The history of Baring Head Lighthouse
In 1932 it was decided to build a new light station at Baring Head to serve both as an approach light to the Wellington Harbour, and as a coastal light for Cook Strait.
The lighthouse was built on land presented to the Government by a local farmer, Mr Eric Riddiford. Work commenced on the buildings, the lighthouse, and radio beacon towers in 1934. The Baring Head light was first lit in June 1935.
Baring Head was the first manned light to be built in New Zealand for 22 years. The previous manned lighthouse, Castle Point, was built in 1913. The lights built between 1913 and 1935 were all unmanned.
The light at Pencarrow Head had guided ships into Wellington Harbour before Baring Head Lighthouse was built. First lit in 1859, the Pencarrow Head Lighthouse was the first major lighthouse to be built in New Zealand. The old Pencarrow light was extinguished when the Baring Head light started operating.
Operation of the Baring Head light
Baring Head was the first light in New Zealand to start operating immediately on electricity. It was initially supplied by diesel generators until mains electricity arrived in 1950.
After the Baring Head light was built, a programme of electrification of all major lights around New Zealand began. This was completed by 1957.
The station was automated in 1989 and the last keeper was withdrawn.
In February 2005, the original light and associated equipment was replaced with a new LED beacon located out on the balcony of the lighthouse.
The new light is powered by mains electricity backed up by battery power in the event of a mains failure.
The light is monitored remotely from Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office.
Life at Baring Head light station
The light station, being close to Wellington, was a popular posting for lighthouse keepers and their families. Children were able to attend school which was an advantage that most other light stations did not provide.
There were originally two keepers stationed at Baring Head but this was reduced to just one.
Baring Head Lighthouse was used as a signal station by the armed forces during the Second World War. Light keepers were exempt from conscription because their work contributed to the war effort. Keepers were issued with army jerseys to counter the extreme weather conditions under which they worked.