AUSTRALIA, NSW: Quarantined In Luxury

From quarantine to pristine luxury. Retreat to Q Station from Sydney's CBD on board a Manly ferry and enjoy a few nights in one of the oldest quarantine stations in Australia - a place to relax, rejuvenate and escape.

AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2010


The flight from the Middle East had taken 13 hours. The midweek train from the airport was crammed full at 7.45am; babies screamed inside the carriage as overweight men talked into mobile phones, there was standing room only and little room for my luggage as I sucked in ventilation air from the doors to cool down. At Circular Quay I sat inside the ferry building as commuters piled off heading to the city. I was carrying a cold and my head was pounding. Finally I dragged my luggage onto an iconic Sydney ferry as operators discussed European soccer results while retracting the gangplank.  In Manly my taxi driver who got lost, so I became a navigator. No matter what they say, travelling is never what the brochures make it out to be.


Thankfully, despite my wayward taxi driver I eventually arrived at the four star historic retreat now known as Q Station, a luxury hotel that is set in an oasis of tranquillity that opened just two years ago – a place to relax, rejuvenate and escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Sydney. It’s a welcome respite for any world weary traveller: smiling friendly porters, knowledgeable waitresses’ and rooms distanced from the main building that offer privacy and views that most cosmopolitan city hotels would die to have.


As the sun began to dip over Sydney’s horizon this former Government Quarantine Station showed its true colours. The station was once an integral part of the migrant transportation to this former English colony and was started in 1828 when it was chosen a quarantine station on Sydney’s North Head to isolate people suspected of carrying infectious diseases.  


The site has had a colourful history. The mid 1800s saw up to 1,000 migrants being housed at one time, on a site built to accommodate only 150 people. By the 1880s the site was expanded and internees were organised into precincts, used to segregate passengers according to what passenger ship class they arrived on. Epidemics of smallpox in 1800 and bubonic Plague in 1900 saw the station housing infected Sydney-siders, some of whom were taken from their Sydney homes at a moments notice.  During the 1918-1919 Spanish Influenza pandemic, 12,000 people were brought to the station, without doubt the busiest period in its history. 


With its closure in 1984, the station was handed over to the National Parks and Wildlife Service of NSW. Today the site has be reinvigorated as a hotel, event and conference centre – one of Sydney’s most unique historical sites.


With a property of 27 hectares and buildings set apart with wide walkways, it is little wonder that there is a wide assortment of tours to experience. The 45-minute lunchtime Wharf Wanderer gives a brief overview of what lies behind closed doors down at the wharf area. There is also the Quarantine Station Story, a Nature Walk with park guide, and a family friendly Ghostly Tour. The Spirit Investigator is a hunt for the paranormal that is said to lurk in areas of the Station and finally my favourite is the evening Adult Ghost Tour, which has been running for 17 years – a chance to visit the Station’s haunted buildings including the original Morgue.


Today the original buildings have been painstakingly restored. Each guest room has been designed to retain its authenticity whilst providing contemporary, stylish furnishings with superior queen-sized beds and French doors opening out onto sweeping verandahs, video on demand and wireless access. The original first class dining rooms have now been restored to their former opulence, and the gentlemen’s smoking room and ladies’ sewing room now house a lounge and meeting rooms respectively.


The Boilerhouse Harbourside Restaurant in the Wharf Precinct is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a quiet drink. Inside, above the open plan kitchen, a mezzanine level offers a dining area with glimpses of the harbour. On the night I dined


I chose fish of the day and beer battered chips – some of the best I have ever tasted. Dining in the open air on the terrace is also recommended, as the views of the postcard perfect beach and Sydney Harbour are stunning. It is also easy to imagine just how opulent the quarantine experience was for those first class patrons who were billeted here.


Nearby it doesn’t take much searching to discover the immigrant graffiti carved into the sandstone rock face. It is a poignant reminder of the site’s extraordinary social history and the legacy left behind. Like a giant mural it records the arrival of each ship full of human cargo, with messages and insignia, dates, names, inscriptions and engravings clearly visible.


On dusk as the sky turned the colour of the pink petunias in the flower beds, I sat on my long veranda sipping a drink and contemplating the site and what it must have been like a hundred years ago. The view hadn’t changed in all those years, except for the high rise apartments and homes that dominate the bays and inlets as the view today is one to behold. The beauty of this site is arguably the fact that it sits on some of the most expensive real estate in Sydney, with bush and breathtaking harbour views that stretch far into the distance.






Thanks to the impressive restoration of the site, the hotel currently offers 74 rooms including six, two and three bedroom cottages as well as 27 personal rooms, garden view suites and the spectacular harbour view suites.


A ferry ride across the harbour was A$6.00. There is also the option of arriving by water taxi or you can kayak around Manly Heads.


Q Station

North Head Scenic Drive

PO Box 3025

Manly NSW 2095

T: +61 2 9466 1500


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