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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 5, November 1971

Kahurangi Lighthouse

Kahurangi Lighthouse

The Kahurangi lighthouse was built early in 1903 and one of the first reports concerning the building states that a man engaged in the preliminary work broke a leg. His mates carried him to Parkeston (Mangarakau) a distance of 25 miles, and as quite a number of rivers had to be crossed, some of these only at low tide, this was a considerable undertaking. They arrived at midnight and it was possible to use a conveyance to get him to Collingwood, again across mudflats and streams which were only usable at low tide. Fortunately the S.S. "Lady Barkly" was in port and made an emergency trip to Nelson.

All the heavy ironwork and timber for the project was brought in by scows to the mouth of the Big River about two miles north of the building site. It was necessary to bring the boats in at high tide but there was a good anchorage beside a flat outcrop of rock which provided ideal conditions for unloading. From there everything had to be carted along the beach. The steel framework had a bolt every four inches along the sections of 3/4 inch plate steel with the result that there were tons of bolts, and a heap of these in the bed of a dray probably weighed threequarters of a ton or more, a heavy load to cart along the beach. A light tramway was erected from the beach up the steep slope to the level where the buildings were to be, all the materials being winched up and then sledged to the site.

The completed tower was 59 feet high and the light 155 feet above sea level. Two sectors round the light showed red beams to warn shipping of reefs which extended 7 miles out to sea. Three page 6houses were built for the keepers employed there. The paraffin for the lights came in 4 gallon tins so the periodic loading of 300 gallons represented a considerable operation, especially as stores, coal, and all other necessities were also shipped in.

A former keeper at Kahurangi for a period of three years stated that stores and supplies were brought in from Wellington every six months or so. The surf boats landed everything on the natural wharf in the Big River, and from there they were transported by horse and cart to the lighthouse. He could not recall any difficulties in landing the supplies though some were encountered when the building materials were landed.

The small steamer "Te Kapu" missed the channel and was stranded high and dry between tides, and on another occasion the scow "Ngaru" was holed against the rocks while tied at the landing site. Possibly there were further troubles as the Marine Department's annual report in 1907 stated that owing to "the impossibility of landing at Kahurangi Lighthouse when there was a sea on, the Department had arranged for the lighthouse to be tended by the Karamea-Westport steamer, instead of the "Hinemoa." In the early days of the lighthouse a keeper rode out once a month to collect the mail and this was the only contact that the keepers had with the outside world.

Sheep for mutton were kept at the Lighthouse Reserve. Later packhorses were used to bring in stores and eventually all transport was over land. Even this was not without its difficulties. The tides always had to be studied but an even greater obstacle had to be faced when a property owner closed the road through his property and stopped all transport. The wife of one keeper was in Collingwood and could not return home until the dispute was settled.

In the 1929 earthquake a slip wrecked buildings and smashed the base of the lighthouse itself. Fortunately nobody was injured. The light was out for about two months while repairs were being made. A new four-roomed cottage was built on a flat about half a mile further north but as this site was threatened by sea erosion it had to be moved to a sheltered site on higher ground.

An automatic light was installed in 1926 and this was in turn changed to acetylene gas, and later to electricity.

No keepers live at Kahurangi now and overland parties service the light.