Wairoa Lighthouse

Marine Parade, Wairoa

  • Wairoa Lighthouse. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com. Permission for use granted.
    Copyright: Rodney Allen. Taken By: Rodney Allen. Date: 6/01/2017.
  • Wairoa Lighthouse. CC Licence 3.0 Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
    Copyright: Ulrich Lange - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Ulrich Lange. Date: 15/02/2010.
  • Wairoa Lighthouse. CC Licence 2.0 Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
    Copyright: Janette Asche - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Janette Asche. Date: 31/12/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 4852 Date Entered 27th November 1986


City/District Council

Wairoa District


Hawke's Bay Region

Legal description

Town Sec 851


Wairoa Lighthouse, relocated in 1959 to the southern bank of the Wairoa River adjacent to Marine Parade, was built in 1877-78 to the design of marine engineer John Blackett. It remains historically significant for its association with New Zealand maritime history and is representative of the pivotal role that shipping and coastal transport played in the social and economic development of New Zealand in the nineteenth century. The lighthouse has architectural significance for its association with John Blackett, one of the most influential engineers of the time. It is an example of the successful repurposing of disused maritime architecture into a heritage monument that has become a town icon.

The lighthouse was constructed at a time when shipping was the country’s main form of transportation and shipwrecks were an ever-present risk. The systematic building of lighthouses from the mid-1860s reduced this risk, cementing the lighthouse as a symbol of security and technological development. The original site for the lighthouse, on the southern tip of Portland Island off the Mahia Peninsula, was selected in 1874. Construction began on the lighthouse and keepers residences in October 1877 and on 10 February 1878 the light was first illuminated.

The Portland Island Lighthouse was the fifteenth lighthouse erected in New Zealand and the first on the east coast of the North Island. The 12.7m tall hexagonal tower was built by a team headed by H. M. Shepard and constructed entirely out of kauri timber. In March 1879 it was one of several Blackett lighthouses to have its tower strutted for greater structural stability after storm damage. The first lamp was a kerosene-powered second-order dioptric revolving white light. In 1918 a second red light was fixed to the lower section of the tower and shone on nearby Bull Rock. The Portland Island Lighthouse was one of the last two in the country to use a kerosene-powered lamp and clockwork mechanism.

Lighthouse principal keeper Tom Smith wrote a damming report in 1947 on the poor condition of the Portland Island Lighthouse, detailing the extensive amount of maintenance work that needed to be done and how it was affecting productivity and working conditions. Based on Smith’s report, the Marine Department decommissioned the lighthouse and built a new prefabricated galvanised steel structure with a diesel-electric operated light, which was operational by 1957. After learning that the Marine Department planned to dump the first lighthouse, Wairoa Mayor Robert Shortt, who saw the lighthouse’s tourism potential, petitioned to have it moved to the town. The lighthouse was dismantled and transported from Portland Island to its new home in Wairoa in 1959.

Reconstruction of the lighthouse in Wairoa was completed in 1960 with specialist supervision from the Marine Department and kept to Blackett’s design, with the original lenses and lantern. Its physical appearance was slightly altered with the reduction of the tower height and balcony placement. On 10 June 1961 the Wairoa Lighthouse was officially opened as a town monument by the Mayor at a public ceremony. The lighthouse has become part of the heritage landscape of Marine Parade and is a valuable icon for Wairoa; it is used as a symbol of the town in marketing publications. During restoration and maintenance work in 2016 the original copper dome was exposed.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Blackett, John

John Blackett (1818-93) was one of New Zealand's leading nineteenth century civil engineers and the chief designer of many of the public works undertaken during the Vogel era. Born in Newcastle-on-Tyne, he served his apprenticeship with R. & W. Hawthorne, Engineers from 1834-40, and then became a draughtsman and office engineer with the Great Western Railway Company. In 1844 Blackett was made head engineer of a London firm of ship builders and railway contractors, and from 1846 he worked for a copper mining company in Wales. Blackett established his own practice in 1849 but two years later he emigrated to New Zealand and settled near New Plymouth. In 1856 Blackett moved to Nelson where he was appointed Provincial Engineer in 1859. Six years later he became the first Commissioner for the West Coast Goldfields.

After a decade of working in the civil service at a provincial level John Blackett was appointed Marine Engineer and Acting Engineer-in-Chief for the Colony on 1 October 1870. As Marine Engineer, he was responsible for the design of twenty-five lighthouses which were erected during one of the most prolific periods of lighthouse construction in New Zealand. This achievement is considered to be his most significant contribution to engineering in this country, although his work for the Public Works Department was also very important, particularly as it related to the development of the national rail network. Engineer-in-Charge of the North Island Public Works Department from 1878, Blackett was promoted to the office of Engineer-in-Chief of New Zealand in 1884. In this capacity he ran the Engineering Branch of the Public Works Department until 1890 when he was appointed Consulting and Inspecting Engineer for the Colony, resident in London. Blackett returned to New Zealand just before his death in 1893 and he is remembered for the skill with which he realised the ambitious public works programmes fostered by Vogel and his successors.

Shepard, H.M.

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1877 - 1878

- 1878
Lighthouse first lit

- 1879
Tower strutted for greater stability after storm damage

- 1918
Incandescent light installed

Additional building added to site
- 1957
Lighthouse decommissioned and replaced with a prefabricated galvanised steel structure and diesel-electric operated light

- 1959
Lighthouse dismantled and transported to Wairoa

- 1960
Tower reconstructed with original lenses and lantern on Marine Parade, Wairoa

- 1989
Moved slightly inland after the Wairoa River flooded during Cyclone Bola (March 1988)

- 2016
Lighthouse restored and original copper dome revealed

Completion Date

26th March 2019

Report Written By

Jessica McDonnell-Buwalda

Information Sources

Beaglehole, 2006

H Beaglehole, Lighting the Coast: a history of New Zealand's coastal lighthouse system, Canterbury UP, 2006

Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Orr, Katherine, ‘Blackett, John’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, 1990. In Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1b23/blackett-john

Wairoa District Council

Wairoa District Council

Wairoa District Council, Shine the Light: Portland Island Lighthouse, Issue 1, June 2017, https://indd.adobe.com/view/5f0be5a1-ef97-44b4-9999-5a54bbc688f9

Other Information

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Central Regional Office of Heritage New Zealand.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.