The history of Dog Island Lighthouse
Dog Island Lighthouse was built to warn mariners of the low, flat, rocky island that is only a couple of metres above sea level.
The lighthouse tower was the first in New Zealand to be designed by James Balfour. He later became the Colonial Marine Engineer and designed many of New Zealand’s lighthouses.
The tower was built from stone quarried on the island. The light began operation in August 1865.
The peaty subsoil caused the tower to take a slight lean, and over the next 50 years many makeshift repairs were carried out. In 1916 it was reported to be unsafe and the entire tower was encased in a concrete shell.
To make the lighthouse stand out, 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. Cape Campbell Lighthouse which looks similar to Dog Island and Cape Palliser Lighthouse, which has red and white stripes.
Operation of the Dog Island light
The original lighting system was the first revolving light in the country. Sixteen small oil lamps, each with its own lens, turned inside a single lantern. This differed from other early lights which comprised a single oil lamp and rotating lens. In 1925 the individual lamps were replaced by a single lamp and rotating lens.
In 1954 the light was converted from oil to diesel-generated electricity.
The original light on Dog Island caused extra tasks and difficulties for the early keepers. Every hour the mechanism had to be wound up. In 1883 the principal keeper died after falling down a 23 metre shaft that ran down the middle of the tower. He fell while adding an extra weight that was used to increase the speed of the revolving light.
The light was automated in 1989, and the keepers were withdrawn that same year.
In September 1999, the original light was removed and replaced with a modern rotating beacon, illuminated by a 35 watt tungsten halogen bulb.
Electricity to power the new light is supplied from battery banks charged by solar panels.
The light is monitored remotely from Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office.
Life at Dog Island light station
Dog island light station originally had three keepers and their families. By the time the light was automated this had been reduced to one keeper and his family.
Life at Dog Island could be challenging for keepers with families. The island was too isolated for children to attend school on the mainland each day.
In the early years supplies were sent out on the government supply ship every 3 months. The last keeper and his family had an easier time getting supplies. After a landing strip was built on the island, supplies were flown out fortnightly.