Not quite shipwrecked, but I did take off for a night’s self imposed, photographic exile last week. I have had my eye on Quail Island for some time actually, and over the lazy vacation period that was New Year, decided that I probably couldn’t hope for better conditions – everything seemed right for the tides, moon phase, weather etc. I love low light, auroral and astrophotography, so off I went.
Quail Is occupies a lovely spot located right in Lyttelton Harbour, near the southern end between the Port and Governors Bay. It is rich in history, from early Maori food gathering, right through to its role in our colonial & maritime history. Of course it is evidence of the later that remains the most obvious today. Most famously, the island was used as a quarantine station for leprosy, and as a staging post for Robert Falcon Scott’s 1901 Antarctic journey. For more history, the DOC PDF on the island can be accessed here;
“The native quail/koreke which inspired the island’s European name was extinct by 1875. Local Mäori dubbed the island Ötamahua, which means ‘the place where children collect sea birds’ eggs’. Iwi used the island as a base to gather eggs, fish and shellfish. Fine sandstone collected from King Billy Island/Aue, was traded to use for grinding and polishing pounamu/greenstone.
The island was farmed from 1851. In the mid-1970s the island was gazetted as a recreation reserve. From 1875 it also served as a quarantine station for both animals and people; firstly for new immigrants who had contracted illnesses while on board the ships that had brought them to New Zealand. But it was also used during the 1917–18 epidemic to isolate those on the mainland who had diseases such as diphtheria, smallpox and Spanish influenza.
In 1881 five acres were set aside as quarantine ground for cattle; this area was increased twice before 1892 when it was extended to cover the whole island. When Antarctic exploration was at its peak in 1901–1929, the island was used to quarantine and train dogs and ponies for Scott and Shackleton’s expeditions. For 19 years (1906–1925) the south side of Ötamahua/ Quail Island was the site of New Zealand’s only leprosy quarantine colony. Nine patients lived here, with one, Ivon Skelton dying on the island. His lonely grave can be found on the discovery trail on the southern side of the island. In 1925 the remaining patients were sent to Fiji. Prisoners from Lyttelton Gaol did much of the heavy construction on the island, building stone terrace walls and tracks, and planting trees. Remnants and replicas of the island’s historic past are scattered around the island”
Now, the more eagle eyed amongst you may note that camping is not permitted on Quail Is. So, with that in mind I set my tent up just in case of sandflies or wet weather, and somewhere to just leave my kit out of the heat / breeze. I probably didn’t need to worry about any of those actually. But I can tell you I did get a huge fright about 4.30-5am. I was sitting there, when ‘nek minit’, there was a HUGE crack. And I mean HUGE. Now having lived in CHCH for some time, I am used to loud noises and bangs in the middle of the night, and this was louder than any quake I had experienced. Yet there was no shaking. For reasons that I can’t explain, in the absence of strong wind or lightning, a pine tree near to the beach simply split and ‘exploded’. The roar and crack was deafening, and for a couple of minutes afterwards, manner of birds & wildlife went ballistic squawking and flapping. A minute or two after that, everything was silent again like nothing had happened, and I was there thinking was that real or did I imagine that?!
Anyway, of particular interest to me was the area known as the Ship’s Graveyard. In all, I think there are about 8 shipwrecks in the southern bay of the island.
The oldest is the hulk of the Mullogh, built in 1855 and traded from Lyttelton for over 50 years. It was a steam launch, and the boiler remains visible today amongst it’s rusted hull. It took miners to the Hokitika gold rush in the 1870’s, and was eventually abandoned here in 1923.
The largest, and I think coolest wreck, is that of the Darra. It was a barque built in 1865, that was originally a fast tea clipper for the Orient Line, before becoming an Australian immigrant ship in 1887. Yet was gutted by a fire in Sydney in 1899, and was used in Lyttelton as a coal hulk for steamers thereafter. It was towed here and left in 1951.
I did try and see if I could capture some auroral activity. Despite active periods before and after, space weather and land weather didn’t make this possible. Not to worry. I do have this clip that I think is kind of cool just showing the tide and clouds about the Darra. This was taken over about 3-4 hours from ~11pm to 3am. I was a bit worried leaving my kit out amongst an incoming tide I can tel you. (It may pay to enlarge fullscreen clicking the enlarge icon bottom right).
I’ll paste more photos later, once I have worked through my material, to see what I may have come up with!