The history of Mokohinau Islands Lighthouse
The site for Mokohinau Islands Lighthouse was chosen because it provides seafarers with a good landfall position when arriving to New Zealand from the Pacific Ocean.
The Mokohinau light was first lit in June 1883.
A German destroyer may have used the light as a reference when laying mines in the area’s shipping lanes. These mines were to sink the steamer Niagara on 19 June 1940. As a result of this, the light on Mokohinau was extinguished and was not relit until 1947.
Operation of Mokohinau Islands light
The light was originally powered by oil, but was converted to diesel-generated electricity in 1939.
In 1996 the original light and associated equipment was removed and replaced by a rotating beacon fitted with a 35 watt tungsten halogen bulb. This was installed within the original tower. The new light is powered from battery banks charged by solar panels.
The station was one of the last to be automated with the last keepers being withdrawn in 1980.
The light is monitored remotely from Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office.
Life at Mokohinau Islands light station
The isolation of Mokohinau Island from the mainland caused significant hardship for the early keepers and their families. There was no communication with the mainland, and mail and stores arrived only three times a year.
This caused constant worry for the keepers because many times the boats were delayed. After 4 months the food supplies would be very limited and keepers would have to live on whatever they could find on the island to survive.
Only a few years after the light was established, the keepers felt this problem had gone far enough and wrote directly to a Cabinet Minister.
In 1908 the keepers were still in the same situation, so Kiwi ingenuity was called upon to help. One of the keepers made a tin boat with tin sails. He cut a hatchway on the deck and placed three letters in it, one to the Marine Department, one to the nearest general store, and the other to a friend. Painted on the deck were instructions to whoever found the boat to send the letters on. When the wind was right, the boat set sail.
The boat made it to the mainland and was picked up on a beach. Within 9 days of the boat leaving Mokohinau, a stores ship was sent to the island. The Auckland Museum still has the tin boat on display; known as the ‘smallest mail boat in the world’.
As the twentieth century progressed, the stations were fitted with radios, ending the light station's isolation. Despite this, Mokohinau was not a favourite with keepers.