The history of Cape Reinga Lighthouse
The Cape Reinga lighthouse replaced the lighthouse on nearby Motuopao Island. This island sits off Cape Maria Van Diemen.
The Maria Van Diemen Lighthouse was built in 1879. Access had always been a problem. In 1886, because of the difficulty of getting a boat across the rough seas, a flying fox was built from the island to the mainland. Although this was meant to be only for supplies and mail, keepers and their families also went across the channel in the flying fox’s basket.
In 1933 an assistant lighthouse keeper’s wife was swept off the rocks near the lighthouse at Maria Van Diemen. The decision was made to build a new tower on the mainland at Cape Reinga.
Completed in 1941, the lighthouse at Cape Reinga was the last watched lighthouse to be built in New Zealand.
The new light had little use for the first few years owing to wartime blackout restrictions. Threat of an invasion was a very real fear for the keepers at Cape Reinga. In 1918, during World War One, the German raider Wolf was seen anchored in nearby Twilight Bay. Only months before, the passenger ship Wimmem was sunk by a mine 29 kilometres off the cape, killing 26 people.
Also in 1918, a mine drifted onto the mainland opposite the lighthouse. Although the keepers reported it during the night, it exploded before the army arrived to investigate. The explosion cracked the windows of one of the keeper's homes.
It was thought to be unlikely that the enemy would bomb the lighthouse, because it was as much help to an enemy ship as to an allied vessel.
Operation of the Cape Reinga light
The lighthouse at Cape Reinga was originally powered by diesel-generated electricity in 1941.
The station was automated and the last keeper was withdrawn in 1987.
In April 2000, the original light and associated equipment was removed and replaced with a modern rotating beacon illuminated by a 50 watt tungsten halogen bulb. The power for the new light is supplied from battery banks charged by solar panels.
The light is monitored remotely from Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office.
Life at Cape Reinga light station
Cape Reinga light station was a two-keeper station. It was one of the least accessible lighthouse stations in New Zealand when it was built. Over time access was improved and by the mid 1960s the keepers were hosting upwards of 200 visitors a day.
A school was established at the cape in 1951 which the keepers’ children attended. When the school shut a decade later, the children traveled to a nearby school.