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A Trip to Quarantine Island, Dunedin

A Trip to Quarantine Island, Dunedin

Sitting quietly in the middle of Otago Harbour, Quarantine Island is a great spot for a day out in Dunedin. Go for the history, the incredible views of Otago Harbour and the short boat ride!

Getting to Quarantine Island

Port to Port ferries run boats to Quarantine Island from Portobello and Port Chalmers. It doesn’t really matter which one you go from. The boat ride takes 5-10 minutes and drops you at the pier on Quarantine Island.

It costs $15 each way. This boat service connects both sides of the harbour and is mostly used by people doing the Port to Port cycling track. We were the only ones stopping at Quarantine Island.

The Pier

Once at the pier you’ll notice shipwrecks on either side. The one on the left is the Waikana, a paddle steamer built at the same shipyard (and of similar design) as the T.S.S Earnslaw in Queenstown.

The Village

From the pier it’s a short walk uphill to the village. It’s not really a village, just a group of old buildings including a couple of houses (one is now St Martin Lodge which you can stay at), a strangely shaped church and the Married Quarters, which is the only original two-story quarantine building left in New Zealand.

Quarantine Island History

Quarantine Island, and the smaller Goat Island next door were used as quarantine facilities as early as the 1870s. Diseases they were trying to keep out of Dunedin included Scarlett Fever, Typhoid, Diphtheria and Polio.  

Over 70 people died on Quarantine Island, and most of them are buried in the small graveyard just down the hill from the village. For the last 60 years or so Quarantine Island has been run by a community group, once being a popular spot for talks and events. You’d think they might have dusted it off for its original use during the 2020 – 2022 years but I’m pretty sure people would have complained about the standards.

Walking Around Quarantine Island

There’s a walking track which goes around most of Quarantine Island, offering up some stunning views along the way. The track just above the village, which leads to the brick chimney of the former hospital is a good place to start.

From there it’d be hard to get lost. A track runs along the middle of the island — I recommend heading down the hill towards the graveyard and then along the narrow trail just to the right (Port Chalmers side) of it. You’ll find some of the best views on the island on this part of the track.

You’ll then head uphill through the bush — awesome views of the harbour from there, especially on a sunny day at low tide. Sand bars and clear water, with numerous shades of blue, make it look a bit like an exotic tropical island.

Once at the top you’ll get more views towards Goat Island and Port Chalmers, and from there it’s an easy walk across the centre of the island back to the pier.

The Details

You’ll generally get two hours to explore Quarantine Island, but if you need longer you can sort it with the boat company. The staff are really friendly and should be able to advise you on pick times etc. Two hours is plenty of time to see everything in a relaxed manner.

You can stay on Quarantine Island too. I reckon it’d be a fun place to go with a group of friends. There is room for 30 people at St Martin Lodge — don’t expect luxury though! Buses serve both Port Chalmers and Portobello, so this is an activity you can easily do without a car. The boat leaves from Back Beach in Port Chalmers (10-minute walk from town) and close to Portobello village.

READ MORE: The Best Things to Do in Port Chalmers, Dunedin

Are you planning a trip to Dunedin? Check out our list of the best things to do in Dunedin!

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.