Fort Jervois look out

Image: DOC


Tucked close to the shore of Whakaraupō (Lyttelton Harbour), Ripapa Island was an ideal site for a fortified pa for Ngāi Tahu and later a fortress for coastal defence.

Place overview


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About this place

History and culture

Tucked close against the southern shore of Whakaraupō (Lyttelton Harbour), the small island of Ripapa was an ideal site for a fortified pa for Ngāi Tahu and later, a fortress to defend against possible Russian attacks.

Small island - big history

The fortified pa was built on Ripapa Island in the early nineteenth century by Taununu, a Ngai Tahu chief who had moved south from Kaikoura.

Two pā on Banks Peninsula were fortified against musket attack during the 1820s and 30s. Ripapa was one of these.

A sketch made of Ripapa in 1872 shows bastions that would protect the defenders and provide them with a clear line of fire. Deep ditches were dug behind earth ramparts, and a second line of ramparts and ditches protected an inner section of the pā.

Several skirmishes were fought on the shores and slopes surrounding Ripapa. Ngāi Tahu occupied Ripapa until about 1832, when the chief Te Whakarukeruke left to help defend Kaiapoi against Te Rauparaha.

This island is therefore of special significance to Ngāi Tahu as a place of memories and traditions associated with these skirmishes and the ancestors who died in them.

Displays on the island provide more information about its history.

Fort Jervois on Ripapa Island

Fort Jervois, Ripapa Island.
Aerial photo of Fort Jervois | DOC

The quarantine station

Ripapa Island was used as a quarantine station for new immigrants from 1873 to 1885. In 1880 the Island was used temporarily as a prison for 150 of Te Whiti’s followers, transported from Taranaki. The quarantine buildings were dismantled when the Island was incorporated into the coastal defence scheme.

The fort

Ripapa Island was one of four sites used for the Lyttleton Harbour defences, part of the nationwide system of coastal defences, built in response to a perceived "Russian scare".

The walled fort, dating from 1886, survives today and is the most complete "Russian scare" fort in New Zealand. Of particular significance are two large disappearing guns, still virtually complete, which are very rare examples of their kind.

The fort was occupied by the army until the end of World War I and re-occupied again during World War II as part of the harbour defences. The Island has been managed by the Department of Conservation since 1990. All periods of the Island’s use enhance its historical significance and appeal.

Historic conservation

Ripapa Island is registered Category 1 by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and an historic reserve. It has been given an "actively managed" status by DOC.

A concept plan for the island approved by the Historic Places Trust outlines policies for the fort’s continued protection and preservation.

DOC has been progressively repairing the deterioration in the fort's condition which has happened over the past 100 years, including damage from the earthquakes of 2011.

Getting there

The island is only accessible by private boat or kayak. It is located on the southern shores of Lyttelton Harbour (Whakaraupō), near Christchurch.

Know before you go

  • For exploring the fort, a torch is recommended.
  • This is a historic site and there are multiple hazards. Care is required.
  • As this is a marine environment, pay attention to adverse weather and sea conditions.
Respect this special place

The significance of the urupa on Ripapa and nearby, where these ancestors rest, and the place of the island in tribal history were acknowledged by the designation of Ripapa as a Tōpuni in the Ngāi Tahu Deed of Settlement with the Crown in 1998.

Ngāi Tahu wish to encourage understanding of and respect for the values of this special place.

Do not eat on the island as this denigrates its tapu (sacred) status.

No dogs are permitted on the island. 


Ōtautahi / Christchurch Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 3 379 4082
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Address:   31 Nga Mahi Road, Sockburn
Christchurch 8042
Postal Address:   Private Bag 11089
Christchurch 8042
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