Q Station in Manly used to be the holding place for immigrants coming to Sydney – and many people died here. No wonder they run a ghost tour – but, how scary is it? We found out…
‘I feel hot. I can see a young girl, I think she’s dying of fever – I need to go outside.’
Not the words I expected to hear from the man, probably in his early 60s, dressed in beige shorts, a sensible polo shirt and a baseball cap, standing next to me on our Q Station tour but he’s clearly upset as he, rather shakily, heads quickly toward the door of the small wooden cottage we’re exploring.
Five minutes later, on the porch of said building, another girl in her 20s claims she feels her heart is hurting and the guide – who is already outside the house as he doesn’t like it in there – suggests she go and stand a little way away from the property.
And so begins another night of weird experiences at Gravediggers Cottage (below), allegedly one of the most haunted sites to be seen on the Q Station Ghost Tours in Manly, Sydney.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links which mean I earn a small commission if you use them to book. This does not cost you any extra.
What is Q Station?
For those who don’t know Sydney, and have maybe just stumbled across this searching for ghost tours in Sydney, Q Station is the reputedly most haunted place in Sydney – and probably, one of the most haunted sites in Australia.
Starting in the 1830s and for the next 150 years, Q Station, then known as Quarantine Station, was where people were housed when they first arrived from the ships in Sydney to check that they didn’t have any communicable diseases that might threaten the population in town.
It wasn’t on the face of it an awful place to stay – there were first-class accommodations and a formal dining room for the poshest passengers and while the steerage-class accommodation was a bit more rough and ready, Quarantine Station was a place generally designed to keep people safe.
But the serious nature of diseases like Spanish flu, smallpox and typhoid, especially in the early years where treatment was limited, meant that not everyone coming in to quarantine made it out.
It’s not known exactly how many people died at Quarantine Station, but at least 600 is a common estimate.
What is known is that some of them haven’t exactly left yet.
Why is Q Station so Haunted?
After all, people die in hospitals, hospices and war sites, all the time and they aren’t’ wall to wall ghosts.
Well, while I’m not going to tell you exact details about what happens on the Quarantine Station Ghost tour, as that would spoil it, I will just recount why our guide said that Q Station was so haunted.
The difference, he said, was the anger and upset many ghosts here feel. Many had travelled, often for months at sea, to start their new lives in Sydney – only to have their hopes and dreams cruelly snatched away from them at the last minute.
This combined, with the unpleasant nature of deaths involved with some of the diseases suffered here – and, if the Quarantine Station ghost stories are to be believed, the unpleasant nature of at least one of the doctors working on the site, meant that the people who died here were full of rage, hurt and anger – and that doesn’t make for a peaceful transition to the other side.
The spirits, therefore hang around their place of departure trying to get closure – and part of that includes making themselves known to those who visit/intrude on their territory.
‘I think they’ve been lonely in lockdown because there’s been a lot of sighting’s recently,’ said the unconcerned voice on the phone when I called to redeem our gift voucher to book our tour. ‘you should have a good night.’
I wasn’t sure about that statement. It took me seven years of living in Sydney to finally book this tour. The very idea of the place scares me and so, at this point, I couldn’t quite decide if my idea of a good night included seeing a spectral vision or not – but, I guessed we’d find out if/when that happened!
Spooky Night Begins…
The Ghost Tour starts in the Wharf Precinct toward the southern end of the site and the closest spot to what’s known as Quarantine Beach.
This would have been the first place that many of those on the ships ever touched Australian soil. Here their paperwork was processed and their luggage – and they – were decontaminated.
Despite the presence of the Q Station’s main restaurant in this area, it’s not exactly brightly-lit round here. Eerie red lights light some buildings, I’m guessing to please the health and safety people, others, once you enter and the external door is closed, are pitch black to add to the air of uncertainty as to who, or what, is around you.
In the first building, I can barely see our guide and the darkness accentuates the nerves everyone is feeling.
Mind you even if we could see the guide clearly, no-one’s eyes would be on him.
We’ve been given small EMF monitors to hold. These apparently glow red in the presence of paranormal activity (and mobile phones, so keep them away from them if you don’t want to give yourself a heart attack every few minutes) and we’re staring at them intently as we hear the tales of past spooky encounters right where we stand.
From decontamination, you move to the buildings of the hospital precinct, through the old isolation area, to the third class precinct and the home of Gravediggers Cottage.
From here you in the old morgue and then head back to decontamination – finishing up in what’s referred to in more than one other Quarantine Station Ghost Tour review as the ‘infamous shower block’, where carbolic acid showers were used to cleanse lice, and other skin infections, from the arriving travellers.
Each stop on the tour has it’s own ghost story – invisible children like to play with guests in some rooms, other ghosts have an affinity for those in the services, one really does NOT like it if you disrespect them – others, apparently, like to scratch unsuspecting guests.I got rather nervous at that bit!
The guides have named some of the spirits they frequently encounter usually based on the records of who died on the site – and they fear some more than others.
How many of the encounters are true, and how many are a figment of imagination, is hard to pick out – and I do admit, that some of the chat verged on camp (being asked if the lights had just been on in a now-dark, building had me rolling my eyes a little), but the tales of experiences by past guests on the tours – and maybe some actual experiences on your own tour – will set your nerves on edge.
I’ve also had friends who have had weird experiences on this tour. ‘There’s something about that shower block,’ said my friend Delphine who runs the blog LesterLost.
Another friend, Katie, explains the freaky experience she had with the wardrobe in the aforementioned Gravediggers Cottage in her post on the tour.
I’ve also met people who claim they were pushed in the shower block and seen videos of lights going on and off in rooms in the hotel.
Personally, I didn’t experience anything except a few shivers down my spine, but others on our tour did feel some strange things including the fever and heart reactions above. The EMF meters were also going slightly nuts in Gravediggers Cottage.
I was taking photos madly in the hope of capturing one of the many shadows, or even complete human forms, that have been seen in other people’s photos after taking the tour – but nothing.
I like to think it was the stern aura being given off by my tour buddy Kendall, who, as a pathologist, has a healthy level of scepticism re all things ghostly. I’m figuring her ‘don’t mess with me, I’m used to deceased folk’ vibe, kept me out of scariness’ way.
I do admit though to not walking down to the dark bit at the end of the shower block.
I blame my seriously freaky experience in the Newcastle Lock Up a few days before…. I’m not sure I could have ever slept with the lights off again if I’d encountered two ghosts in a week!
So is the Q-Station Ghost Tour Worth Taking?
Yes. It was fascinating to hear about the history of this place. And even without any personal spooky encounters, just walking around the dark roads on the site after dark and listening to the tales (tall or not) was enough to speed my heart rate up a bit.
I do believe in ghosts and don’t doubt that Q Station is haunted even if I didn’t see proof of that on this night.
I’ve done a few ghost tours in Sydney and this was probably the scariest in terms of the atmosphere and surroundings. Some of the tales really are quite chilling.
We just went for the evening tour, but if you can, I’d definitely recommend staying at the hotel on the property giving you more time to explore during the daylight hours (or, after the tour if you’re brave enough).
While the buildings you visit are off-limits to people not on a tour, it’s said that spooky things do happen in the general vicinity of the area and some of the hotel rooms – and, they don’t just happen at night either. The staff say they regularly have unexplained things happen during the day.
What Tours are Offered?
There’s a number of different ones…
If You Have Kids
Then pick the Ghost Tracker tour.
This starts a bit earlier than the Ghostly Encounters tour and is suitable for anyone over 8.
To book this you must have a child aged between 8-14 with you.
t takes two hours and is only available at weekends.
If You Just Want a Simple Ghost Tour
The pick the Ghostly Encounters tour which is the one we did.
Kids over 15 are allowed on this tour, but anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
It lasts 2.5 hours and is available seven days a week.
If there’s a lot of demand they might offer two departures a night – when we went in October there were tours at 8pm and 8.30pm.
If You’re More Into the Spooky Stuff
Then sign up for Paranormal Investigation tour.
This uses specialist paranormal equipment and guides to attempt to draw out the Q Station ghosts.
It lasts four hours but only runs once a month, so check the website to see when the next one opens.
You’ll find full details of all the Q Station Tours on their website. Click here to see more details on what’s on offer, pricing and availability.
How to get to Q Station
Q Station is located in an area called North Head located in the beach resort of Manly about a 30-minute ferry ride from the Sydney CBD. It’s a little bit quicker if you get what’s known as the fast ferry.
If you’re local, the best plan is to drive there as the tours finish pretty late. If you do drive you’ll park at the main hotel reception area to Q Station and then get a shuttle bus down to the start of the tour at the Wharf Precinct.
Allow plenty of time to reach the site before your tour as this can take a bit of time to navigate and organise.
You can walk to the tour site, but make sure you have a map so you don’t end up wandering off the wrong way and missing the start.
If you do take public transport, the quickest and easiest way to get to Q Station from the CBD is to take the Manly ferry, or the Fast Ferry from Circular Quay and then jump in a taxi (there’s a rank opposite the ferry wharf on Whistler Street near the Town Hall) for the short drive to the hotel reception. This will cost about $10-15.
Again, once you get here you’ll need to get the shuttle bus down to the tour site.
If you get here super early and want to eat on-site before your tour, the Boilermaker restaurant is right by the tour meeting point. You’ll need to book in advance as it’s very popular. They have a formal dining restaurant or, a more casual menu is served on the terrace. See more details here.
During the Tour
You’re on your feet for the whole 2.5 hours – I didn’t really see anywhere to sit at most of the stops. It’s not an arduous walk, but there are some steps and slopes to deal with. Wear flat, closed toe shoes.
There’s no toilets that I saw on the tour – but there are some at the start/end point.
Right now, they are asking you to wear masks throughout the tour – that might have changed when you book, but double check. We bought spooky ones specially!
After your tour
You finish where you started at Wharf Precinct.
When your tour is finished, shuttle buses will drop you back at the main reception – or, at your accommodation if you’re staying onsite. This was pretty well organised, but even so, don’t expect to arrive back at reception about 15-20 minutes after your tour finishes.
If you don’t have a car parked at reception, you’ll probably need to call an Uber, Ola, Didi or a taxi (try 131451) to come and pick you up. There won’t just be any driving past.
The last ferry leaves Manly at 12.20 in the week (there is usually one or two extra services a bit later at the weekend so check the timetable).
The Manly Fast Ferry doesn’t run late a night so you’ll need to use Sydney ferries.
If you get totally stuck, an Uber back into the city should cost around $50-70 dollars late at night (if there’s no surge pricing).
Staying Overnight at Q Station
If you don’t want to worry about late-night transport, or simply want to explore all that Q Station has to offer – including a private beach, cute natural wildlife (the site is home to bandicoots), stunning views, bushwalking – plus the possibility of bumping into a ghost outside of your tour, then you might want to stay at Q Station overnight – it’s now a rather swish 4-star hotel using updated versions of many of the original buildings.
You can choose from hotel-style rooms – note the bathrooms are not in the room in some rooms, but each room has it’s own private set of facilities.
Or, pick family-style apartments which also have kitchens. Bigger groups might also want to stay in one of the cottages which used to be the station’s old staff quarters.
Most of the rooms have porches or balconies to sit on at night – or head to one of the guest lounges that are located in areas like the old first-class dining room and the first-class kitchen to get a real feel for the history of the site.
You can see more about the types of rooms on offer on your dates, and check the rates by clicking here.
What Else is There to Do in Manly
There’s quite a lot – from checking out the world famous beach to seeing the spot where surfing was born in Australia.
For a list of our favourite suggestions, have a look at our guide to fun and unusual things to do in Manly
So there you have it, my Quarantine Station Ghost Tour review – are you brave enough to book your space?
What to Read Next
Check out our guide to a few other spooky spots in Sydney, there’s lots around the Rocks district.
You might also like out post on the sensory tour of Sydney’s Royal Botanical Gardens which takes in the famous Corpse flower – when this is blooming it smells like rotting flesh! Fun eh! See the tour post here.
You might also want to check out our post on the interesting gravestones in the cemetery in Coober Pedy, South Australia.
Who Writes Differentville?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a journalist and author living in Sydney.
My travel articles have been published in titles include The Australian, Body & Soul at the Sunday Telegraph, RAC Horizons, Jetstar magazine and more.
I like the weird, the wonderful and anything that makes me jump and down with glee like I’m about three. That’s what you’ll find here.
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