Brothers Island Lighthouse New Zealand




The Brothers (Māori: Ngāwhatu-kai-ponu) is a group of small islands in Cook Strait, New Zealand, off the east coast of Cape Koamaru, Arapaoa Island.




North Brother (left) and South Brother

Extract from Chart NZ 46 Cook Strait


Arapaoa Island (formerly spelled Arapawa Island) is an island located in the Marlborough Sounds, at the northeast tip of the South Island of New Zealand. The island has a land area of 75 km2 (29 square miles). Queen Charlotte Sound defines its western side, while to the south lies Tory Channel, which is on the sea route between Wellington in the North Island to Picton. Cook Strait’s narrowest point is between Arapaoa Island’s Perano Head and Cape Terawhiti on the North Island.

The islands are a restricted-access wildlife sanctuary administered by the Department of Conservation.                                                                                                                  




The southern end of Arapaoa Island



The Brothers form two small island groups, each containing one main island and a number of tiny islets. The main islands are simply called North Brother and South Brother. South Brother is the larger of the two, covering some 9.5 hectares (23 acres), but the 4-hectare (9.9-acre) North Brother is slightly more elevated, rising to 66 metres (217 ft). Most of the smaller islets lie in a small arc south of North Brother, with the largest being only someone hectare in area.


The Māori name for the group, Ngāwhatu-kai-ponu, literally means “the eyes that witnessed” and according to tradition, it refers to the eyeballs of the giant octopus, Te Wheke-a-Muturangi, that Kupe battled. The islets were considered tapu to Māori. Paddlers making their first crossing of Raukawa/Cook Strait were blindfolded as it was considered bad luck to see the islands on their first crossing.



Detail of Kupe and his wife Kuramarotini from the statue on the Wellington waterfront


 This undated photo shows artist John Webber’s portrait from 1782 of Captain James Cook, which was recently purchased by the Australian Art Gallery for over 5.3 million Australian dollars (3.18 million USD). The 218-year-old portrait of the famous explorer marks the biggest single art purchase ever made by an Australian institution.

During Captain James Cook’s first visit to the area, HMS Endeavour was very nearly wrecked on the Brothers, as a lack of wind and strong tide drove the ship towards the rocks. A change in the direction of the tide saved the ship.


The Brothers Island lighthouse is located on the summit of North Brother. The lighthouse was built in 1877 and is New Zealand’s only rock station. It replaced the Mana Island lighthouse.

The first call for a lighthouse on the Brothers was in 1851 after the Maria sank near Cape Terawhiti.

Cape Terawhiti and Oteranga Bay, near Wellington, North Island, New Zealand – aerial






       A plaque near where the Penguin is thought to have sunk was unveiled 100 years after the tragedy.



Beach between Cape Terawhiti and Sinclair Head, Wellington, with the raft used for recovering bodies after the wreck of the Penguin


Find out more about the tragedy of the Penguin by clicking here


When a lighthouse was erected on Mana Island to serve Cook Strait comment was made in the Marlborough Press that despite the expense it would have been better to have put one on the Brothers. This request was again repeated in the Evening Post in 1870. In 1872 the barque City of Newcastle was lost because the Captain mistook the Mana Island light for the entrance to Wellington Harbour. In 1874 a report titled New Zealand Coast Lights by Captain Johnson was tabled in Parliament and among others recommended removing the Mana Island light in favour of light on the Brothers.

Construction of the lighthouse was difficult because of its isolation and lack of fresh water. Building materials for construction were unable to be delivered to the island for 2 months because of the weather and sea conditions. Workers had to construct huts as tents could not be pitched on the rock. The oil-powered light began operation on 24 September 1877. This was replaced in August 1954 by electricity supplied by a 10hp diesel engine coupled to three 6.8kw generators. A further upgrade occurred in August 1990 when the light was switched to a 50-watt tungsten halogen solar-powered beacon and fully automated.

The light was manned by a lighthouse keeper until August 1990. Since then the light has been remotely monitored from Wellington. The light isolation was very hard on the keepers and supplying the island challenging. Supplies were bought in from Picton and the lighthouse keepers provided weather reports on local conditions at 4.30 am daily, then every hour on the hour till 4 pm.

Lighthouse overview

The Brothers Island Lighthouse is New Zealand’s only rock station. Extremely isolated and desolate, the Brothers Islands are situated on the western side of Cook Strait.

Lighthouse feature: Details
Location: 41°06’ south, longitude 174°26’ east
Elevation: 79 metres above sea level
Construction: wooden tower
Tower height: 12 metres
Light configuration: modern rotating beacon
Light flash character: white light flashing on every 10 seconds
Power source: batteries charged by solar panels
Range: 19 nautical miles (35 kilometres)
Date light first lit: 1877
Automated: 1990
Demanned: 1990


Getting to Brothers Island Lighthouse

Brothers Island Lighthouse is inaccessible to the public.

There is no public access to enter the lighthouse

The island is now a restricted-access wildlife sanctuary administered by the Department of Conservation. It is home to tuatara and numerous other endangered species.

Find this on the map: Brothers Island

The History of Brothers Island Lighthouse

The Brothers Island Lighthouse, built in 1877, replaced the light on Mana Island, which sailors often confused with the light at Pencarrow Head.

The lighthouse was built on the larger of the two islands. The tower was built on the highest tip to provide all round visibility of the light.

The island is an extremely isolated and desolate rock, which made building the lighthouse a challenge. There was not enough soil for the workmen to pitch their tents. They were forced to build huts for their accommodation. There was no drinking water on the island and all water, food and supplies had to be shipped in. It took 60 days to land the first shipment of building supplies because of gales and rough seas.

Brothers Island was the last manned lighthouse in New Zealand.

Operation of the Brothers Island light

The light began operation with oil-powered illumination in September 1877. It was converted to diesel-generated electricity in 1954.

The station was automated and the last keepers were withdrawn in 1990.

The original light beacon has now been replaced with a 50-watt tungsten halogen beacon which is powered by batteries that are charged by solar panels.

The light is monitored remotely from Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office.

Life at Brothers Island Light station

Brothers Island was the least popular of all of New Zealand’s manned lighthouses. New Zealand’s only rock station, it was notorious for sending keepers “rock happy” because of the isolation.

This station was deemed unsuitable for women and children because of the hazardous landing and the confined living conditions.

Keepers were completely dependent on the mainland for their supplies, including water. Even when supplies arrived unsoiled, by the third month the meals had become very limited.

The letter books to the Marine Department, written by the keepers, are full of complaints about the poor quality of the supplies.

Despite the difficult living conditions, some keepers enjoyed the peacefulness of life at the Brothers. For many, it was a good training ground for a life in the lighthouse service.

Originally the island was manned by four keepers but this was later reduced to three and then finally two. When the keepers were not rostered out to the Island, they would work at the marine department in Wellington.

Endangered species

In 1970 The Brothers were declared a sanctuary. North Brother Island is a sanctuary for a rare reptile subspecies, the Brothers Island tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus guntheri), and is the type locality for a rare beetle species, the Cook Strait click beetle (Amychus granulatus), although the latter is possibly extinct there now.

Others include the diving petrel and the extremely rare dandelion-looking plant Kirkianella novae-zealandiae. This plant is only found on North Brother Island and Arapaoa Island. Department of Conservation staff visits the island about four times a year to remove invasive species to protect these and other endangered species.


New Zealand Life Insurance 1947 00600.jpg

The Brothers lighthouse was featured on one of the 1947 New Zealand Government Life Insurance Department lighthouse series postage stamps.

See also


  1. ^Brothers Island Lighthouse, Maritime New Zealand, retrieved 19 May 2023
  2. ^ Topographical map
  3. Jump up to:a b McKinnon, M. “Arapawa Island to Port Underwood“, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 18 Jun 2015. Accessed 15 September 2018.
  4. Jump up to:a b Ngāwhatu Kai-ponu/The Brothers, Christopher Cookson,, 27 March 2020 15:26, retrieved 19 May 2023
  5. Jump up to:a b c d The Brothers Islands and Lighthouse, an adaption from a Loreen Brehaut article for the Seaport News 2010 and update May 2020, retrieved 19 May 2023
  6. ^ “ORIGINAL CORRESPONDENCE – To the editor of the Wellington Independent”Wellington Independent. No. 604. 26 July 1851. p. 3. Retrieved 19 May 2023 – via
  7. ^ “Local and General News – Coast Lights”Wellington Independent. No. 2105. 17 September 1864. p. 3. Retrieved 19 May 2023 – via
  8. ^ “TUESDAY, APRIL 19, 1870 – Editorial”The Evening Post. No. 55. 19 April 1870. p. 2. Retrieved 19 May 2023 – via
  9. ^ “WRECK OF THE BARQUE CITY OF NEWCASTLE”Wellington Independent. No. 3657. 18 November 1872. p. 2. Retrieved 19 May 2023 – via
  10. ^ “New Zealand Coast Lights”Wellington Independent. No. 4075. 10 April 1874. p. 3. Retrieved 19 May 2023 – via
  11. ^ “Parliament – 24 May 1874 – Lighthouses”New Zealand Mail. No. 165. 29 August 1874. p. 2. Retrieved 19 May 2023 – via
  12. ^ Marris, John W. M.; Johnson, Paul J. (2010). “A revision of the New Zealand click beetle genus AmychusPascoe 1876 (Coleoptera: Elateridae: Denticollinae) with a description of a new species from the Three Kings Islands”Zootaxa2331: 35–56. Retrieved 29 May 2016.
  13. ^ North Brother Island little more than a rock, but an important rock, Wendy Sullivan,, 04:00 11 May 2017, retrieved 19 May 2023

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