an old pine windbreak before arriving at the Caretaker's Cottage.

At the Caretaker's Cottage the track passes across the front of the building, through open grassland and along the basalt cliff tops to the Ward brothers' old homestead 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.   

Further along the track you will reach a vantage point where there is an excellent view of the ships' graveyard, which contains wrecks of at least thirteen 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 recorded as having died on the island, is found here. 

Around the point the track turns north along Skiers Beach to the terraces where the human quarantine buildings once stood. View the replica leper hut (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.

From the east side of the terraces, a sign points the way to the replica dog kennels' site. This short climb leads to the site where Shackleton and Scott housed their dogs prior to departing for their Antarctic expiditions. 

Return to the main track then descend to Whakamaru Beach and human quarantine barracks. Make sure to stop at the barracks to visit the interpretative displays illustrating the rich history of the island.

Finish your loop by following the beachfront past the historic stock jetty and back to the ferry jetty.

Summit Track

Time: 15 min
Grade: Walking track

Starting from the Caretaker's Cottage, walk the old tractor path as it gently climbs towards the highest point on the island where you can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding low mountains and Lyttelton Harbour.

The Summit Track can also be accessed from Whakamaru Beach via the Dog Kennel Track.

Dog Kennel Track

Time: 10 min
Grade: Walking track

This track offers access to the replica dog kennels historic site, and is a short cut across the island if you have limited time.

Getting there

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

Know before you go

  • Toilets are located at Whakamaru Beach (swimmers beach), Skiers Beach, and the Caretaker's Cottage.
  • Most track surfaces on the island are evenly graded or grassed, but sturdy footwear is recommended.
  • The island contains a number of unmarked tracks used by the Ōtamahua / Quail Island Ecological Restoration Trust for planting access - please stay on sign-marked tracks to avoid stepping on new plants and for your own personal safety.
  • Carry adequate clothing and be prepared for sudden changes in the weather – parts of the island are 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

  • No fires except gas-fired BBQs in the picnic area on Whakamaru Beach (swimmers beach).
  • All animals, including dogs, are prohibited, as is the carrying of firearms.
  • All wildlife, plants, and natural and historic features are protected. Be respectful and keep to the tracks.
  • Take home all your rubbish.
  • Overnight accomodation in the hut must be booked in advance.
  • Camping is permitted only at the designated areas and must be booked in advance.
  • No unauthorised vehicles (including mountain bikes) allowed.
  • Bait stations and predator traps are in use at all time. Read the warning signs on the wharf and around the island.
  • 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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