The history of Kahurangi Point Lighthouse
Construction of the Kahurangi Point Lighthouse was difficult. Access to the site was limited and surrounding areas were practically unexplored, so no one knew quite what to expect.
The tower was made by Judd Engineering Works of Thames. It was shipped to the station in sections and landed at the mouth of Big River. From there it was carted over 3 kilometres along the beach and then winched by tramway 50 metres up a cliff to the site.
Landing the tower sections was a difficult task. Two small boats were damaged in the landing, and one worker broke his leg. Needing treatment, this man had to be carried across 32 kilometres of rough country to Westhaven, and from there to Collingwood where a steamer took him to Nelson. In total more than 145 kilometres were covered before he could be treated.
Operation of the Kahurangi Point light
The incandescent kerosene light was first lit in November 1903. In September 1926 the kerosene light was converted to an automatic acetylene gas light owing to the difficulties in servicing the light station. Despite the introduction of the automatic light the keepers remained at the station until the Murchison earthquake in June 1929.
The Murchison earthquake caused serious damage at the light station. The light was shattered, but the tower remained standing. The tower was propped up by the landslide but the bottom floor was buried. One of the keepers’ homes was completely covered by earth.
The lighthouse remained out of action for 2 months following the earthquake, until a temporary light could be set up. The tower was repaired and a new automatic light was put into operation in March 1931.
The keepers returned once the new automatic light was installed in 1931. The last keeper was finally withdrawn in 1960.
In May 1997, the original diesel powered light and associated equipment was removed and replaced with a flashing beacon placed on the balcony of the lighthouse. This was powered by batteries and solar panels.
In 2007 this beacon was replaced with a LED beacon, again placed on the balcony of the lighthouse.
The light is monitored remotely from Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office.
Life at Kahurangi Point light station
Although access to the station was a problem, the keepers seemed to enjoy their time at this lighthouse.
The area is very lush and green. Growing vegetables and keeping livestock was no trouble, so the keepers’ diet was varied. The area also had good supplies of fish and seafood, wild berries and mushrooms.
Getting other supplies to the station was not so easy. At first a contract was agreed with a steamer to land oil and stores at Big Bay every 6 months. This arrangement proved too hazardous and it was decided it would be easier to supply the station by land. Each month one keeper would ride into Collingwood for supplies.