The history of East Cape Lighthouse
The lighthouse at East Cape was originally located on East Island, just off the tip of East Cape. The East Island light was first lit in 1900. This location was very troublesome right from the start.
The government steamer capsized while bringing tower construction materials to East Island, and four men died.
East Island was also very unstable and the cliffs were constantly being eroded and slipping into the ocean. By the 1920s these slips were coming close to the lighthouse, and the decision was made to relocate the lighthouse to the mainland.
The light on East Island was extinguished in April 1922. The tower and all the buildings were relocated to the mainland. The East Cape Lighthouse began operation in December 1922.
Operation of the East Cape light
The light was originally illuminated with a paraffin oil burning lamp, however, this was later replaced with an incandescent oil burning lamp.
In 1954 the light was converted from oil to diesel-generated electricity. In 1971 the lighthouse was connected to mains power.
The station was automated and the last keeper was withdrawn in 1985.
The original light was replaced in February 2002 with a modern rotation beacon, illuminated by a 50 watt tungsten halogen bulb. The original light can be viewed in the base of the tower.
The new light is powered by mains electricity and has a backup battery in case of a power failure.
The light is monitored remotely from Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office.
Visible in the base of the lighthouse are the old lenses that were removed when the new beacon was installed.
Life at East Cape light station
Life at East Island Lighthouse was practically hard for the keepers. The clay soil made it hard to grow vegetables or keep stock.
When the light station was relocated to the mainland life improved. Keepers could travel into town for supplies and their children could attend the local school. They were also able to grow vegetables and keep stock.
The lighthouse at East Cape was originally a three keeper station but this was reduced to two keepers and then just one keeper, until the last keeper was withdrawn in 1985.
Today little remains to indicate that there was once housing and associated buildings for three keepers on this site.