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Hokitika (1879-1924)



Rebuilt lighthouse (Photo 2009)


Rebuilt lighthouse (Photo 2009)                                                                     Rebuilt lighthouse (Photo 2009)


Before restoration (Photo 1998)   Photo Courtesy Rob Hurvitz   


     Plaque showing old Hokitika lighthouse                                                    Kaipara Lighthouse with Lantern Room                                                                                                


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Due to the West Coast gold rushes, the river port at Hokitika grew quickly to become one of the busiest ports in the colony by the late 1860s. 10  

The approach to the port was dangerous and by the end of 1865 after the port had been operating for little more than a year, some forty vessels had been wrecked on the coast or on the bar at the mouth of the Hokitika River. A signal station was erected at the river mouth to advise ships of the prevailing conditions.  10

By the 1870's, with vessels leaving for Jackson Bay, Okarita, Westport and Nelson and a steamer service to Melbourne, Australia, a lighthouse was surely needed. 18

In 1875, it was announced in the local Guardian newspaper that the lighthouse originally intended for the Tory Channel in the Marlborough Sounds would be erected on the terrace at Seaview (Goal Hill). Land was reserved in 1876, and a new lighthouse was constructed in 1879  designed by John Blackett, Marine Engineer to the General Government. The lighthouse was constructed of native Kauri timber, square shaped standing 18 foot tall. The lantern rested on a flat roof reached by an external ladder with a walkway around it originally protected by an iron balustrade. 10  Cost of construction was £450.  162


As reported in the Press, Volume XXIV, Issue 3110, 11 August 1875, Page 2.

STATEMENT ON MARINE MATTERS. The Commissioner of Customs (the Hon "W. Hunter Reynolds) said —Mr. Speaker, Shortly after the termination of last session officers of the marine department were dispatched to visit the Brothers in Cooks Straits, with a view to ascertain whether it would be advisable to erect a lighthouse on one of three islets instead of at the entrance to Tory Channel, and afterwards to visit the sites of the proposed lighthouse in the Middle Island. From the reports received, and which I have just laid on the table, it was decided to erect a lighthouse at the Brothers instead of at Tory Channel. The apparatus, which had been ordered to Tory Channel, and which is now in the colony, will consequently not be required for that place, and is unsuitable for the Brothers, but will be available for Hokitika, where it is proposed to erect it.  117


First lit on 22nd September, 1879, the lighthouse used a fifth order dioptric lantern displaying a fixed white light. The lantern burnt coal gas from the town's supply, the only lighthouse in New Zealand to have a fixed gas supply. The light was visible for 16 miles. 10  161

The 1920 New Zealand Pilot guide to shipping stated the light was still a fixed white light but only visible 10 miles. 12

Use of the port had declined significantly during the early twentieth century, with shipping ceasing completely by 1929. The light was decommissioned on 31 October 1924, and the lantern was removed and sent to the Marine Store in Wellington the following year. 10 

The tower was to be demolished by the Marine Department, but when the Seaview Hospital expressed a desire to use it as an observation tower for the hospital sports ground it was saved. Later, during WWII, the National Reserve used the tower as a coast watching station. Possibly during this period the exterior ladder was removed and an interior ladder was installed. 1

In 1947 the original lantern was shipped from storage to Kaipara North Head  where it was re-lit. An acetylene gas light was installed in the lantern house, which was reduced to half its original height using the lantern originally installed at Hokitika. 10  This information is from an earlier NZ Historic Places Trust document found at and has been since updated with information that the replacement light was from Cape Foulwind. See

Judging by old photos of the Hokitika lighthouse, the current lantern room at Kaipara North Head looks very similar to the old Hokitika lighthouse.

Later the tower was abandoned and was in very poor condition when in 1983 the Ministry of Works carried out some weatherproofing. The structure was declared unsound by a Seaview Hospital engineer in 1987 and a fire further damaged the structure in 1989. 10

In late 1992, the Westland District Council carried out a partial restoration, the stone plinth was removed, new foundations installed, and the lower 1.5 metres were weather boarded. 10

In 1998, Heritage Hokitika proposed a full restoration and this was completed in 2002 along with a replica lantern was added and a solar powered working light was installed. 10 


Registered with the New Zealand Historical Trust

Register Number: 1704
Date Registered: 2 April, 2004

Historic Place  - Category 2



Located on a hilltop above Fitzherbert Street (NZ 6) on the north side of Hokitika.  Take the road to Seaview Hospital.

Site open, tower closed.


Island South
Province Westland
Location Hokitika
Date Commissioned 22nd, September, 1879  10
Date Decommissioned 31 October, 1924  10
Latitude 42° 45.2' South  12
Longitude 170° 57.3' East  12
Elevation Above Sea Level 36.6m (122 ft)  10
Height 5.4m  (18 ft)  10
Character Fifth order dioptric lantern displaying a fixed white light  10
Range 26 km (16 miles)  10     10 miles. 12
Made Built locally. Designed by John Blackett.  10
Construction Kauri wood, painted white with black trim  10
Converted Kerosene To Diesel
Converted Diesel To Mains Electricity
Present Tower Original tower, replica lantern room
Date Visited 2009


Principal Keeper From To




Assistant Keeper (1st) From To





Additional Sources:

161. Heritage Hokitika

162. Otago Witness, 27 February 1901 

117Press, Volume XXIV, Issue 3110, 11 August 1875, Page 2



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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 12, 2009