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Help kids discover history at Q Station retreat at Manly on Sydney Harbour

The COVID-19 pandemic has made a stay at this former quarantine station even more relevant, ANGELA SAURINE writes

An aerial view of the Q Station in Manly
An aerial view of the Q Station in Manly

Q-Station, formally known as North Head Quarantine Station

There’s no denying that getting kids get interested in history can be a challenge. But staying somewhere where you are absolutely immersed in it, we find it’s impossible not to pique their curiosity. Sydney’s Q Station retreat was formerly a quarantine station, where passengers from ships arriving in the city between 1828 and 1984 stayed while they were assessed for contagious diseases, including the Bubonic plague, Smallpox and Spanish influenza. Given recent events, a stay here feels particularly pertinent. The site’s transformation into a tourist destination that embraces its heritage is nothing short of impressive.

A 30 minute drive from Sydney's CBD

A cottage at Q Station. Image Sue Stubbs
A cottage at Q Station. Image: Sue Stubbs

Q Station is located on a peninsula at the northern entrance to Sydney Harbour in Manly (known as North Head). It’s around 30 minutes’ drive from the Sydney CBD. Guests can park their cars at the entrance and catch a shuttle bus to their accommodation – an experience my three-year-old loves. It is hoped that the ferry service that operated pre-Covid will also be back up and running in early 2022.

Rooms with panoramic views of Sydney’s incredible harbour, the National Park grounds or historic buildings of Q Station

A cottage room at Q Station. Image Sue Stubbs
A cottage room at Q Station. Image: Sue Stubbs

Various repurposed rooms, suites and cottages are dotted throughout the 33ha site. They range from Q Rooms with separate bathrooms (as all rooms had originally), through to the former doctors’ and nurses’ quarters, with beautiful harbour views, that sleep up to six guests. The former officers’ cottages, such as the one in which we stay (S12), are ideal for families. They have one king room and two queen rooms, a living room, bathroom and kitchen. The kids love seeing the old fuel stove, historic books on the shelves (which quickly answer the question of what those quarantining would have done for entertainment before iPads), and chimneys that Santa can slide down. During our stay we see cockatoos grazing on the lawn, and even spot a bandicoot scurrying around as we snack on cookies on the verandah one evening. Being away from the hustle and bustle, it feels extremely peaceful, and it’s easy to get a good night’s sleep.

Book your next Q Station stay HERE

Activities

A cockatoo at Q Station. Image Sue Stubbs
A cockatoo at Q Station. Image: Sue Stubbs

One of the biggest drawcards of the Q Station is the delightful Quarantine Beach, which is perhaps better described as a calm bay. It’s a lovely place to go kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding – or just to hang out building sandcastles and splashing about in the shallows. The museum at the visitor centre at the wharf showcases fascinating artifacts telling the stories of the quarantine station’s former inhabitants and their journeys. We find reading the preserved gravestones from the first burial ground particularly interesting. One-hour history tours leave from here at 11am daily, while EcoWalks Tours also offers a wildlife tour. The site is also reputed to be one of the most haunted in the country, and you can hear terrifying tales during the popular ghost tour. (During a previous stay for a pre-parenthood yoga retreat, the TV in my room turned on by itself. Fortunately, the scariest moment of my most recent stay comes when we are swooped by a magpie!)

Harbourside dining

Quarantine Beach and Boilerhouse Restaurant at Q Station Manly. Image Sue Stubbs
Quarantine Beach and Boilerhouse Restaurant at Q Station Manly. Image: Sue Stubbs

We relish the return of the buffet at Views Restaurant where, if you are lucky, you can nab a table outside on the grass and watch the ferries chugging back and forth across the harbour. The Boilerhouse Kitchen & Bar serves modern Australian cuisine. The walls of the eatery are lined with large pipes and valves that previously sent boiling water to the showers and laundry. The restaurant’s Outdoor Terrace, overlooking the beach, offers a casual menu for lunch and dinner. Room service is also available for dinner from Sunday to Thursday, and there is a café at the visitor centre.

Walk or hire bikes

Lucas Crabb riding his scooter at Q Station. Image Angela Saurine
Lucas Crabb riding his scooter at Q Station. Image: Angela Saurine

There’s no shortage of things to do around here. Hiring bikes is a wonderful way to explore the site and the adjoining North Head Sanctuary. The latter has several walking and cycling routes to choose from. The 1.5-two-hour Sanctuary Loop passes by former School of Artillery buildings and takes in much of the headland, offering spectacular views, while Australia’s Memorial Walk honours those who have served and supported the defence of the country. You can also book a surf lesson in Manly, go snorkelling at Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve, or stroll along the walkway from Manly Corso to Shelly Beach.

The writer was a guest of Q Station.

  • Q Station
  • 1 North Head Scenic Drive, Manly, NSW
  • 02 9466 1500

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