Matched Set: A few lighthouses of Australia and New Zealand

24 May
Matched Set: A few lighthouses of Australia and New Zealand

Australia is the only country that is also a continent.  With about 30,000 kilometers of coastline [1] and a robust shipping industry, safeguarding sea-going vessels from dangerous shores is a high priority. It was this that prompted the proliferation of lighthouses in Australia during the twentieth century.  Today we have 350 lighthouses and other navigational aids. Australia’s cousin to the east, New Zealand, experienced a similar trajectory, and their 23 lighthouses and 70 light beacons stand as evidence.

These are a few of their stories.

Montague Island lighthouse

Montague Island Lighthouse South Coast, NSW 2003

Montague Island lighthouse
South Coast, NSW 2003

Lantern of Montague Island lighthouse 2003

Lantern Room of Montague Island lighthouse 2003










The island of Montague near Narooma on the South Coast of New South Wales is only 9 kilometers off the coast of Australia, and enough of a danger to shipping that it has its own fully operational lighthouse. Certainly my experience of visiting the island demonstrated the dangers; on our return we passed a container ship ‘threading the needle’ by which I mean that rather than skirting Montague Island on the seaward side it was traveling North through the gap between the island and the mainland.

The lighthouse is currently a solar-powered unmanned revolving 120,000 candela light, but at its height (1969-1986) it was an electric powered beacon of 1,000,000 candelas. [2]

Though lighthouses are meant as a visual warning to vessels, it is inevitable that they afford stunning ocean vistas. In the case of the Montague Island lighthouse, this also includes views of the Eurobodalla Shire coastline.

View of Australian coast from Montague Island lighthouse 2003

View of Australian coast from Montague Island lighthouse 2003

In the adjacent photo of the Australian coastline seen from Montague Island, Mount Dromedary dominates the landscape. Mount Dromedary was and still is known to Australian Aboriginal Walbunja and Yuin peoples as Gulaga. In their dreamtime stories Gulaga is the mother of Barunguba (Montague Island). Gulaga allowed her son Barunguba to go on an adventure out to sea, where he stays to this day.[3]

Large Fur Seal and Little Penguin colonies live at Montague Island and it is the breeding location in spring and summer for Gulls, Crested Terns and Shearwaters. [4]

The island offers a beautiful viewing place for Humpback and Southern Right whales as they biannually migrate back and forth, particularly in spring when the females are shepherding their slow moving calves from the warm waters of the tropics to their Antarctic feeding grounds.

A tale of two lighthouses: Cape St George and Point Perpendicular

Point Perpendicular Lighthouse Jervis Bay, NSW Australia December 2012

Point Perpendicular lighthouse
Jervis Bay, NSW Australia, December 2012

The Point Perpendicular lighthouse, still standing today, operated successfully for 94 years, from 1899 to 1993. When built in 1899, it produced 100,000 candelas of light via a kerosene mantle burning system, much like the mantle light of a Coleman camping lantern. After two further upgrades, the lighthouse was converted to electricity in 1964 at which time the brightness of the beacon increased to 1,200,000 candelas.

The Point Perpendicular lighthouse was built to replace the woefully inadequate Cape St George lighthouse (1860-1899), an erection more expressive of government bungling and the greed of its contracted builder than maritime safety.

According to Lighthouses of Australia the government did not consult with the appropriate authority (the Pilots Board)  when identifying the site for the Cape St George lighthouse, and the site turned out to have little visibility.

Furthermore, the contractor built the lighthouse 2 1/2 miles north of where it was intended perhaps so that he could be closer to the quarry supplying the building materials. (While it might seem impossible to believe that a building could be misplaced in this way, it is possible in a vast and undeveloped land such as Australia was in the latter half of the 19th century.)

After 39 years being barely visible from the sea on the southern cape of Wreck Bay, the loss of 23 ships and many lives, and the deaths of a lighthouse keeper (probably taken by sharks) and a lighthouse keeper’s daughter (accidentally shot by the head keeper’s daughter), the Cape St George Lighthouse was decommissioned and later summarily destroyed by being used by the Australian Navy for target practice.[5]

Cape St George Lighthouse Ruins

Cape St George lighthouse Ruins

The new lighthouse, Point Perpendicular lighthouse, was well-positioned and constructed on the north point of the bay. Point Perpendicular is so named because the cliff face falls away to the sea 93 meters below at a 90 degree angle.[6]

The lighthouse, designed by Charles Harding of the NSW Department of Public Works, was the first in NSW to be constructed of pre-cast concrete blocks using aggregate of local stone, and the lantern is of iron and copper.[7]

From the point vast sweeps of the ocean extend in all directions other than the western inland, and from this elevated perspective ships can seen far out at sea, and whales of all types including Humpback, Southern Right, Sperm and even 200 tonne Blue whales have been sighted. [8]

Akaroa Head lighthouse, New Zealand

Finding a lighthouse was the last thing I expected when in 2009 my family and I toured the Christchurch area of New Zealand’s South Island and visited the lovely town of Akaroa deep within a protected harbour.  But nestled on the shores of the windy bay there it was.

Akaroa Head lighthouse in its new location in Akaroa Town

Akaroa Head lighthouse in its new location in Akaroa Town 2009

At first glance it looks quaint, a mere 28 feet high, copper domed wood structure of Victorian design.

However, from 1880 to 1977 this seemingly charming little lighthouse played a crucial role in guiding ships into the safety of Akaroa Harbour. Perched on top of Akaroa Head of Banks Peninsula, the lighthouse’s beacon shone from 270 feet above sea level, reaching 37 kilometers into the Southern Pacific Ocean.[9] To withstand the winds buffeting the structure, the walls were built as double walls and filled with ballast.

Its current position resulted from the efforts of the Akaroa Lighthouse Preservation Society, who rescued the tower after it was replaced by an automated lighthouse in 1977. The Society moved the lighthouse in three pieces to what is now known as Lighthouse Point on the edge of town.

According to the New Zealand Government, the lighthouse marked the last landfall of Captain Scott before he sailed for the South Pole In 1911. The lighthouse also served as a weather station; from 1907 until its decommissioning, the keepers reported on the weather 4 times a day to the New Zealand Meteorological Service, amounting to over 80,000 weather reports.[9]

These days, rather than presiding over the harbour mouth on a bluff scoured by high winds, Akaroa Head lighthouse is enjoying its retirement presiding over French Bay.


All photographs by Sabrina Caldwell and other than re-sizing for webuse, have not been altered in any way.


[1] Estimates vary from 25,000 to over 50,000, so this is a conservative estimate within this range. Accessed May 2014.
[2] Lighthouses of Australia, Inc. The Montague Island Lighthouse. Accessed May 2014.
[3] Indigenous Sites: Eurobodalla coast and its hinterland are steeped in cultural significance. Accessed May 2014.
[4] NSW Government. Destination New South Wales  Montague Island Tours. Accessed May 2014.
[5] Lighthouses of Australia Inc. The Ill-Fated Cape St George Lighthouse. Accessed May 2014.
[6] Lighthouses of Australia Inc. The Point Perpendicular Lighthouse at Jervis Bay. Accessed May 2014
[7] Defence Environment Team. Point Perpendicular Lightstation. In situ signage.
[8] Defence Environment Team. Whales and Whale Watching. In situ signage.
[9]New Zealand Government Department of Conservation. Historic Akaroa Head. Accessed May 2014.

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