The Puysegur Point Lighthouse is located on a remote headland overlooking the Tasman Sea at the southwest corner of New Zealand’s South Island.
The Puysegur Point headland is near the entrance to Rakituma / Preservation Inlet in Fiordland National Park.
View from Puysegur Point
Milford Sound / Piopiotahi
|Location||Southland, New Zealand|
|Nearest town||Te Anau, New Zealand|
|Area||12,607 km2 (4,868 sq mi)|
|Governing body||Department of Conservation|
The lighthouse marks the northwest point of the entrance to Foveaux Strait, separating Stewart Island from the South Island. Puysegur Point is one of the most isolated and inaccessible lighthouses in New Zealand.
The original wooden lighthouse tower was destroyed in an arson attack on 8 February 1942. A replacement lighthouse was constructed using equipment that had recently become surplus from the Godley Head and Cape Foulwind lighthouses, and a new light was commissioned in January 1943.
Puysegur Point is a headland located in the far southwest of the South Island of New Zealand. It lies within Fiordland National Park on the southern head of Preservation Inlet and is 145 kilometers (90 mi) west-northwest of Invercargill.
The name ‘Puysegur’ was bestowed by Lieutenant Jules Dumont d’Urville or Midshipman Jules de Blosseville during a South Pacific expedition of La Coquille; probably in honor of the French naval officer Antoine-Hyacinthe-Anne de Chastenet de Puységur (1752–1809).
Jules de Blosseville
|Born||29 July 1802
|Allegiance||Kingdom of France|
|Years of service||1818–1833|
|Battles/wars||Invasion of Algiers|
|Other work||Explorer of the South Pacific|
Puysegur Point has been said to be the windiest place in New Zealand, with gales recorded on an average of 48 days a year.
A large earthquake in this region on 15 July 2009 pushed Puysegur Point closer to Australia by 30 centimetres (12 in).Humpback whales pass the point during annual migrations
A lighthouse on the point was first illuminated on 1 March 1879. The original wooden lighthouse was destroyed in an arson attack in 1942. The lighthouse was operated by permanent lighthouse keepers from its establishment in 1879 until it was temporarily shut down in 1980, with a further period of staffed operation from 1987 until it was fully automated and destaffed in 1989.
Situated on the southwest extremity of Fiordland in the South Island, Puysegur Point was notorious within the lighthouse service for being very isolated and desolate.
|Location:||latitude 46°10’ south, longitude 166°36’ east|
|Elevation:||45 metres above sea level|
|Construction:||cast iron tower|
|Tower height:||5 metres|
|Light configuration:||modern rotating beacon|
|Light flash character:||white light flashing once every 12 seconds|
|Range:||19 nautical miles (35 kilometres)|
|Date light first lit:||1879|
Getting to Puysegur Point Lighthouse
Puysegur Point Lighthouse is accessible to the public; however, access is difficult due to its isolated location.
There is no public access to enter the lighthouse.
There is very little left of the original light station apart from the lighthouse itself. One of the houses has been retained and is used by maintenance staff when on maintenance visits.
Find this on the map: Puysegur Point
The main access to Puysegur Point and the lighthouse is via a track from a beach landing point at Otago Retreat – a narrow waterway between the mainland and Coal Island in Preservation Inlet to the northwest of the point. The name Otago Retreat originates from the passage of the schooner Otago that found shelter in this narrow passage during a voyage accompanying the survey ship HMS Acheron on a survey of the South Island around 1850-51. There are buildings remaining at the landing that formerly served the lighthouse. One of the buildings is a Department of Conservation shelter, known as the Landing Shed.
The History of Puysegur Point Lighthouse
Construction of the wooden lighthouse was difficult because no suitable landing area could be found near the site. All materials and equipment had to be landed some 3 kilometers away and a track cut through the heavy bush to transport everything to the site. This same access was used until 1977, after which a helicopter was used to bring in supplies.
The Puysegur Point Lighthouse was completed in February 1879. The light was first lit in March of that same year.
In 1942 the tower at Puysegur Point burnt to the ground. According to the official report, the fire was lit “by a demented person, a hermit of the area”. The tower was completely destroyed. A fire was also lit in one of the keeper’s houses, however, it was put out before much damage was done.
In January 1943, the lantern room from Godley Head was installed to replace the wooden one. A new light powered by diesel-generated electricity replaced the original oil-powered light.
Operation of the Puysegur Point light
In 1980 the keepers were withdrawn and the lighthouse was replaced with two automatic lights; on Cape Providence and Windsor Point. In 1987 the Windsor Point light was shut down and the Puysegur Point light was re-established.
The station was one of the last to be automated. The last keepers were withdrawn in 1990.
In 1996 the original light was removed and replaced with a modern rotating light within the original tower.
The new light is fitted with a 35-watt tungsten halogen bulb and is powered by battery banks charged from solar panels.
The light is monitored remotely from Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office.
Life at Puysegur Point light station
After only a year of operation, the principal keeper noted the job was harder at Puysegur Point than at most stations.
“We often have to work in very bad weather, besides being tormented with thousands of sand flies while working. Therefore I hope, Sir, you will grant us a rise in salary for each of us is doing our best to deserve it!”
Instead of a pay rise, all government salaries were decreased shortly afterward.
Hard work and poor health were often symptoms of living at Puysegur Point. In 1933 the assistant keeper requested a transfer because of his and his wife’s deteriorating health.
“Both my wife’s complaint and the pains in my shoulder blades I think are forms of rheumatism and as neither of us have had anything like it before, we attribute it to the very damp climate here, together with the absence of fresh fruit and vegetables, milk and meat. And I think that the climate at Puysegur Point is seriously endangering our health.”
A couple of months later he had more health problems to report.
“About a month ago I was informed by a man here that I was suffering from a rupture and should receive medical attention. He said he had been ruptured himself and knew a rupture when he saw one!”
Surveys of possible sites for lighthouses around Foveaux Strait were undertaken in 1874 from the vessel PS Luna. Sites visited included Cape Puysegur, Centre Island, Rugged Island, Green Islands, and Cape Windsor. Puysegur Point was identified as a potentially suitable site because of the elevation, the visibility from vessels en route to Otago or Canterbury from the west, and the accessibility.
The first lighthouse
Lighthouse equipment for Puysegur Point was ordered in February 1875 as part of a larger contract awarded by the Commissioner of Customs for the supply of apparatus and lanterns for six lighthouses around the New Zealand coast. Site works began that same year in leveling sites for houses and for the construction of a 1.5-mile-long (2.4 km) road to the location of the lighthouse from the landing point at Otago Retreat in Preservation Inlet. The Otago Retreat landing point had been previously established by prospectors exploring local coal deposits
Land was formally reserved for the lighthouse late in 1875. The estimated cost of constructing the lighthouse was reported as ₤8,500. In December 1876, the Marine Office called for tenders for the construction of a lighthouse, dwellings, and other buildings. Materials for the construction were brought ashore at the landing point at Otago Retreat. The main site construction works were completed by 1878. In the financial year 1877-78, the Marine Department spent ₤3,418 on works at Puysegur Point.
The tower was of wooden construction 40 feet (12 m) high, and painted white. The lighthouse was fitted with a first-order lens and the light, flashing every 10 seconds, was first shown on 1 March 1879. The focal height was 180 feet (55 m) above sea level, with a range of 19 nautical miles (35 km; 22 mi).
The tower was found to sway in the extreme winds often experienced at Puysegur Point. In 1886, the tower was strengthened with the addition of four guy wires, fixed to ground anchors.
The Puysegur Point light was upgraded to the Chance incandescent system in 1909, providing an improved light with reduced consumption of oil.
Despite being built on the mainland, rather than an offshore island, Puysegur Point is one of the most isolated and inaccessible lighthouse locations in New Zealand
In 1896, surveys began for a telegraph line route from Puysegur Point to Orepuki in Southland, to provide communications from the site. Following the stranding of the vessel Ruapehu on Farewell Spit in 1897, commentators noted that several lighthouses around the coast, including Puysegur Point, did not have telegraph communications for promptly summoning assistance for vessels in distress. However, in 1899, homing pigeons were still being used to carry messages from Puysegur Point back to Invercargill.
A government decision to provide telegraph communications with the lighthouse was finally made in 1908. Telegraph communications from the site were used to summon assistance in 1910, following the wreck of the Waikare in Dusky Sound. However, the telegraph line proved difficult to maintain, and by the 1920’s it was replaced by a radiotelephone system.
The lighthouse received stores and mail in monthly supply visits from government steamers, including the Stella in 1886, the Invercargill in 1895,and the GSS Wairua in the 1940s.Lighthouse keepers complained about the lack of a regular mail service. There was no reliable and regular mail service provided until 1941 when a two-weekly service from Riverton was commenced, subject to weather conditions.
Destruction by arson
On Sunday 8 February 1942, the lighthouse was burned down by a man who had been prospecting on nearby Coal Island for six months, and who visited the lighthouse periodically to pick up stores left for him by the lighthouse supply vessel. It was subsequently reported that the man was infuriated by the flashing light from the lighthouse disturbing his sleep. He assaulted the lighthouse keeper on duty, knocking him unconscious, smashed the radiotelephone, and set fire to the lighthouse. After the assault and arson, he stole a rifle and ammunition and returned to Coal Island, but became marooned there when other lighthouse keepers took his boat from the island. The lighthouse keepers were able to restore radio communications and summoned help from Bluff. Police arrived and arrested the man the following day. The man was subsequently detained in a mental institution.
A replacement lighthouse at Puysegur Point was established in January 1943. It was constructed on a short concrete foundation and used a lantern room that was previously in service at the Godley Head lighthouse but had become surplus following the relocation of that lighthouse in 1942. Lenses previously installed in the lighthouse at Cape Foulwind were re-used and put into service.
A radio beacon was installed at Puysegur Point in 1947 as an additional navigation aid.
In August 1980, the Puysegur Point lighthouse was replaced with two automatic lights located at Windsor Point, to the southeast of Puysegur Point, and Cape Providence at the northern entrance to Chalky Inlet. However, in 1987 the Windsor Point light was shutdown, and the Puysegur Point light was re-established.
The Puysegur Point lighthouse was equipped with a solar power supply in 1989, and permanent lighthouse keepers left the site for the last time.
- In September 1877, two carpenters engaged in construction work at Puysegur Point died while attempting to row across to Coal Island. They had observed what they thought was smoke coming from the island and assumed this was a sign of people who had been shipwrecked. The two men set off in strong winds and heavy seas. Their boat was eventually located and washed up on an island, but the men’s bodies were never found
- On 28 November 1898, the lighthouse was struck by lightning but suffered only minor damage.
- In January 1910, news of the wreck of the vessel Waikare in Dusky Sound was sent to Puysegur Point Lighthouse over 30 miles away so that help could be summoned.
- In July 1934, the radio receiver at the lighthouse was damaged beyond repair in a lightning strike.
- On 8 February 1942, the original wooden tower was destroyed by fire in an arson attack.
- In June 1942, heavy iron girders intended for construction work on the replacement Puysegur Point lighthouse were lost when the vessel carrying them was wrecked.
- On 23 November 1959, winds of hurricane strength up to 167 miles per hour (269 km/h) caused damage to a boathouse, a coal hut, and a radio transmitter building at Puysegur Point Extreme winds were also recorded on 22 December 1960, with gusts over 120 miles per hour (190 km/h).
Depiction on postage stamps
The Puysegur Point Lighthouse was featured on a postage stamp as part of the commemoration of the centenary of the New Zealand Government Life Insurance Office in 1969. It was initially issued in 1969 as a 2½ cent stamp but was overprinted and re-issued as a 25-cent stamp in 197
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Media related to Puysegur Point Lighthouse at Wikimedia Commons