The Farewell Spit Lighthouse is located at the end of New Zealand’s longest sand spit in Golden Bay / Mohua, near the northern tip of the South Island. It guides vessels entering Cook Strait from the west and south.
Golden Bay / Mohua is a shallow, paraboloid-shaped bay in New Zealand, near the northern tip of the South Island. An arm of the Tasman Sea, the bay lies northwest of Tasman Bay / Te Tai-o-Aorere and Cook Strait. It is protected in the north by Farewell Spit, a 26 km long arm of fine golden sand that is the country’s longest sandspit. The Aorere and Tākaka rivers are the major waterways to flow into the bay from the south and the west.
It is part of the Tasman Region, one of the territorial authorities of New Zealand.
The bay was once a resting area for migrating whales and dolphins such as southern right whales and humpback whales, and pygmy blue whales may be observed off the bay as well.
The west and northern regions of the bay are largely unpopulated. Along its southern coast are the towns of Tākaka and Collingwood, and the Abel Tasman National Park. Separation Point, the natural boundary between Golden and Tasman Bays, is in the park. North-eastern parts of Kahurangi National Park are in Golden Bay.
It is known for being a popular tourist destination, because of its good weather and relaxed, friendly lifestyle. Beaches such as Tata Beach are popular locations for retirees and holiday homes.
The official name is Golden Bay / Mohua.
Māori called the area Mohua, potentially after the bird. In 1642, Abel Tasman named the bay Moordenaarsbaai, meaning “Killers’ Bay” or “Murderers’ Bay”, after four of his crew were killed there in a clash with Maori. In 1770, Cook included it as part of Tasman Bay, which he called “Blind Bay”. 50 years later, Dumont d’Urville named it Massacre Bay, but following the discovery of coal in Takaka in 1842 it was renamed Coal Bay. In 1857, gold was found near inland from Parapara, prompting another change, this time to Golden Bay.
Farewell Spit Lighthouse was solarized in June 2019 and mains power to the lighthouse station was disconnected.
The LED rotating beacon flashes white or red, once every 15 seconds. It has a range of 19 nautical miles (35 km; 22 mi). Red is shown to warn approaching vessels of extensive shoaling. Standing 27 metres (89 ft) tall, the tower needs to be taller than the support structures of most lighthouses built on cliffs or headlands, because the sand foundations it is built upon are almost at sea level. The tower is constructed of an open steel lattice to withstand abrasive sand and salt-laden winds.
Getting to Farewell Spit Lighthouse
The spit is now a wildlife sanctuary administered by the Department of Conservation. Public access is restricted to people visiting the spit as part of a tour. There is no public access to enter the lighthouse. The lighthouse is located approximately 27 kilometres (17 mi) along the sand spit.Farewell Spit / Onetahua is a wildlife sanctuary run by the Department of Conservation. The area is an important bird nesting area, especially for Australasian gannet. It is closed to casual visitors, and public access to the lighthouse site is restricted to people on an ecotour. The public is not permitted to climb the lighthouse structure.
Find this on the map: Farewell Spit
The History of Farewell Spit Lighthouse
Before the lighthouse was built, many ships had been wrecked upon the spit; it had been feared by mariners for years.
Construction of the light station at the end of the spit began in 1869. Because the ground was almost at sea level the tower needed to be taller than those built on cliffs or headlands, so it could be seen easily by seafarers.
In 1891 it was found that the hardwood used for the tower was rapidly decaying because of the weather and abrasive sand. The tower was replaced with a steel latticework construction. The new light was ready in January 1897.
Building lighthouses was never an easy task and Sandy Farewell Spit offered a unique set of challenges. The light station stood on a very windy beach and one night the stormy weather whipped up the sand, completely covering a pile of bricks. They were never found, and a new lot had to be shipped to the station.
The drifting sand dunes of Farewell Spit is low-lying and interspersed with freshwater lagoons, with an extensive shoal area on the southern side. The need for a lighthouse to warn mariners was identified in 1856, in the days of early European settlement, in response to a growing number of strandings and wrecks. An initial proposal was made for a floating lighthouse, moored 2 miles (3.2 km) off the end of the spit. In 1866, there were protests about government delays in establishing a lighthouse on Farewell Spit. Eventually, under the direction of James Balfour, Colonial Marine Engineer and Superintendent of Lighthouses, a design was prepared for a lighthouse to be built at Bush End Point, near the end of the sandspit. The first lighthouse was constructed on a wooden lattice tower in 1870. However, it was no match for the abrasive sand and salt-laden winds. Tenders were called in December 1894 for a replacement steel lattice tower, and a new lighthouse was commissioned in January 1897.
The original oil-burning lamp was converted to a 1000-watt electric lamp in 1954, and the diesel power supply was replaced by a buried mains electricity cable along the spit in 1966. The original lamp was changed to a modern rotating beacon with a 50-watt tungsten halogen bulb in 1999. In 2019, the lighthouse was converted to solar power, and the main supply was disconnected.
The spit was a barren and uninviting place to be a lighthouse keeper. Sand got into everything. The lighthouse sits on a low vegetated dune; an oasis surrounded by an ever-changing landscape, reshaped by incessant wind and tide. Early attempts at gardening were swamped during exceptionally high tides, or plants were eaten by marauding weka
Since being de-manned and automated in 1984, the keeper’s houses are used by the Department of Conservation and tour groups.
The keepers include:
- Alexander Greenlees McKinlay (2nd assistant, 1871–1872)
- James Nelson (c. 1870s)
- Robert Leighton (c. 1916)
- Hugh Jamieson (1946–1949)
In 2016, structural repairs were made to the tower and it was given a major repaint. All materials for the work, including 10 storeys of scaffolding, paint, and the water required for blasting and surface preparation had to be transported along the sandspit to the site.
The lighthouse is operated by Maritime New Zealand. With a focal height of 30 meters (98 ft) above sea level, the light can be seen for 19 nautical miles (35 km; 22 mi). Its characteristic is either a white or red flash every fifteen seconds, depending on where you view it from. It is a sector light. The red flashes warn a vessel it is in a danger of hitting the shoal. The white sector shines from 113° to 299° and 333° to 110°; the red from 299° to 333°.
Operation of the Farewell Spit light
Farewell Spit was converted from oil to diesel-generated electricity in the 1930s. It was connected to mains electricity in the 1960s.
The station was automated and the last keepers were withdrawn in 1984.
The original light was replaced in September 1999 with a modern rotation beacon, illuminated by a 50-watt tungsten halogen bulb. The original light can be viewed in the hut at 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.
Life at Farewell Spit Light station
Farewell Spit was not a popular station among keepers because the site was completely bare of vegetation and sand got into everything. Keepers had the never ending job of shoveling sand away from their cottages.
The first attempts to grow any kind of vegetation proved unsuccessful. Just before the turn of the century, a keeper organized loads of soil to be brought to the station with the mail. He planted a windbreak of macrocarpa pines to protect the station from the sand. As the pines grew, this windbreak became a well-known landmark for passing ships.
It was made very clear to the keepers that the diesel-generated electricity installed in the 1930s was strictly for the lighthouse, and not for domestic purposes.
In 1957 the generators were finally allowed to be used one day a week for washing and running the radio for the children’s correspondence school. A year later, however, it was felt that this privilege was being abused. The keepers were reminded, for example, not to leave the generators running so they could make morning tea with the electric jug. Also they were asked not to do extra washing while the light was operating before the sun came up. When the light was connected to mains electricity access to electricity for domestic use ceased to be a problem.
Depiction on postage stamps
The Farewell Spit Lighthouse was featured on a 10-cent postage stamp issued in 1969 in conjunction with the centenary of the New Zealand Government Life Insurance Office.
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- Hydrographic Department, Great Britain (2001). New Zealand Pilot. Taunton, England: Hydrographer of the Navy. ISBN 0707712912.
- Petyt, Chris (1999). Farewell Spit a Changing Landscape: History and Natural History. Takaka, N.Z.: Terracottage Books. pp. 54, 63. ISBN 0473055392.
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- Marine Division, Ministry of Transport, New Zealand Nautical Adviser (2022). New Zealand nautical almanac. Wellington, N.Z.: Land Information New Zealand.
- “K4182 Cape Farewell / Farewell Spit Bush-end Point”. Online list of lights. Archived from the original on 29 September 2022. Retrieved 4 June 2022.
- “Farewell Spit (South Island) Light ARLHS NZL-022”. List of the world’s lighthouses by the Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society. Archived from the original on 3 June 2022. Retrieved 4 June 2022.
- “1969 Lighthouses – Centenary of the New Zealand Government Life Insurance Office”. stampsnz.com. Retrieved 29 January 2023.