The history of Farewell Spit Lighthouse
Before the lighthouse was built, many ships had been wrecked upon the spit; it had been feared by mariners for years.
Construction of the light station at the end of the spit began in 1869. Because the ground was almost at sea level the tower needed to be taller than those built on cliffs or headlands, so it could be seen easily by seafarers.
In 1891 it was found that the hardwood used for the tower was rapidly decaying because of the weather and abrasive sand. The tower was replaced with a steel latticework construction. The new light was ready in January 1897.
Building lighthouses was never an easy task and sandy Farewell Spit offered a unique set of challenges. The light station stood on a very windy beach and one night the stormy weather whipped up the sand, completely covering a pile of bricks. They were never found, and a new lot had to be shipped to the station.
Operation of the Farewell Spit light
Farewell Spit was converted from oil to diesel-generated electricity in the 1930s. It was connected to mains electricity in the 1960s.
The station was automated and the last keepers were withdrawn in 1984.
The original light was replaced in September 1999 with a modern rotation beacon, illuminated by a 50 watt tungsten halogen bulb. The original light can be viewed in the hut at the base of the tower.
The new light is powered by mains electricity and has a backup battery in case of a power failure.
The light is monitored remotely from Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office.
Life at Farewell Spit light station
Farewell Spit was not a popular station among keepers because the site was completely bare of vegetation and sand got into everything. Keepers had the never ending job of shovelling sand away from their cottages.
The first attempts to grow any kind of vegetation proved unsuccessful. Just before the turn of the century, a keeper organised loads of soil to be brought to the station with the mail. He planted a windbreak of macrocarpa pines to protect the station from the sand. As the pines grew, this windbreak became a well known landmark for passing ships.
It was made very clear to the keepers that the diesel-generated electricity installed in the 1930s was strictly for the lighthouse, and not for domestic purposes.
In 1957 the generators were finally allowed to be used one day a week for washing and to run the radio for the children’s correspondence school. A year later, however, it was felt that this privilege was being abused. The keepers were reminded, for example, not to leave the generators running so they could make morning tea with the electric jug. Also they were asked not to do extra washing while the light was operating, before the sun came up. When the light was connected to mains electricity access to electricity for domestic use ceased to be a problem.