Cape Campbell

Get technical and historical information and resources about Cape Campbell lighthouse.

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Cape Campbell lighthouse
Maritime New Zealand ©2017
A shot of Cape Campbell lighthouse and surrounding homestead.

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Lighthouse overview

Cape Campbell Lighthouse marks the southern approaches to Cook Strait. It is situated on the eastern coast of New Zealand’s South Island, about 50 kilometres from Blenheim.

Lighthouse feature: Details
Location: latitude 41°44’ south, longitude 174°17’ east
Elevation: 47 metres above sea level
Construction: cast iron tower, but originally made of wood
Tower height: 22 metres
Light configuration: modern rotating beacon
Light flash character: white light flashing once every 15 seconds
Power source: mains electricity
Range: 19 nautical miles (35 kilometres)
Date light first lit: 1870
Automated: 1986
Demanned: 1986

Getting to Cape Campbell Lighthouse

Cape Campbell Lighthouse is accessible to the public at low tide only from Marfells Beach.

There is no public access to enter the lighthouse

Access and accommodation can also be arranged through Experience Cape Campbell.

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The history of Cape Campbell Lighthouse

The cape has contributed to the wrecking of many ships. It was after the wreck of the Alexander in 1858, in which one person was drowned, that Cape Campbell was chosen as a suitable site for a lighthouse. It was another 10 years before one was built however. The light was finally lit on 1 August 1870.

Two years after it was first built, faults were found in the tower’s original wooden construction. It was wedged up and the timbers were refastened throughout. In 1898 the hardwood was found to be decaying, and it was decided to replace the wooden tower with a new one made of cast iron.

In October 1905 the light began operating from its new site. The old tower situated alongside, was demolished shortly afterwards.

To make the lighthouse stand out from the white hills behind it, the tower was painted with black and white stripes, rather than the standard plain white. There are only two other lighthouses in New Zealand with stripes: Dog Island Lighthouse which looks similar to Cape Campbell; and Cape Palliser Lighthouse which has red and white stripes.

Operation of the Cape Campbell light

The light was originally powered with a Colza oil-burning incandescent lamp.

In July 1938 the light was converted to an electric light. The electricity was initially supplied by diesel generators. It was converted to mains electricity in the 1960s.

In 1986 the light was automated and the last keeper was withdrawn that same year.

The original light mechanism was removed and replaced in November 2003 with a modern rotating beacon, illuminated by a 50-watt tungsten halogen bulb.

The new light is powered by mains electricity and backed up by battery in the event of power failure.

The light is monitored remotely from Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office.

Life at Cape Campbell light station

Life at Cape Campbell light station changed very little for the keepers and their families over the years.

Despite the station’s proximity to Blenheim, about 50 kilometres away, domestic life at the station was reasonably self sufficient. Until the 1960s, cows were kept to supply fresh milk, and bread was baked at the station each day. The keepers also took advantage of the access to plentiful supplies of seafood, including crayfish and paua in their diet.