Dog Island Lighthouse New Zealand


The Dog Island Lighthouse on Dog Island in Foveaux Strait is New Zealand’s tallest lighthouse and one of its oldest. It is notable for its masonry construction and is a work example by an engineer who was prominent at the time. The lighthouse employed the first revolving beam in New Zealand, and the unique original light apparatus was in use for 60 years. Dog Island Lighthouse is one of the most distinct lighthouses in New Zealand, with only two others having stripes painted on them for better visibility at the daytime. The lighthouse is registered by Heritage New Zealand as a Category I structure, and the adjacent lighthouse keepers cottage has a Category II registration. Originally operated by three lighthouse keepers, the structure has since 1989 been remote-controlled from Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office, with Dog Island since having been uninhabited. Dog Island Lighthouse has twice featured on New Zealand stamps.

Lighthouse overview

Dog Island Lighthouse lights the eastern approaches of Foveaux Strait about 5 kilometres from the entrance to Bluff Harbour.

Lighthouse feature: Details
Location: latitude 46°39’ south, longitude 168°25’ east
Elevation: 46 metres above sea level
Construction: white stone tower
Tower height: 36 metres
Light configuration: 35 watt rotating beacon
Light flash character: white light flashing once every 10 seconds
Power source: batteries charged by solar panels
Range: 19 nautical miles (35 kilometres)
Date light first lit: 1865
Automated: 1989
Demanned: 1989


Getting to Dog Island Lighthouse

Dog Island Lighthouse is not accessible to the public.

There is no public access to enter the lighthouse.

It can be clearly seen from Bluff on a fine day, with its distinctive black and white striped paintwork.


It was clear that a lighthouse was needed in Foveaux Strait, but there were long discussions in the 1860s about where to place it. Captains with local experience were asked for their opinion, and they suggested possible sites on Centre Island, Ruapuke Island, Stewart Island, Solander Islands, and Dog Island The latter was chosen as Southland’s first site for a lighthouse; the recommendation was made by the Invercargill Harbour Master to James Alexander Robertson Menzies, the first Superintendent of the Southland Province. The Harbour Master’s rationale was that the island was dangerous, as “it is very low and not seen till close upon it”. At the time, the Southland Province had just split from Otago Province, and both provincial governments were involved. There was confusion over who would take ownership of the situation, and in the end, the central government assumed responsibility for the construction of all lighthouses throughout the colony.


James Balfour, at the time marine engineer to the Otago Provincial Council and later to the Colonial Government of New Zealand, was commissioned in 1863 to design the lighthouse. Balfour ordered the lighthouse equipment and the light apparatus from the renowned Edinburgh lighthouse designer Alan Stevenson. Balfour had trained under Stevenson’s brothers David and Thomas Stevenson.


David Stevenson  (11 January 1815 – 17 July 1886) was a Scottish lighthouse designer, who designed over 30 lighthouses in and around Scotland and helped continue the dynasty of lighthouse engineering founded by his father.


He was born on 11 January 1815 at 2 Baxters Place at the top of Leith Walk in Edinburgh, the son of Jean Smith and engineer Robert Stevenson. He was the brother of the lighthouse engineers, Alan and Thomas Stevenson. He was educated at the High School in Edinburgh and then studied at the University of Edinburgh. In 1838 he became a partner in his father’s (and uncle’s) firm of R & A Stevenson.

In 1844 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh his proposer being David Milne-Home.

In 1853 he moved to the Northern Lighthouse Board.

Between 1854 and 1880 he designed many lighthouses, all with his brother Thomas. In addition, he helped Richard Henry Brunton design lighthouses for Japan, inventing a novel method for allowing them to withstand earthquakes. His sons David Alan Stevenson and Charles Alexander Stevenson continued his work after his death, building nearly thirty further lighthouses.

In the 1860s he lived at 25 Royal Terrace, Edinburgh.

Non-lighthouse engineering included the Edinburgh and Leith Sewerage Scheme and the widening of the North Bridge in Edinburgh.

In 1868 and 1869 he served as president of the Royal Scottish Society of the Arts.

He died in North Berwick on 17 July 1886. He is buried in Dean Cemetery in west Edinburgh. The grave lies on the north wall of the original cemetery backing onto the first northern extension.



Thomas Stevenson PRSE MInstCE FRSSA FSAScot (22 July 1818 – 8 May 1887) was a pioneering Scottish civil engineer, lighthouse designer and meteorologist, who designed over thirty lighthouses in and around Scotland, as well as the Stevenson screen used in meteorology. His designs, celebrated as groundbreaking, ushered in a new era of lighthouse creation.

He served as president of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts (1859–60), as president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1884–86), and was a co-founder of the Scottish Meteorological Society

In 1848, Balfour’s older sister Maggie had married Thomas Stevenson, hence the Stevensons were his brothers-in-law.

The equipment arrived on the ship City Of Dunedin from Glasgow in Port Chalmers on 3 September 1863, and the light apparatus arrived via the ship Resolute on 17 March 1864. The light apparatus for the Taiaroa Head lighthouse also arrived on the Resolute.

Dog Island is low-lying and rocky, and its highest (natural) point is about 15 metres (49 ft) above sea level. Calculations showed that the lighthouse would have to be some 110 feet (34 m) tall if built on the highest point to be effective. An investigation showed that there was enough rock that could be quarried on the island for the structure and that it would be too expensive to build such a tall tower from steel.

The tower designed by Balfour was 36 metres (118 ft) tall. It had a diameter of 6.6 metres (22 ft) at its base, and 5.0 metres (16.4 ft) below the balcony. The lantern was placed at a height of 30.5 metres (100 ft). Two dwellings, also designed by Balfour, were constructed for the lighthouse keepers and their families. The total cost came to £10,480-12s-8d, which was significantly more than the average cost of between £4,000 and £6,000 at the time. The light apparatus was specifically designed for the remoteness of the location. Instead of the usual central burner system with one lamp, sixteen lamps were used arranged in four, each with their own mirror behind it. The lamps were mounted on a frame with a square base that completed a revolution powered by a massive clockwork every two minutes, thus achieving a beam every 30 seconds. The reason behind the arrangement was redundancy; even if one of the lamps failed, the other three points in the same direction would still produce a, albeit somewhat weaker, beam. The light mechanism was also reasonably simple to repair should the need arise. It was the first revolving light apparatus in New Zealand.

Constructed 1865
Construction stone tower
Automated 1989
Height 36 metres (118 ft)
Shape cylindrical tower with balcony and lantern
Markings white tower with two black bands, black lantern dome
Power source solar power
Operator Maritime New Zealand
Heritage Heritage New Zealand Category 1 historic place listing
Focal height 46 metres (151 ft)
Range 19 nautical miles (35 km; 22 mi)
Characteristic FI W 10s.
Heritage New Zealand – Category 1
Designated 22 November 1984


Dog Island Lighthouse in the early 1900s

Dog Island Lighthouse keeper’s wife and baby in 1924


Dog Island Lighthouse was built to warn mariners of the low, flat, rocky island that is only a couple of metres above sea level.

The lighthouse tower was the first in New Zealand to be designed by James Balfour. He later became the Colonial Marine Engineer and designed many of New Zealand’s lighthouses.

The tower was built from stone quarried on the island. The light began operation in August 1865.

The peaty subsoil caused the tower to take a slight lean, and over the next 50 years many makeshift repairs were carried out. In 1916 it was reported to be unsafe and the entire tower was encased in a concrete shell.

To make the lighthouse stand out, the tower was painted with black and white stripes, rather than the standard plain white. There are only two other lighthouses in New Zealand with stripes. Cape Campbell Lighthouse which looks similar to Dog Island and Cape Palliser Lighthouse, which has red and white stripes.

Operation of the Dog Island light

The original lighting system was the first revolving light in the country. Sixteen small oil lamps, each with its own lens, turned inside a single lantern. This differed from other early lights which comprised a single oil lamp and rotating lens. In 1925 the individual lamps were replaced by a single lamp and rotating lens.

In 1954 the light was converted from oil to diesel-generated electricity.

The original light on Dog Island caused extra tasks and difficulties for the early keepers. Every hour the mechanism had to be wound up. In 1883 the principal keeper died after falling down a 23 metre shaft that ran down the middle of the tower. He fell while adding an extra weight that was used to increase the speed of the revolving light.

The light was automated in 1989, and the keepers were withdrawn that same year.

In September 1999, the original light was removed and replaced with a modern rotating beacon, illuminated by a 35 watt tungsten halogen bulb.

Electricity to power 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 Dog Island light station

Dog island light station originally had three keepers and their families. By the time the light was automated, this had been reduced to one keeper and his family.

Life at Dog Island could be challenging for keepers with families. The island was too isolated for children to attend school on the mainland each day.

In the early years, supplies were sent out on the government supply ship every 3 months. The last keeper and his family had an easier time getting supplies. After a landing strip was built on the island, supplies were flown out fortnightly.


The lighthouse was first operated on 5 August 1865. Within a year of its construction, it was noted that the tower oscillated in high winds much more than other towers. Due to weak peaty subsoils, the tower took on a slight lean. During storms, the tower leaked severely and it was feared that this would strengthen the mortar between the stones. Weak mortar was scraped out in 1867 and replaced with Portland cement. At the same time, the tower was painted with a large white stripe in the middle, with the remainder painted in black, both to make the tower more visible during daylight, but also to further waterproof the structure. This colour scheme has remained ever since.

In 1871, a crack appeared at the base of the tower and the Marine Engineer of the day ordered immediate strengthening. This was carried out with strong hardwood and wrought iron bands. This work, significantly hindered by bad weather, cost £978-4s-3d. By 1916, it was decided that major strengthening was necessary again, as the cement grout was failing. Plans drawn up then and amended two years later saw a reinforced concrete skin of 2 feet (0.61 m) in thickness is applied to the outside up to just below the balcony, and an internal 6 inches (150 mm) reinforced concrete lining up to the fourth floor. The tower was repainted in its previous colour scheme.

The burners for the lights were changed from colza oil to paraffin oil in 1876. The original system was in use for 60 years, and in 1925, the optical apparatus was upgraded to a second-order dioptric lens with an incandescent oil burner. This changed the light output to three flashes in quick succession every 30 seconds. A diesel-electric plant was installed in 1954, and the electrical operation of the beam started in October of that year. The diesel generator was replaced in 1970. In September 1999, the light was replaced again, this time with a rotating beacon, with a 35-watt halogen bulb as the light source. The energy comes from solar panels and a battery bank.

A third dwelling for lighthouse keepers was built in 1884. The three original dwellings were in a poor state by the 1920s and two houses with six rooms each were built for the families; at the same time, the two original cottages became storage sheds. A new house was built in 1979 for the by-then single lighthouse keeper.

There were originally three lighthouse keepers with their families on the island. The initial rotating light mechanism had to be wound up hourly, and in 1883, the principal lighthouse keeper died when he fell down the central shaft trying to attach weights to the mechanism. In 1977, the number of lighthouse keepers was reduced from two to one due to operational improvements. There was a Committee of Inquiry into lighthouse automation in 1981 and the Dog Island site was one of nine sites throughout New Zealand that were to remain staffed; in this case, it was due to its remoteness, and its ability to help with search and rescue in the area. In August 1989, Dog Island was fully automated and the last permanent lighthouse keeper in New Zealand was withdrawn from service.The lighthouse is remote-controlled from Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office.

Despite the lighthouse, the steamer SS Waikouaiti ran aground on Dog Island on 28 November 1939 during dense fog and was wrecked.


Dog Island Lighthouse has twice featured on New Zealand stamps. In 1969, the New Zealand Government Life Insurance Department (better known as Government Life) issued five stamps showing lighthouses, with the highest denomination (15c) depicting the Dog Island Lighthouse. In 2009, New Zealand Post issued five stamps commemorating the 150th anniversary of New Zealand’s oldest lighthouse at Pencarrow Head; the Dog Island Lighthouse was included with a $1 value.


Dog Island Lighthouse 02.jpg

The lighthouse was automated in 1989, and the island has since been uninhabited. The lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in New Zealand and one of its oldest. Due to its black and white stripes, it might be one of New Zealand’s most distinctive lighthouses. There are only two other lighthouses in New Zealand of similar appearance; Cape Campbell Lighthouse also has black and white stripes, whilst Cape Palliser Lighthouse has red and white stripes. The lens from 1925 is on display at the Museum of Wellington City & Sea on Jervois Quay in Wellington, on loan from Maritime New Zealand. The 1865 rotating mechanism can be seen at the Bluff Maritime Museum.

There is no public access to Dog Island or to the lighthouse. The lighthouse is being maintained by Maritime New Zealand.

Heritage registrations

The lighthouse keepers’ cottage was registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (now Heritage New Zealand) on 24 November 1983 as a Category II structure, with registration number 2562. On 22 November 1984, the Dog Island Lighthouse was registered as a Category I structure, with registration number 395. The lighthouse is significant for its height, its age, and the relatively rare use of masonry for such a structure. It is also an example of the work of an engineer who was prominent at his time.

See also


  1. ^ Government Life was established in 1869 and since an unprecedented decision in 1890 could issue its own stamps for its correspondence. Government Life has always used lighthouses on its stamps, but mostly stylised. The organisation is now called Tower Insurance.


  1. ^ Rowlett, Russ. “Lighthouses of New Zealand: South Island”The Lighthouse DirectoryUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  2. Bain 2010, p. 7.
  3. ^ Bain 2010, pp. 7f.
  4. ^ Bain 2010, p. 8.
  5. ^ Grace’s Guide: Balfour.
  6. ^ Bain 2010, pp. 8f.
  7. ^ “The Late Mr Balfour”The Star. No. 503. 29 December 1869. p. 3. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  8. ^ Beaglehole, Helen (9 July 2013). “Lighthouses – A national system”Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  9. ^Phillips, Mark (29 December 2009). “New Zealand Lighthouses” Archived from the original on 16 December 2014. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  10. ^ Bain 2010, p. 9.
  11. ^ Bain 2010, pp. 9, 13.
  12.  Bain 2010, p. 10.
  13. Bain 2010, p. 11.
  14. Dog Island Lighthouse”Maritime New Zealand. Archived from the original on 22 January 2019. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  15. ^ Bain 2010, p. 12.
  16. Bain 2010, p. 13.
  17. ^ Bain 2010, pp. 13f.
  18. ^Bain 2010, p. 14.
  19. ^ “Waikouaiti (1939)”. Tripod. Retrieved 13 July 2012.
  20. ^“Government Life”New Zealand Post. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  21. ^ “Lighthouses of New Zealand”New Zealand Post. Archived from the original on 4 January 2015. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  22. ^ “Lighthouses of Foveaux Strait – a history”Department of Conservation. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  23. ^ Beaglehole, Helen (9 July 2013). “Lighthouses – Lights: from oil to electricity”Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  24. ^ “Dog Island Lighthouse Keepers Cottage (Former)”New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi KōreroHeritage New Zealand. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  25. ^ “Dog Island Lighthouse”New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi KōreroHeritage New Zealand. Retrieved 4 January 2015.


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