default_mobilelogo


Time travel isn’t only possible in novels and science fiction. The short ferry trip to Quail Island in Lyttelton Harbour is much like being transported into another world – one infused with peace and tranquillity, and steeped in history, writes Sharon Davis.

Quail Island, also known as Otamahua (the place where children gather eggs), is an 81-hectare inner harbour island and recreational reserve – and the perfect day trip destination for nature lovers, history buffs, or those simply wanting to escape the city stress.

Disembarking mid-morning on the jetty, after a 10-minute ride on the Black Cat ferry, island exploration or decadent relaxation is your next port of call until the ferry returns at 3.30 p.m. to ship you back to reality on the mainland.

Visitors can head up the path and keep left for a 10-minute stroll to picnic on the white sands of secluded beaches, and paddle in the shallow and protected waters of Whakamura or Swimmer’s Beach.

Alternatively, you can keep to the right and amble through pines, past the pillar-red old stables and relocated lighthouse keeper’s hut and up to old farmhouse, now converted into visitors’ centre with information about the island and its intriguing history.You can relax in the gardens at the centre and listen to the birdsong or set off on a leisurely stroll on the 4,5km track around the perimeter of the island. It’s a relatively easy two-hour round trip past volcanic cliffs, and the site of the Ward’s homestead, brothers who farmed the island for a brief period in 1851. You then meander through grasslands with 360-degree views of the volcanic crater rim that forms Lyttelton Harbour before passing above the ships graveyard where eight old vessels were scuppered and left out of sight to slowly disintegrate.

Turning another corner you’ll find yourself above Walker’s beach, where the shell beds were once mined for poultry grit, with views of tiny King Billy Island and Moepuku peninsula, before reaching an old quarry site (used for ballast) and walking past the white picket-fenced grave of Ivon Skelton – the only leper to die on the island. A short descent takes you to the terraced site of the former leper colony above Skier’s Beach. From there you can walk to the replica dog kennels – the island was also a former animal quarantine station used for Antarctic expeditions – or enjoy the beaches and visit the old human quarantine barracks or historic stock jetty.

A short descent takes you to the terraced site of the former leper colony above Skier’s Beach. From there you can walk to the replica dog kennels – the island was also a former animal quarantine station used for Antarctic expeditions – or enjoy the beaches and visit the old human quarantine barracks or historic stock jetty.A shorter one-hour walk from the visitor’s centre cuts across the centre of the island to the highest point at 86m before joining the perimeter track above Walker’s Beach. Sections on this route have been extensively replanted with indigenous trees, shrubs and grasses as part of the restoration of the island undertaken by the Quail Island Ecological Restoration Trust in conjunction with the Department of Conservation (DOC).

A shorter one-hour walk from the visitor’s centre cuts across the centre of the island to the highest point at 86m before joining the perimeter track above Walker’s Beach. Sections on this route have been extensively replanted with indigenous trees, shrubs and grasses as part of the restoration of the island undertaken by the Quail Island Ecological Restoration Trust in conjunction with the Department of Conservation (DOC).

The indigenous quail, after which the island is named, are extinct but you might spot introduced Californian quail. With DOC and Trust volunteers having eliminated a number of introduced pests, Quail Island is now a safe haven for several birds and insects, including tree weta, the little blue penguin, bellbird, several varieties of shag, silver eye, fantail, kingfisher and numerous other species.

Quail Island – getting there

Quail Island is accessible by boat, canoe or ferry. Black Cat has daily trips departing Lyttelton at 10.20 a.m. and the island at 3.30 p.m. from October to April, with an additional trip in December and January. Group trips from May to September can be arranged with Black Cat. A return ticket costs $25 for adults and $10 for children.

Other islands to visit

There are more than 220 small islands, larger than five hectares, off New Zealand’s coast and a number have equally tranquil and secluded settings, and a similarly rich history. If you’re not close enough to Christchurch to visit Quail Island here are a few other options to can consider for a similar day trip experience:

Somes/Matui Island has 360 views of Wellington Harbour and is accessible by daily ferry. The island has a lighthouse and has been used as a human and animal quarantine camp as well as military defence position and a war interment camp.Rangitoto is a volcanic island in the Hauraki Gulf, close to Auckland. At 2,311 hectares there are a number of short and longer walks around the island with magnificent views of the gulf and Auckland city. Sites include three historic bach settlements and a ship graveyard.

Rangitoto is a volcanic island in the Hauraki Gulf, close to Auckland. At 2,311 hectares there are a number of short and longer walks around the island with magnificent views of the gulf and Auckland city. Sites include three historic bach settlements and a ship graveyard.Urupukapuka Island in the Bay of Islands off Northland is accessible by water taxi or with tour groups. It has a five-hour 7.3km archaeological walk, rich in Maori history and natural attractions, which can be broken down into two shorter 2.5-hour walks.

Urupukapuka Island in the Bay of Islands off Northland is accessible by water taxi or with tour groups. It has a five-hour 7.3km archaeological walk, rich in Maori history and natural attractions, which can be broken down into two shorter 2.5-hour walks.

The role of islands in conservation

Islands make ideal pest-free reserves to care for threatened animal and plant species that struggle to survive under predation or browsing from introduced species on the mainland. To preserve their valuable ecological role about 42% of the islands are have been declared nature reserves and visitors need a permit from DOC to visit these islands.

 

This article was first published in Older & Bolder