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Cape Palliser (1897)




Cape Palliser, with lighthouse and houses.

Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mätauraga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.


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Cape Palliser was named by Captain James Cook, on December 7, 1769 while sailing up the coast he sighted land and named the point Cape Palliser after his good friend Captain Palliser of the Beagle. 3

Standing on the southern tip of the North Island, Cape Palliser often bears the brunt of the Cook Strait gales. Numerous wreaks had occurred in the area so a lighthouse was proposed.  3

The lantern and lens were ordered from London and arrived on the SS Kaikoura, leaving London on March 6, 1896 arriving in Wellington on April 22, 1896. 3

The tower was pre-fabricated in Birmingham,  18  England and arrived in Wellington on board the SS Ionic and the SS Kaikoura17

The lighthouse was built on a ledge cut out of the bluff 78 metres above sea level, however the keeper's houses were built on a flat area at sea level. This made it necessary for the keepers to climb a steep and treacherous track up to the tower.  1

The light fueled by oil was first lit the evening of October 27, 1897.  3

Cape Palliser  was painted red and white strips and along with Cape Campbell and Dog Island are the only lights in New Zealand painted with strips so they stand out from the surrounding hills.  1

Stores were delivered to the station every 3 months by the light house tender. In rough seas, the stores has to be landed at the more sheltered Kawakawa Bay, 6 kilometres away.  1

In 1912 the treacherous track was replaced by 258 wooden steps that climb vertically up the cliff. Within a month a rock fall damaged part of the stair and they needed to be re-built.  2  But still oil and later kerosene had to be hauled up the cliff on a railway using only a hand winch.  1

 In 1929 while Arthur W. Page was stationed at the Cape Palliser light a magnitude 7.8 earthquake occurred on 17 June, which severely damaged the South Island town of Murchison. The Cape Palliser lighthouse, situated on the same fault line, was also damaged by this earthquake and Page was still dealing with the earthquake’s aftermath months later. 13a

In 1954 the lighthouse was converted from kerosene to a diesel powered generator. Later in 1967 the station was connected to mains electricity.  2

There was no road until 1941  18   then the keepers would collect their mail and supplies once a week from Pirinoa. 1

Cape Palliser lighthouse is still fitted with the original Fresnel lens, which was installed in 1897. 1

The tower was repainted early in 2008.  21



The Cape Palliser lighthouse has along with others been featured on New Zealand postal stamps issued by the Government Life Insurance Office. 

The lighthouse featured on the 1947 issue with a value of 2d. 

The stamps in the series were, Castlepoint  1/2d, Taiaroa Head  1d , Cape Palliser  2d, Cape Campbell  2 1/2d, Eddystone 3d, Stephens Island  4d, The Brothers  6d and Cape Brett  1/-.

On July 10, 1967, the stamps were over printed as New Zealand changed to decimal currency.

The overprinted stamps in the series were,  Taiaroa Head  1 cent , Cape Campbell  2 cents, Eddystone  2 1/2 cents, Stephens Island  3 cents, The Brothers  5 cents and Cape Brett  10 cents.




Stamp Web Sites




From Wellington drive Hwy 2, then Hwy 53 to Martinborough. From Martinborough take the Lake Ferry Road, just before Lake Ferry turn towards Whangaimoana. From there follow the coast on Cape Palliser Road to the lighthouse. This road is gravel in places and there are several creeks to ford.

The keepers’ houses can be seen from beside the lighthouse steps. They are now both privately owned.


Island North
Province Wairarapa
Location Wairarapa
Number K4000
Date Commissioned October 27, 1897  3
Date Decommissioned
Automated December, 1986  1
Latitude 41° 37' South  1
Longitude 175° 17' East  1
Elevation Above Sea Level 78m  1
Height 18m  1
Character White light flashes three times every 30 seconds  1
Range 26 N. miles (48 km)  1
Made England
Construction Cast iron sections painted white with red bands  1
Converted Kerosene To Diesel 1954  1
Converted Diesel To Mains Electricity 1967  1
Wattage 2nd order Fresnel lens, illuminated by a 1000 watt incandescent bulb  1
Present Tower Original  1
Authority Owned and operated by Maritime New Zealand  1
Date Visited


Principal Keeper From To
  1st lit, October 27, 1897  3  
Frederick Woodbury  210   July, 1911  210
Edmonds  210 July, 1911  210  
Thomas Joseph Cox January 31, 1913  22  
G Brown  5 c 1920's  
Arthur W Page  13a c  1929  13a  
  Automated and Keeper Withdrawn December, 1986  1


Assistant Keeper (1st) From To
  1st lit, October 27, 1897  3  
Thomas McAlpine  22   (Probationary)  22  March 4, 1902  22  c July, 1902  22 
George McPherson  22   (Probationary)  22  January, 1908  22  July 23, 1908  22 
George McPherson  22   July 24, 1908  22  January 18, 1911  22 



Additional Sources:

13aDOC. Cape Brett, Keepers Stories

210. Dominion, Volume 4, Issue 1175, 10 July 1911, Page 7


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Text and photographs. Copyright © 1999-2013  Mark Phillips. All rights reserved.

If anyone has any information on this light please contact me.

Last Updated: December 3, 2011