Ōtamahua/Quail Island

Image: Summer McKinnon | DOC


The beautiful and pest free Ōtamahua is home to historic sites such as the ship’s graveyard and the quarantine barracks. It has swimming and waterskiing beaches and a bird-watching barricade.


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

Beginning from the ferry jetty the track is a little steep in places, but you soon drop down to the beach. 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. It is a great spot to have a picnic lunch on the grass. You can fossick amongst the rocks or beachcomb for shells and explore the interpretative displays in the historic Barracks buildings to learn about the rich history of the island. 

Ōtamahua/Quail Island Loop Track (full island circuit)

Time: 2 hr 30 min loop
Grade: Walking track

The track circumnavigates the island and can be walked in either direction but most follow the road from the ferry jetty towards Ōtamahua Hut.

From the ferry jetty there is a short, steep climb uphill, then the track turns to the right towards the historic stables. The track will lead you behind the stables and through an old pine windbreak before arriving at Ōtamahua Hut.

At Ōtamahua Hut 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. Enjoy sweeping views down the harbour and across to Rapaki from this exposed point.   

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 13 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 and drops down to 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 20th 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 expeditions. 

Return to the main track then descend to Whakamaru (Swimmers) Beach and the quarantine barracks. Stop at the barracks to visit the interpretative displays illustrating the rich history of the island.

Finish your loop by following the track along the beachfront back to the Ferry Jetty.

Summit Track

Time: 15 min
Grade: Walking track

Starting from the Ōtamahua Hut, walk the old tractor path as it gently climbs through native plantings towards the highest point on the island where you can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding low mountains of the Port Hills and Banks Peninsula, and the bays of Lyttelton Harbour.

On the summit you can’t miss the impressive nine-metre tall pou whenua installed in 2019. Named “Te Hamo o Tū Te Rakiwhānoa”, these carved posts are traditionally used to mark territorial boundaries and areas of significance. It is carved in the form of a te hamo, a digging stick used to plant kūmara. The side piece jutting out is called the teka. Māori would put their foot on this as they used the stick to dig a hole. The pou represents the significant cultural history of the island and its importance to Ngāti Wheke.

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 from Whakamaru Beach 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.

Black Cat Cruises operates a regular (cash only) ferry service from Lyttelton Wharf between October and the end of March (groups must book). A weekend only service runs between April and September. Ensure you know when the last ferry leaves Quail Island to get back to Lyttelton.

Alternatively you can make your own way to the Island by canoe, kayak or private boat. Whakamaru (Swimmers) beach, Skiers Beach or Walkers Beach are the recommended places to land/launch canoes or kayaks. There is also plenty of room to pull up a boat. Care is required as these areas will be shallow or mud flats at low tide. The majority of the island’s coast is unsuitable for landings. Check the weather forecast before you leave for the island.

The wharf is not suitable for overnight mooring.

Know before you go

  • 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. Stay on sign-marked tracks.
  • Carry adequate clothing and be prepared for sudden changes in the weather – parts of the island are exposed.
  • 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.

Overnight camping is available at Whakamaru Beach (swimmers beach) and Skiers Beach for approved groups. For enquiries and booking contact the DOC Ōtautahi / Christchurch Visitor Centre.


Ōtamahua Hut is a bookable 12-bunk serviced hut on the island.


Ōtautahi / Christchurch Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 3 379 4082
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   christchurchvc@doc.govt.nz
Address:   28 Worcester Boulevard
Christchurch 8013
Postal Address:   Private Bag 11089
Christchurch 8013
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