The history of Centre Island Lighthouse
Work began on the Centre Island Lighthouse in 1877, and the light was first lit in September 1878. Kauri was brought across from the mainland to construct the tower.
Operation of the Centre Island light
The light was first powered by colza oil, but it was later changed to paraffin for increased brightness. In 1955 it was converted from oil to diesel-generated electricity.
Because of the dangerous rocks around Centre Island, the light has red sectors which shine an arc over the area to be avoided.
Centre Island lighthouse was automated, and the last keeper was withdrawn in 1987.
In the 1990s the original light and associated equipment were removed and replaced with a modern beacon illuminated by a 50 watt tungsten halogen bulb. The new light is powered from battery banks charged by solar panels.
The light is now monitored remotely from Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office.
Life at Centre Island light station
The keepers were responsible for carrying out general maintenance on the tower and their own dwellings, in addition to tending the light. They also needed to provide most of their own food. The keepers on Centre Island were mostly self-sufficient.
Their regular fishing trips were fitted around other duties. Fishing in Foveaux Strait was a hazardous task. In 1943 two keepers drowned on a fishing expedition from the lighthouse.
As early as 1888 Centre Island keepers were having problems with their accommodation, as the principal keeper wrote:
“The first assistant’s house has flooded in every room, clothing, bedding etc. all wet. This house has always leaked in stormy weather and we have several times endeavoured to stop the leaky places, but without much success.”
In the early days, stores were carried up to the light station by bull or donkey. Later a horse and sled were used and then a tractor. In the 1950s an airstrip was built.
The light station was originally home to three keepers and their families. In the mid-1950s when diesel-generated electricity was introduced to power the light it was dropped back to two keepers. By 1977 only one keeper was stationed at the lighthouse. Supplies were flown in fortnightly.
Centre Island Lighthouse remained a one keeper station until the light was automated in 1987.