Nestled in the depth of Lyttelton harbour on Banks Peninsula, lies Quail Island. Once the home of a (very small) leper colony, it was subsequently used as an animal quarantine station where dogs and ponies trained prior to several expeditions to the Antarctic continent. Now, just a 10 minute ferry ride from the mainland, it is a great day out for a family-friendly walk with plenty of places for a picnic at the end of it all.
Up the hill from the pier, it is merely a case of choosing to go round the island clockwise or anti-clockwise. Heading anti-clockwise, some old buildings are nestled amongst the trees. Some of them were old stables for the horses, and a building with an interpretation room is just a little further along the track. Once out of the tree line, there is a 360 degree view of the surrounding Port Hills and Banks Peninsula for large sections of the coastal track, and the ferry company Black Cat Cruises, provides a leaflet and map of the island detailing important sites to visit on the way round.
Continuing in this direction, there are some dramatic sheer volcanic cliffs, a reminder of how the island (and the peninsula as a whole) was formed. This is also one of the best vantage points to view back towards Lyttelton and the mouth of Lyttelton Harbour. Scattered along the path round this coastline are various remnants of the early inhabitants, from rusty machinery to old quarries, one now filled with water.
Opposite Governor’s Bay, the Quail Island coast was used for scuppering old ships, and a collection of 8 ship wrecks can be seen just off a stony beach. Round from here, on the more southern facing coast, the beaches are sandy. The first one to come across is the more secluded one, accessible down the hill, and just a stone’s throw away from the neighbouring King Billy Island.
After passing another quarry and the sole grave from the leper colony, the path became a bit more of an adventure. Visiting on Easter weekend, a storm had blown through the week previously, and there were a lot of trees down occluding sections of the path. With a long detour to take to avoid this, we simply climbed over and under the large trunks, getting a few scratches along the way. The path had a closed sign at the other end for those walking clockwise round the island, but there had been nothing at the end that we came from. It wasn’t too much of a problem for us, but a few families that were coming behind us struggled to negotiate the fallen trees with their young children and picnic bags. The reward though, was reaching the main swimming and picnic area at a time when many other people were leaving. This southern facing coastline looked across to Diamond Harbour and Mt Herbert, the highest peak on the Banks Peninsula. It is a beautiful spot to soak up the sunshine whilst enjoying a picnic, and we spent the rest of our time sunning ourselves first by the beach, and then a little round the coast on a grassy ridge near a dilapidated pier.
Quail Island is a fantastic place to go for a lovely non-strenuous walk within the beautiful surrounds of Lyttelton Harbour and the Banks Peninsula. Accessible only in the summer months, it is a popular day trip, so don’t go there expecting solitude, but it is easy to find a place for that all important peace and quiet.