The history of Cuvier Island Lighthouse
Cuvier Island Lighthouse was the first cast iron tower to be built in New Zealand. The materials had to be hauled nearly 100 metres up the steep hill as soon as they were taken from the boats. There was no beach near the site.
Operation of the Cuvier Island light
The light was originally powered by oil illumination and converted to diesel-generated electricity in 1939.
The lighthouse was automated in 1982 and the final keeper was withdrawn then.
In the 1990s the original 1000 watt light and associated equipment were removed and a 100 watt rotating beacon was installed. The beacon is now powered from battery banks charged by solar panels.
The light is monitored remotely from Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office.
Life at Cuvier Island light station
Cuvier Island is the most distant of New Zealand’s offshore lighthouses. The sense of isolation is intensified by the heavy fog that often surrounds it.
Three keepers and their families lived on the rugged and exposed light station.
They lived in houses sited in a small sheltered valley at sea level, near the landing place. To tend the light the keepers had to climb the slope using a nearly vertical zigzag track. On a stormy night this track could be treacherous.
The principal keeper wrote in 1892:
“I have to inform you that the cause of illness of keepers at this station is through the hill walk at night. Climbing the slope, the keeper gets into a state of perspiration and coming into a light room where there is such a draught, causes him to get a chill which makes him not fit for his work.”
The isolation was also a cause of irritation for most keepers. Although this was a feature of all lighthouses, on the island stations this was taken to the extreme. Mail and supplies were brought by boat every 3 months. In the early years the station had a high turnover of keepers because of the isolation.
In 1901 the principal keeper wrote:
“This is the worst station I was ever at. There is no convenience.”
Trained carrier pigeons were used to carry communications to Auckland between 1899 until 1911, although with little success. The pigeons were later replaced with radio communications.