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East Cape (1922)





Photos (2000)


View of East Island, original site of the lighthouse. Photo (2000)




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The first lighthouse to see the sun in the world, East Cape lighthouse stands on the most easterly point on the North Island. Originally the lighthouse was constructed on East Island, just off East Cape but due to the inaccessibility of the island the tower was moved onto the mainland in 1922.


East Island (1900-1922)

The East Cape area was selected as a lighthouse site in 1875 4 and a island off the cape, East Island was chosen as the lighthouse site. The island was known by the local Maori as Whangaokeno or Motu o Kaiawa and lies about 2 km off the cape. The island is about 13 hectares in size. 15

Preparation for the building of the lighthouse on East Island begun in 1898, but as there was no suitable landing beach on the island it was a hazardous job. Building materials were winched up the cliffs from work boats below to the construction site. During the construction, unfortunately four men were drowned when one of the work boats transporting equipment from the Steamer Hinemoa capsized in heavy seas. 1  The men were buried on the island. 3

The tower was the first to be constructed of cast iron sections in New Zealand by Thames Iron Works (Judd Engineering). 18

The light was first lit on August 9, 1900, and was a three keeper station. 3  

The light was originally illuminated with a paraffin oil burning lamp, however, this was later replaced with an incandescent oil burning lamp. 1

To move supplies up to the lighthouse, a huge concrete block was placed on the beach at the western end of the island. From this block a wire rope ran to a winch at the top of the cliff. Then a tramway ran across the island to the lighthouse and buildings. Less than a month after the light was lit, heavy rains washed away the winch and wire ropeway and blocked most of the tramway. 3

The Hinemoa supplied stores every for months, while a local Maori mailman delivered the mail, although somewhat irregularly. 3

The local Maori considered the island tapu and the island did not want any human intrusion. In fact no Maori has ever lived on the island. This may have been true given the landslides, earthquakes and general inhospitality of the place. It was impossible for the keepers to have a vegetable garden or any livestock due to the bad soil. 3

In 1902, a telephone cable was installed to the mainland. By 1906, the graveyard on the island had grown to seven, with the addition of three keepers children. In February of that year more earthquakes were to damage the graveyard headstones and fence. Later in July, more storms caused slips that cut the telephone line in two places. The ketch Sir Henry also wrecked on the island at that time with the loss of three lives. 3

In 1902 the light station was established as a Post Office, the 4th of about 15 light stations around the country. 4

The keepers also maintained a signal station and reported passing ships by telegraph the Marine Department. 8

By 1921, the Marine Department decided to move the lighthouse to the mainland when the slips finally threatened the base of the tower itself. 1

The light was extinguished on April 22, 1922, and the tower was disassembled and lowered down the cliffs. From there the Government lighthouse tender Tutanekai transported it all to the mainland. 3  

The keepers houses on the island were abandoned. Later in 1930 a local farmer moved on to the island for nine months and dismantled the houses, lashed the timber together into rafts and floated them to the mainland. 3

Once the lighthouse was moved from the island all the slips and earthquakes ceased. 3


East Cape (1922)

The tower was reassembled with one cast iron section removed as was not needed due to the increased height of the new location. The light was relit in December 27, 1922. 1

Three new keepers houses were built in the lee of the lighthouse, at the bottom of the hill so from the houses, the keepers were unable to see the sea. 3

Within a year the station was reduced to a two keeper station. 2

One of the 1st Assistant keepers at that time was George Ager (Nov 1st, 1886-August 10th, 1952).  188

George AGER b 1 Nov 1886 Moss Vale NSW Australia d 10 Aug 1952 Edgecombe, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. He moved Grandmother Annie Eleanor & 7 children to East Cape Lighthouse on 11 May 1923. Grandmother Annie died 11 days later on 22 May 1923 and was buried at the Kohere family cemetery, on East Cape Lighthouse land at Horoera.   He was First Assistant at East Cape Lighthouse in 1923 when the ship 'Port Elliot' was wrecked and he had to go out and stay on board until the authorities came as all hands were lost in the storm. He had three young Maori lads to help him and he stayed on board for 10 days.   Grandfather George stayed at East Cape until he moved the family to Cape Egmont Lighthouse on 17 Feb 1925.  188

George moved to Cape Egmont Lighthouse February 17th, 1925.  188

With the relocation to the mainland life improved. Keepers could travel into town for supplies and their children attended the local school, although the children were the only Pakeha to attend the school. 2   They were also able to grow vegetables and keep livestock. 1

In 1954 the light was converted from oil to diesel-generated electricity. 1

The light was also reduced to a one keeper station. Date unknown 

In 1971 the lighthouse was connected to mains power. 1

The station was automated and the last keeper was withdrawn in 1985. 1

The original light was replaced in February 2002 with a modern rotation beacon, illuminated by a 50 watt tungsten halogen bulb. The original light can be viewed in the base of the tower.  The new light is powered by mains electricity and has a backup battery in case of a power failure. 1



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

Part of the lighthouse series that was released on 17 November, 1976, the East Cape lighthouse stamp had a value of 8 cents. The other stamp in the series was Farewell Spit  lighthouse with a value of 10 cents.



Stamp Web Sites



From Hwy 35 at Te Araroa, the lighthouse can be reached by a 25 minute drive on East Cape Road to the car park. Here you face a 20 minute climb up 500+ steps to the lighthouse.

Site open, tower closed. From the lighthouse, you can look out onto East Island where the lighthouse was originally located.

I drove out before dawn to catch the sunrise and if you choose to do this be careful driving as there are black cows roaming on the road and are hard to see. 


Island North
Province Eastland
Location East Cape
Number K3932
Date Commissioned December 27, 1922 1
Date Decommissioned
Automated 1985 1
Latitude 37 41' South 1
Longitude 178 33' East 1
Elevation Above Sea Level 154m 1   505' 1 7
Height 14m 2   15m 1     35'  4  3     Originally 69'  3
Character White light flashes once every 10 seconds  1 
Range 27 N. miles (50 km) 1   19 N. miles (35 km) 1 Possibly new beacon installed 2002
Made Thames Iron Works (Judd Engineering) 18
Construction White tower, cast iron sections 1 
Converted Kerosene To Diesel 1954 1 
Converted Diesel To Mains Electricity 1971 1 
Wattage 50 watt rotating beacon 1  New beacon installed 2002
Present Tower Original
Authority Owned and operated by Maritime New Zealand
Date Visited 27 January, 2000


Principal Keeper From To
  Relit, December 27, 1922. 1  
Percy Edwin White  166    
Robert Henry Leighton  245   1904  245
George Grieg  245 1904  245  
Hugh Barbour Jamieson 1931 1935
Taffy Williams   June, 1958 ?
Tom A Clark   3 c  Late 1950's   3        June, 1958  June, 1959


Assistant Keeper (1st) From To
  Relit, December 27, 1922. 1  
George Ager  188  2 May 11, 1923  188 February 17, 1925  188
George (?) Simmonds  2 c. 1922  2  
? Willers  2 c. 1922  2  
Ian & Marilyn McKinlay  64 1970's  64 1970's  64



Additional Sources:

64Christchurch Star, Section C, December 8, 1999

188. George Ager (Jill Stuthridge, (nee Ager), September 9, 2010)

245New Zealand Herald, Volume XLI, Issue 12544, 11 April 1904, Page 5


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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: September 10, 2010.