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  • Evangelia Papoutsaki

Quarantine/Kamau Taurua Island

The best part of my Dunedin visit was the time I spent on the Quarantine Island/Kamau Taurua with Henry Johnson who suggested we do our recording for SICRI's new "Island Conversations Podcast Series" on this tiny but full of history island in Otago Harbour.

It turned up to be a highly relevant trip given our pandemic times, this small island served as the quarantine station for Otago from 1863 until 1924 (one of four in NZ designated for this purpose). When ships arrived in Otago harbour with infectious diseases, passengers were quarantined, usually one to two weeks (like modern day 2 weeks self-isolation period).

People complain now having to go on a 2-week self-isolation after a trip abroad but imagine being on a boat for 2 months crossing the globe only to endure an extra 2 weeks or sometimes longer on a tiny island with basic necessities before reaching your destination!

Women, unaccompanied children and married couples stayed on this island while men were sent to the nearby and even smaller Goat Island / Rakiriri. Both islands lie across the harbour between the town of Port Chalmers and the marine laboratory on Portobello Peninsula.

It was cold and wet when we took the ferry across the harbour but by the time we emerged from the chapel where we did our recording, the weather had cleared, and walked around to enjoy the vistas. The Chapel was the best discovery on the island, an unusual design, resembling a seagull, simple in structure and humble with its dirt floor, it had a grounding effect on us, not to mention its superb acoustics that made us decide to do our recording in there.

The island has a carertaker, a woman with her family whose kids kayak across the harbor every morning to go to school. Their original plans to sail across the pacific as a family adventure for a year changed because of the pandemic, and so they decided that taking care of this island for a while would be a worthy adventure and they seemed to enjoy it. Both Henry and I felt some envy, wishing we could just take a year off looking after a tiny island... or perhaps letting the island look after us?


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