Centre Island Lighthouse New Zealand

Centre Island Lighthouse

Centre Island Lighthouse marks the dangerous western approach to Foveaux Strait between New Zealand’s South Island and Stewart Island.

Centre Island light, date unknown
Centre Island light, date unknown. Courtesy Chris Underwood

Lighthouse overview

Work began on the Centre Island Lighthouse in 1877, and the light was first lit in September 1878. Kauri was brought across from the mainland to construct the tower.

Lighthouse feature: Details
Location: latitude 46°28’ south, longitude 176°51’ east
Elevation: 81 metres above sea level
Construction: wooden tower
Tower height: 12 metres
Light configuration: 50 watt rotating beacon
Light flash character: white light with red sector flashing once every 15 seconds
Power source: batteries charged by solar panels
Range: 19 nautical miles (35 kilometres)
Date light first lit: 1878
Automated: 1987
Demanned: 1987

Getting to Centre Island Lighthouse

Centre Island Lighthouse is not accessible to the public.

There is no public access to enter the lighthouse.

Centre Island is privately owned.

Find this on the map:Centre Island

The History of Centre Island Lighthouse

Work began on the Centre Island Lighthouse in 1877, and the light was first lit in September 1878. Kauri was brought across from the mainland to construct the tower.

Operation of the Centre Island light

The light was first powered by colza oil, but it was later changed to paraffin for increased brightness. In 1955 it was converted from oil to diesel-generated electricity.

Because of the dangerous rocks around Centre Island, the light has red sectors which shine an arc over the area to be avoided.

Centre Island lighthouse was automated, and the last keeper was withdrawn in 1987.

In the 1990s the original light and associated equipment were removed and replaced with a modern beacon illuminated by a 50 watt tungsten halogen bulb. The new light is powered from battery banks charged by solar panels.

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

Life at Centre Island light station

The keepers were responsible for carrying out general maintenance on the tower and their own dwellings, in addition to tending the light. They also needed to provide most of their own food. The keepers on Centre Island were mostly self-sufficient.

Their regular fishing trips were fitted around other duties. Fishing in Foveaux Strait was a hazardous task. In 1943 two keepers drowned on a fishing expedition from the lighthouse.

As early as 1888 Centre Island keepers were having problems with their accommodation, as the principal keeper wrote:

“The first assistant’s house has flooded in every room, clothing, bedding etc. all wet. This house has always leaked in stormy weather and we have several times endeavoured to stop the leaky places, but without much success.”

In the early days, stores were carried up to the light station by bull or donkey. Later a horse and sled were used and then a tractor. In the 1950s an airstrip was built.

The light station was originally home to three keepers and their families. In the mid-1950s when diesel-generated electricity was introduced to power the light it was dropped back to two keepers. By 1977 only one keeper was stationed at the lighthouse. Supplies were flown in fortnightly.

Centre Island Lighthouse remained a one keeper station until the light was automated in 1987.

Callsign: ZMC
Location: 46°28′ S, 176°51′ E
Elevation: 81m above sea level
Construction: wooden tower
Tower height: 12m
Light configuration: 50 watt rotating beacon
Light flash character: white light with red sector flashing once every 15 seconds
Power source: batteries charged by solar panels
Range: 19 nautical miles (35km)
Date light first lit: 1878
Automated: 1987
Demanned: 1987

Work began on the Centre Island Lighthouse in 1877, and the light was first lit in September 1878. Kauri was brought across from the mainland to construct the tower.

The Centre Island to Colac Bay cable developed a fault, repairs to which have not been effected, as it is now considered that it would be more economical to substitute a wireless telephone system to operate between Centre Island and Awarua, in conjunction with Puysegur Lighthouse. The proposal is now under investigation.
– Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives: Post & Telegraph Department, 1917

During World War Two, coastwatchers were stationed on Centre Island and equipped with confiscated ham radio equipment:

Consequent on the need for coastwatching communications, was the need to silence and control other non-essential radio traffic. The first emergency regulations, passed in 1939, five months before the war started, prohibited radio receiving station licensees from recording or publishing information gained from the airwaves. With ten days of the state of emergency being declared on 1 Sept, some amateur radio hams were losing their equipment ‘for the duration.’ Messrs Hazlett and Sutton Invercargill both lost their sets because they continued to use emergency corps callsigns ZL4EF and ZL4GX respectively. Their sets went to Army use on Centre Island in Foveaux Strait as callsigns ‘RFP’ and ‘RFM’, codenamed ‘Jako’ and ‘Cato’.

– Cooke, P. (2000). Defending New Zealand : ramparts on the sea 1840-1950s. Wellington, NZ: Defence of New Zealand Study Group. pp 660-661

Centre Island Lighthouse had a radiotelephone set, with callsign ZMC. Four times a day, weather observations and other information were sent from ZMC to Awarua Radio ZLB.

Radio log maintained at Centre Island Lighthouse, July 1966
Radio log maintained at Centre Island Lighthouse, July 1966. Courtesy Alex Glennie

The light station was originally home to three keepers and their families. In the mid-1950s when diesel-generated electricity was introduced to power the light it was dropped back to two keepers. By 1977 only one keeper was stationed at the lighthouse.

Centre Island Lighthouse remained a one-keeper station until the light was automated in 1987.

Centre Island lighthouse
Centre Island lighthouse. Photo: Maritime NZ

» More information on Centre Island Lighthouse

» Radio installations at New Zealand lighthouses

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