Nestled in Lyttelton Harbour and surrounded by the Port Hills, Quail Island is certainly a one of a kind location. Canterbury’s largest island, it occupies 81 hectares within the harbour and is a haven for a variety of flora and fauna. Treasured by conservationists and gentle trampers alike, its beauty is of a peaceful, solid, and quietly confident kind.

This relatively forgotten island is now promoting itself as very much ‘on the map’, as it now hosts the closest Department of Conservation/Te Papa Atawhai (DOC) hut to Christchurch.

The jetty receives passengers from Lyttelton

The hut, Ōtamahua, comprises two bunk rooms (each sleeping six people), a communal room (with wood burner), and warden accommodation. What’s fascinating about this completely reconditioned building is that it has stood on the island for over 100 years. What better way to encourage Christchurch’s families to turn their eyes to the hills on their doorstep and have a weekend adventure in the outdoors, all within stomping distance of their home?

Mahaanui District operations manager for DOC, Andy Thompson, has been the leading force in this project. He and his team work to protect heritage infrastructure, so they looked at possible re-use options for the house, a former caretaker’s cottage. Adapting it into a DOC hut has preserved the original building and kept it on the island, something that very much works in line with Andy’s (and DOC’s) sustainability goals.

Approaching Quail Island from the south, by boat

“This hut is significant as it will now be the closest DOC hut to Christchurch,” Andy tells me. He is concerned about the issue of many Christchurch families finding it too difficult to get to the Southern Alps, particularly since the earthquakes, and wants to help individuals and families to look beyond their individual circumstances and take a ‘bigger picture’ look to what Canterbury has to offer them when it comes to connecting with the natural environment. “We want to get Christchurch families into their wider backyard, and we want to make it really accessible to them.”

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