Quarantine Island

Kamau Taurua

Dunedin City District

'A place to set nets'

An island away from civilization, if your looking for a holiday from convenience and the busy wild world of city life, you should go here. A short boat ride from Back Beach or Portabello, will take you to this island in the middle of Otago Harbor. The island itself takes about an hour to walk around on a very nice bush walk through native forest that the community group has been planting since 1956. There are a couple of Caves on the island that you will need a map to find, there are two boat wrecks on either side of the dock, and a few buildings that have survived throughout the years. The island is owned by the Department of Conservation and you are allowed to freely go here, but the buildings are owned by the Quarantine Island Community Group and you will need permission to enter them. On that note, you are allowed to book out the lodge for overnight stays, it can sleep up to 30 people.


From Dunedin, head to Port Chalmers and go around to Back Beach, right beside the Yacht club is where you can take a shuttle boat over to the island. Or, you can drive over to Portabello on the other side of the Harbor and order a shuttle over there. For ordering a shuttle give Port to Port Cruises a call. They operate everyday and Rachel knows her history of the islands when she takes you to them.

Other adventures in close proximity

Helpful links

Sunken ships, caves and smallpox.

Quarantine Island wasn't always known as such, it has passed through a few names, once called Middle Island, then St Martin Island, then Quarantine Island, and now Quarantine Island/Kamau Taurua. With Kamau Taurua meaning 'a place to set nets'. The island is mostly known as Quarantine Island, because it was used as a quarantine station for Otago from 1963 until 1924.

As ships arrived with diseases, all aboard were to wait on the island for the quarantine period of that particular disease to expire. If there were any sick passengers on board they were to stay in the hospital on top of the island (which the only part still standing is the fireplace). Out of all 9000 people that stayed on the island for quarantine (about 42 ships worth), only 72 actually died, mostly young kids. There is a graveyard on the southern side of the island with two tombstones left. One of the tombstones is the Dougall family, Mr Dougall was the offically designated Barrack-Master. And the Dougall family looked after the island for 61 years.

After 1924 when Quarantine Island was shut down, a man named Bob Miller was to take up the lease, from my understanding he was an entrepreneur and an excellent one at that. With a big of Great Gastby style he used to bring in visitors by the thousands by way of dance halls on ships, that he would run from Dunedin to the island. He took the second floor out of the married quarters on the island (which you can go and see today, recently restored), so he could hold big dance party's. He once had both boats loaded up with 1200 people on the Waikana (which is one of the wreaks on the causeway, and is the little sister ship to the Earnslaw in Queenstown). The Waikana was only certified for 800, but hey, they had dancing on the harbor! He was known for much more than this, and I'm sure you can do a chunk of research on this great man yourself.

The island is nothing but a great place to go and explore and the Community that look after it are very welcoming and have heaps of knowledge of the land. The cave is a nice hike to get down to, you don't need flashlights for this one either. If you ever get the chance, and the day is perfect out, why don't you just head on over to the island. Or better yet, do what I do, make the time, and go on an adventure

From the past, present and hopeful future - Stu