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Kaipara North Head (1884)


Photo courtesy of Rupert Applin (2011)                                                                                                       Photo of Hokitika light


 Henry Winkelmann, 1902                                                                                   Lantern Room now located at Cape Saunders




The area of Kaipara was named  by Taramainuka a Maori who settled at Pouto near the North Head in the 15th century. After Taramainuka hosted a hangi where the para fern was served, he named the area Kaipara as "Kai" means food in the Maori language. 15

The Kaipara Harbour is one of the largest in the world, extending 60 km long, covering 947 square kilometres. The entrance to the harbour, where it meets the Tasman Sea is 6 km wide with treacherous sandbars that form 5 m below the surface two to five km from the shore. These sandbars move constantly and the harbour entrance is known as the Graveyard due to the number of shipwrecks claimed by the sandbars. The first European shipwreck was the Aurora that was lost in 1840. 43 Shipwrecks have occurred at the harbour entrance with 113 recorded shipwrecks along the Pouto coastline. 15

In 1839, European's settled in the area and begun to mill the New Zealand native tree Kauri, as it was in high demand as a construction timber. By the 1860s Kaipara Harbour was the biggest timber exporting port in the country. The towns of Dargaville and Helensville grew with the timber industry, with ships up to 3000 tons being loaded and heading out through the harbour entrance to other ports in New Zealand and Australia. 15

In 1855, Captain Stannaway was appointed Pilot of the Kaipara harbour, and in 1864 was appointed Harbourmaster when a pilot station was built at South Kaipara Head.  In 1874, Nautical Advisor, Captain Robert Johnson while doing a survey of the North Island ports, recommended the pilot station be relocated to the opposite side of the harbour at the town of Pouto after he observed that ships crossing the bar were obscured by spray from the south head. 10  By 1876 a signal mast had been erected in the sand hills 5-6 km west of Pouto, with a telegraph connecting the two built a year later. 15 

Gum-diggers begun operating in the area from the 1870's, digging for Kauri gum which was used as a resin in varnish and later linoleum. The gum was shipped to Auckland where it was packed and exported to England and America. 15

In 1878, Captain Johnson aboard the Stella completed another Kaipara survey, after which a beacon was erected in the Kaipara River and several buoys in the harbour were renewed. 10

By 1880 over 17 vessels had wrecked on sand bars at the harbour entrance and as the harbour was the largest exporter of timber in New Zealand between 1880 and 1910, requests for a lighthouse were made including a letter signed by 25 ships masters sent to the Marine Department in 1881.10

The Marine Department sent John Blackett and Captain Johnson to survey a site in 1882-83. They selected a site nearby the existing signal mast, on an elevated area of sand stone 85 m above sea level, surrounded by sand dunes. 10

In November 1883 work begun on the lighthouse. The lighthouse was constructed of wood and consisted of 6 tapered sides, three stories high, topped with a lantern room, and stood 13.4 m tall. Designed by John Blackett, it was of similar design to the Waipapa Point Lighthouse that was also under construction in Southland. These would be the last two wooden lighthouses built. 10

The construction was supervised by David Scott, the Marine Department's lighthouse artificer at the time. Rock was shipped from Mt Eden, Auckland to build the concrete foundation and local Kauri timber was milled and used in the construction. The lantern was imported from Scotland, manufactured by James Milne & Sons of Edinburgh, while Barbier & Fenestre & Dove & Company of England made the revolving apparatus and weights. The iron spiral staircase was also imported from England. 10

The lighthouse took over a year to build and was slowed by sandstorms. The materials were shipped by steamer and delivered to the site over the sand dunes by packhorses. Goggles were used by the workmen to protect their eyes. The lighthouse had a below ground basement, with the tower constructed of kauri timber cladding, vertical on the exterior and diagonal on the interior. The internal space in the walls was filled with loose rock, shipped from Mt Eden, Auckland. The basement was accessed through a hatch and also had a hatch in the centre of the floor where the weights for the light mechanism would drop into. A iron spiral staircase went up to the second floor, where the light mechanism stood. From this floor was access to a balcony that surrounded the tower. A wooden ladder from the balcony gave access to the roof and the exterior of the lantern room. Interior wooden stairs gave access to the lantern room from the second floor. The lantern room had two heights of glass, with a lead or copper roof. 10

The light was first lit on December 1st, 1884, and shone a white revolving light flashing once every ten seconds, visible for a distance of 37 km. The first two keepers, Martin Nelson  22, principal keeper and John Ansin, assistant keeper and signal man, painted the lighthouse red, painted the auxiliary buildings and finished the stable. The light station had two houses for the keepers and their families, water tanks and a signal station. The total cost of the light station was  5,571. 10

A night watch was set for the light with one keeper watching from dusk to midnight and the other from midnight till dawn. A garden was planted 1 mile inland from the lighthouse and provisions were carted from Pouto. The keepers fought a constant battle with the shifting sands known throughout the area. 10

Kaipara was the first lighthouse to have two keepers in residence. 18

Two high wooden beacons painted white and black were also built as a guide during daylight hours. 5  Date Unknown

The lighthouse however did not stop the continued shipwrecks on the bar, the Anabell wrecked on January 2, 1885, the Mary Annison wrecks six weeks later, and a month after that the Mathieu wrecked a mile from the lighthouse. 10

The internal layout of the lighthouse is considered unlikely to have changed significantly between its construction and an account published in May 1893: 'The first chamber has presses round one side, wherein are kept duplicates of almost everything connected with the light, and in the centre of the floor is a square opening with a railing round about, which allows the weight that drives the machine to descend. A trap door leads down into a lower chamber in which are kept the paints, etc., used in decorating. From the first chamber one mounts a staircase that leads to the second, the floor of which, like the chamber beneath is made of kauri . . . in this chamber, beneath a small window, are four cells supplying electricity for the call bells. Another stair mounted, and we reach the tower containing the machine, and above it the light, and the lenses that reflect the light.' 10

Near the end of the 19th century the signal station was moved and a hut built for the signalman. 10

In 1899 the timber industry peaked, 15 with 250 ships used the port in 1900, but by 1917 there were only 50, falling to 9 in 1938. a

In 1903, the Harbourmaster and Customs Officer were moved from Pouto to Te Kopuru, a timber town south of Dargaville. Shortly after, due to the constant shifting of sand and erosion, the keepers and their families moved to Pouto. What building that were able to be relocated were also moved. An extra keeper was employed so that two keepers were at the station on rotation at all times, working two week shifts. One of the keepers houses remained at the station for the keepers to use while on duty. The keepers rode on horseback along the beach to the lighthouse, a small stable was located at the lighthouse. The keeper at Pouto duties included lighting the Pouto stationary light, acting as signalman and maintaining the harbour navigational aids. 10

The lighthouse property at Pouto was about 100 acres and was located on a hill overlooking the harbour. It consisted of three houses  and various other out buildings. Above the houses on a hill was the location of the signal mast.

The lighthouse was connected by telephone to Pouto, and ships departing the harbour would signal the Pouto Signal Station and request conditions on the bar. The signalman at Pouto would phone the Keeper at the lighthouse, then hoist the flags on the signal mast to report the conditions. 5  Date Unknown

The light was converted from paraffin (kerosene) to incandescent petroleum, pre-1919, and was converted to an acetylene gas automatic light in 1924. although the keepers still stood watch overnight. 10  

In 1923 the signal station next to the lighthouse was closed and a year later was erected  at Pouto. The timber exports declined in the 1920's and 30's with international shipping ceasing. 10

A regular ferry service ran from between Helensville and Dargaville, but by 1931 a road was built to Pouto. 15  The ferry service ceased August 27, 1942. 10  5

During the Second World War, like other lighthouses. Kaipara Head lighthouse was extinguished, with all staff apart from the Head Keeper transferred to other stations. 2

In 1944 the original lantern room was removed and transported by horse drawn sledge to Pouto. A temporary roof was erected over the tower. The lantern room was then shipped to Wellington by sea.  18

The Navy gave permission for the lighthouse to be re-lit in September 1944, however it was not until May 1947 that a replacement lantern room was fitted. Using the lantern room from  Hokitikaa   Cape Foulwind, 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 looks very similar to the old Hokitika lighthouse.

A new automatic light was also installed in 1947 and the tower was reduced from 1.4m from the original height of 12m. The lighthouse was visited weekly by a keeper for maintenance. The light was re-lit in November 1947, the same day that Kaipara was closed as a port of entry. 10

In 1948 the old Kaipara lantern room, stored in Wellington was shipped to Cape Saunders lighthouse, on the eastern tip of Otago Peninsula, replacing an earlier timber light. Because Cape Saunders sits on a cliff-top, no tower is necessary, and the former Kaipara lantern simply sits on the ground. 10

During the late 1940s, the lighthouse keepers were responsible for running the post office at Pouto, and for collecting meteorological information. 10

In 1953, the last keeper at Kaipara was transferred to another station and the lighthouse was maintained by a crew from Auckland. 10

The lighthouse closed in 1955 or early 1956. 10  Was decommissioned in 1957. 18   

Vandalism plagued the structure for a number of years until a preservation society was formed in 1971 by J Hadden to restore the lighthouse. The lighthouse and the site were subsequently placed under the management of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, in 1978. 10  

In 1982 work begun on restoring the lighthouse and it was re-opened in 1984 for it's centenary year. 10

The original light mechanism is now in the Dargaville Museum. 10 

After 100 years apart from the lighthouse there is little else left behind, remnants of a wooden beacon lie 1km to the east, the keepers garden, and just a short distance from the lighthouse the grave of infant George Raymond Dallas Finch (d.1909), son of assistant keeper George Finch. 10  

In June of 2006, the Cape Saunders lighthouse was again replaced, this time with a modern aluminum tower. The old Cape Saunders lantern room that originated from the Kaipara North Head lighthouse is now situated at the Otago Peninsula Museum & Historical Society grounds at Portobello on the Otago Peninsula.  186

In February 2013, contractors Jim Rowlands and Leon Walker begun work on repairing the glass dome, replacement of rotting timber, a re-roof and a complete paint job. The work estimated to cost $100,000 and was expected to last 3 weeks.  10 


Registered with the New Zealand Historical Trust

Register Number: 7596
Date Registered: April 14, 2005

Historic Place  - Category 2



Organized tours of the lighthouse and surrounding area are offered by: Taylor made Tours, Coles Road, R.D. 1, Te Kopuru, Northland. Ph +64 9 439-1576.

Alternately Pouto Point can be reached by road about 1 hours drive from Dargaville. Vehicles can also approach the lighthouse at Pouto from the west after travelling down Ripiro Ocean Beach at low tide, but vehicles should not be taken on the beach between Pouto Point and the lighthouse.

A 7km walk along the northern shore of the mouth of the Kaipara Harbour. Allow 4-5 hours. Time Required: It is a 2 hour walk along the Kaipara Harbour mouth and then an energetic 15 minute climb up sand dunes


Island North
Province Northland
Location Kaipara Harbour
Date Commissioned December 1, 1884  10  
Date Decommissioned 1957 18 19   1955 or early 1956. 10
Elevation Above Sea Level 278'    85 m 10 
Height 44'      13.4 m 10 
Range 23 miles   37 km 10 
Construction Wooden 10  
Converted Kerosene To Diesel
Converted Diesel To Mains Electricity
Present Tower Not in use 10  
Authority New Zealand historical Places Trust
Date Visited


Principal Keeper From To
  1st lit, December 1, 1884  10    
Martin Nelson  22 November 1, 1884  22
Also signalman  22 November 18, 1884  22 c  1897  22
Robert Leatham McIver  187 September 1, 1897  187  
Thomas Joseph Cox  22 April, 1907  22 May, 1909  22
John Frederick Rayner  80  81 May, 1909  80  81 November, 1909  80  81
G Brown  5 c 1920's   
Hugh Jamieson  16 1949 1952


Assistant Keeper (1st) From To
  1st lit, December 1, 1884  10    
John V.E. Ansin  10  c  December, 1884  10   
Henry Thompson  22    (Probationary)  22   January 31, 1890  22
Henry Thompson  22 February 1, 1890  22 c  March, 1892  22
Alfred George Whymark  22    (Probationary)  22 December, 1899  22 June 9, 1900  22
Alfred George Whymark  22 June 10, 1900  22 c  June, 1902  22
Louis Thompson  22 April 11, 1902  22 c  September, 1903  22
George Finch c 1909  10   
Alfred Andrew Parker  22  October 8, 1910  22   April 19, 1912  22
Percy Edwin White  166    
Alfred E. Carter  13a March, 1929  13a 1930  13a
Smith c 1920's   



Additional Sources:





186Patrick Miller, May 26, 2012.

187. Robert Leatham McIver (Melvina Wise, March 23, 2013)




10  Sources for NZ Historical Places Trust:

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1877, 1878, 1883, 1884, 1885, 1897, 1900, 1902, 1948 and 1956

Archives New Zealand (Wellington), Kaipara Head Lighthouse Light 1919-1955, M 1 8/35/9; Kaipara Head Lighthouse Daily Journal 1884-1889, ML 1/1; Kaipara Head Signal Station Repairs - 1917, M 1 8/35/3; Kaipara Head Lighthouse Sand Erosion 1918-1946, M 1 8/35/10; Kaipara Head Lighthouse P & T Office, M 1/35/22; Harbours and Foreshores - Kaipara Head Lighthouse 1919-1972, BBAD 1054 3058b 12/103.

Logan Forrest, Pouto 105 Years, Pouto, 1984

Journals of the Auckland Provincial Council, Session XXX, 1875

Michael Kelly, 'New Zealand Lighthouses:a National Heritage Identification Study', [Wellington], 2003

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Katherine W. Orr, 'Blackett, John 1818-1893', W.H. Oliver (ed.), Volume One 1769-1869, Wellington, 1990


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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: January 29, 2011