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Farewell Spit (1869)




Farewell Spit Lighthouse.

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.


Lighthouse at Farewell Spit and surrounding 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.


Two trucks and the lighthouse, Farewell Spit.

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.


Google has a satellite map


1st Lighthouse (1870 - 1897)

Farewell Spit juts 25 kilometres out into Golden Bay at the top of the South Island and was named by Captain Cook in 1770 as he bade farewell after his first visit to New Zealand.

As the land was very low, frequent ship wreaks occurred in the area. Between 1840 and 1887, ten ships were wreaked on the spit, plus many more that ran aground but were able to be re-floated.

With the formation of the Marine Board of New Zealand in 1865 (renamed The Marine Department in 1866) who took of operations of all lighthouses, James Balfour was appointed the Marine Engineer and Inspector of Steamers on October 11, 1866. 10

Balfour designed the Farewell Spit lighthouse but while the lighthouse was being constructed, Balfour was drowned in a boating accident in Timaru Harbour in December, 1869.

Construction began on the lighthouse in 1869 with successful tender of  £2496  3   £6139  91  for all the buildings by Mr. Samuel Brown of Wellington. 3   The construction material was hauled along the beach by horse-drawn sledges. 13  As the construction site was on an exposed windy beach, building the lighthouse had it's challenges. During one overnight storm, the wind moved so much sand that a large pile on bricks were buried, never to be seen again. The lack of shingle for concrete was also a problem, with shells being used instead. 1

The tower was an open frame timber structure and was painted alternates bands of red and white, with a lantern room on top.  157  The tower stood 113 feet tall to the top of the lantern, with the overall light elevated 120 feet above sea level. The light was visible about 17 nautical miles in clear weather.  157

The light was a 2nd order dioptric revolving white light blinking once per minute. Over the spit end, between the bearings N.W.1/4N. to W. by N.1/4N the light was red to indicate the end of the sand spit.  157


[From the New Zealand Gazette, June 8.] Notice is hereby given, that on and after the 17th June, 1870, a light will be exhibited from a lighthouse erected on Bush-End Point, Farewell Spit, in latitude 40° 33' S., and longitude 173° 1' 45" E., as measured from the Admiralty chart. The light will show all round, except on the outer side of the Spit, where, off deck, it will not be seen when the light is brought to bear eastward of E.3/4S., as it is shut in by sand hills. It is a revolving white light, of the second order dioptric, attaining its greatest brilliancy once a minute. Over the Spit end (that is, between the bearings of N.W.1/4N. to W. by N.1/4N.) the light will be red, in order to caution mariners of their approach to that danger. The light is elevated about 120 feet above the sea level, and will be visible in clear weather about 17 nautical miles, allowing 15 feet for the height of the observer's eye. The tower is an open-framed structure of timber, painted in alternate bands of red and white, and is 113 feet in height from the ground to the top of the lantern. Vessels must take care not to open the northern edge of the red light when within four miles of the lighthouse. All bearings are magnetic.  157

The light was first lit on June 17th, 1870. 1 

By 1894 a telephone had been connected to the station.  91

By 1891 it was found that the wooden tower was decaying due to the weather and wind blown sand. 1   Iron for a new tower was ordered from England and arrived July 1892. 3  The new tower was constructed by J & A Anderson of Christchurch  156  and was completed in January 1897. 1  


2nd Lighthouse (1897)

On the morning of January 17, 1897 the old wooden tower was extinguished. Two nights later the light was lit on the new tower. 3

The new tower was 88 feet high, erected 9 feet above sea level and the light visible for 15 miles. The upper part of the tower was painted white, the lower painted red.  159

In the early years the lighthouse site had no vegetation and sand blew into everything making it a constant job for the keepers to keep things clean. Near the turn of the century one keeper organized for small loads of soil to be delivered with the mail. He then planted a windbreak of Macrocarpa Pines which are still there to this day. The pines now protect the station from the shifting sands and provide a daylight landmark for passing ships. 1

In 1900 the light station was established as a Post Office, the 2nd of about 15 light stations around the country. 4

The station was converted from oil to diesel powered generators in the 1954.  

The station was connected to mains electricity in 1973. 18

In 1928 a transport service begun to the lighthouse, bringing fuel, supplies and mail using a Dodge two wheel drive truck. c

The light was automated in 1984. 1

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. 1

The old cottages of the lighthouse families remain. One now contains a small museum, telling the area's history.



The Farewell Spit 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 Farewell Spit lighthouse stamp had a value of 10 cents. The other stamp in the series was East Cape lighthouse with a value of 8 cents.



Stamp Web Sites




Public access to the lighthouse is restricted to organized tours.

Two tour operators will take you there:

Farewell Spit Nature Tours. Take you to both Piller Point and Farewell Spit lighthouses, as well as narrative and bird/nature watching. (The tour I took) 

The Original Farewell Spit Safari.


1st Lighthouse (1870 - 1897)

Island South
Province Nelson
Location Golden Bay
Number K4182
Date Commissioned 17 June 1870  157
Date Decommissioned
Latitude 40° 33' South.  157
Longitude 173° 1' 45" East.  157
Elevation Above Sea Level 7 ft.  157
Height 113 ft.  157
Character Two Sectors: White and red flashes every 1 minute.  157
Range White: 17 N. miles (50 km).  157   
Made Wooden lattice tower.  157
Construction Original tower wooden, replacement white steel lattice.  157


2nd Lighthouse (1897)

Island South
Province Nelson
Location Golden Bay
Number K4182
Date Commissioned January 19, 1897 3
Date Decommissioned
Automated 1984 1
Latitude 40° 33' South 1
Longitude 173° 00' East 1
Elevation Above Sea Level 30m 1
Height 27m 1
Character Two Sectors: White and red flashes every 15 seconds 1
Range White: 27 N. miles (50 km)    Red: 17 N. miles (31 km) 1
Construction Original tower wooden, replacement white steel lattice
Converted Kerosene To Diesel 1954.  
Converted Diesel To Mains Electricity 1973. 18
Wattage 1000w
Present Tower Not original
Date Visited 23 February, 2000


Principal Keeper From To
  June 14 1870  
John Wheeler  22 December 10, 1871  22 c  June, 1874  82  22 
James Nelson  16  22 July, 1874  22  
Norman Simpson  197 September, 1877  197 June, 1881  197
Edward R Wilson  199 June, 1881  199  22 July 7, 1885  199
Richard Tregartha  190   (listed as Mr. Tregurtha)  91 1897  190     (c 1894)  91 1902  190
Fitzroy Montague Smith  22 August,  1894  22 August, 1896  22
James William Johnson  22 c late 1890's  22  
Thomas Joseph Cox  22 March, 1898  22 November, 1900  22
Donald McNeil  22 November 1, 1900  22  June 16, 1905  22 
Robert Leighton  16 c 1916  
Hugh Jamieson  16 1946 1949
Tom  A. Clark April 1955  
Frank Valentine c 1957  
Robert Wallace  198 late 1964  198 October, 1968  198
Jack Shepherd  13a 1984  13a
    Automated 1984 1


Assistant Keeper (1st) From To
  June 14 1870  
Martin Nelson  22 May 1, 1879  22 November 15, 1879  22
Edward R Wilson  199 December, 1879  199 November 12, 1880  199
Gideon J Semmens  22 May, 1897  22  June 6, 1900   (Resigned)  22
John V. E. Ansin  13b      September, 1906  69
James Lyon  22 1907  22 March, 1910  22
John McVeigh 165  22    February 1, 1912  22
Percy Edwin White  166    
Kenneth Frank Valentine  4   December, 1957  4 
Edward B. Norris   290  c  June, 1968  290 


Assistant Keeper (2nd) From To
  June 14 1870  
Alexander McKinlay  80 December, 1871  80 October, 1872  80
William Tait  22      (1851-1943)  22 June 20, 1876  22 c  March, 1877  22
Martin Nelson  22 May 5, 1877  22 April 30, 1879  22  (Promoted to 1st Assistant)  22
James Septemus Harwood   22       (Probationary)  22 September 13, 1887  22  
James Septemus Harwood   22    1893  22
Roland Partridge  22  166      (Probationary)  22  October, 1904  22 c  December, 1904  22   c  summer, 1905/6  166
Harvey  246   1908  246
Trudgeon  246 1908  246  
Arthur Weldon Page  22    (Probationary)  22 May, 1909  22 November, 1909  22



Additional Sources:

163.  Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 5, November 1971 - Nelson Lighthouses. 

164Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 5, November 1971. Kahurangi Lighthouse - Author: J. N. W. Newport

165Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 6, April 1973. Life in Lighthouses - Author: Ivan Anderson

166Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 6, April 1973. Nelson Lighthouses - Author: J. N. W. Newport

167Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 5, November 1971. Farewell Spit Lighthouse - Author: J. N. W. Newport

168Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 5, November 1971. Nelson Lighthouse - Author: B. E Dickinson

169Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 5, November 1971. Stephens Island Lighthouse - Author: G. H. Cole



69. New Zealand Herald, Volume XLIII, Issue 13294, 28 September 1906, Page 6


91Star , Issue 4872, 10 February 1894, Page 6. South Island Lighthouses

156. Lowe, Peter. 'Anderson, John 1820 - 1897'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007 URL:

157Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Volume XXIX, 2 July 1870, Page 4

158cThe Nelson Mail, 2006.

159The New Zealand Pilot, 1920.

190.  Richard Tregurtha ( Annette MacDonald, April 9, 2009)

197. Norman Simpson (Gayle Dickison, Nov 4 2011)

198. Robert Wallace (Tim Wallace, July 7, 2013) 

199Edward Wilson (Lynda Webster, March 9, 2012)

246. Otago Daily Times , Issue 14249, 25 June 1908, Page 8

290. Edward B Norris (Simon Norris, Aug 8, 2014)


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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: June 18, 2011.