SS Tararua Wreck Site, Tararua Acre, and Waipapa Lighthouse Site

Waipapa Lighthouse Road, Otara

  • SS Tararua Wreck Site, Tararua Acre and Waipapa Lighthouse. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 22/01/2014.
  • SS Tararua Wreck Site, Tararua Acre and Waipapa Lighthouse.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand.
  • SS Tararua Wreck Site, Tararua Acre and Waipapa Lighthouse.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7785 Date Entered 26th June 2009

Locationopen/close

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Sec 38 Blk I Otara Survey District ((General Purposes Reserve - Lighthouse Reserve NZG 1981, p.272. CT SL12A/926), part of Sec 39 Blk I Otara Survey District (Recreation Reserve NZG 1981, p.272.) Sec 29 Blk I Otara Survey District (Cemetery Site NZG 1881 p.961.), part seabed and foreshore, road reserve, Southland Land District.

and the land, building and structures known as the SS Tararua Wreck Site, the Waipapa Point Lighthouse and its fittings and fixtures, the Tararua Acre and the stretch of Waipapa Beach between the Lighthouse and the Tararua Acre thereon (shown in the Extent of Registration Map in Appendix I Figure 3).

City/District Council

Southland District

Region

Southland Region

Legal description

Sec 38 Blk I Otara SD ((General Purposes Reserve - Lighthouse Reserve NZ Gazette 1981, p.272. CT SL12A/926), part of Sec 39 Blk I Otara SD (Recreation Reserve NZ Gazette 1981, p.272.) Sec 29 Blk I Otara SD (Cemetery Site NZ Gazette 1881 p.961.), part seabed and foreshore, road reserve, Southland Land District.

Location description

Waipapa Point is in the Catlins region at the extreme southeast of the South Island, and is around 50km southeast of Invercargill. The wreck of the SS Tararua is located on Otara Reef off Waipapa Point. The Waipapa Point Lighthouse is located on Waipapa Point, and the Tararua Acre is located about 1.5km east along Waipapa Beach from the Waipapa Point Lighthouse, sitting behind the dunes. The Tararua Acre can be reached from close to where the Waipapa-Otara Road turns into Waipapa Lighthouse Road.

Summaryopen/close

The wreck of SS Tararua in April 1881 on the Otara Reef off Waipapa Point in Southland is the worst civilian maritime disaster in New Zealand's history. One hundred and thirty one men, women and children lost their lives. This registration includes the wreck of the SS Tararua, the Tararua Acre (the cemetery where many unidentifiable bodies were laid to rest located behind the dunes about a kilometre down Waipapa Beach), and the Waipapa Point Lighthouse, which was built in 1884 to warn coastal shipping of the dangerous reefs in the area in response to the disaster.

The Union Steamship Company's SS Tararua hit the reef on 29 April 1881, at the cost of 131 lives, and with only 20 survivors. The tragic wreck has a special place in New Zealand's history. A record of 200 years of shipwrecks in New Zealand waters records that '[f]ew, if any, wrecks on the coast of New Zealand have been attended by such tragic incidents as those connected with the loss of the steamer Tararua.' The SS Tararua was on a voyage between Port Chalmers and Melbourne, and struck the reef in the early morning. There was initial confidence in the likelihood of rescue, but the hours dragged on and conditions worsened. The following evening the ship broke up and sank with the loss of all still on board.

Many bodies were washed ashore but deteriorated rapidly. It became impracticable to shift the remains far from the wreck site. Sixty four bodies, many unidentifiable, were buried at a nearby plot of land, known as the Tararua Acre, surveyed by the Government and set aside as a burial ground.

A Court of Inquiry recommended a light be erected on Waipapa Point, and the light was lit on 1 January 1884. Waipapa Point Lighthouse is a double-skinned wooden structure, built of kauri and totara. The wall sections have a ballast of rock filling. The tower is 44 ft. (13.4m) high, and cost close to £6000. The lighthouse keepers also maintained the Tararua Acre.

The wreck of the SS Tararua, the Tararua Acre and the Waipapa Point Lighthouse, have special significance, recalling the tragic loss of lives associated with the disaster. The place has aesthetic, architectural, historical and technological significance. Waipapa Point Lighthouse stands on a small promontory at the edge of the flat Southland plain looking along the lonely beach with its reefs and turbulent waters a poignant reminder of the power of the sea. The Lighthouse is significant as a timber lighthouse, and has considerable architectural and technological value for its association with John Blackett, an important nineteenth-century engineer. It provides an illustration of the technology required to produce a relatively cheap to build, long lasting structure capable of withstanding rough coastal conditions.

The Waipapa Point Lighthouse, undergoing restoration in 2008, has historical value for its association with the improvement of maritime safety in New Zealand waters. It is a reminder of the dangers faced by sailors and passengers during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and its association with the wreck of the SS Tararua makes this association outstanding. The wreck of the SS Tararua and the Tararua Acre provide testament to the hazards of this isolated part of Southland's coast and the vulnerability of coastal shipping in the nineteenth century. Such events form a background to the improvement of facilities associated with maritime safety in New Zealand.

The wreck attracted several salvage attempts as it apparently went down with a cargo of silver. The Tararua Acre remains a significant landmark recalling the wreck and has a plaque commemorating the disaster, put up by members of the local community and supported by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. In 2008 the now automated Waipapa Point Lighthouse still sends its beam out to sea, carrying its warning of the hazards nearby.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Waipapa Point Lighthouse has historical value for its association with the improvement of maritime safety in New Zealand waters. It was the last of a major expansion of lighthouse provision from the 1860s to early 1880s. It is a reminder of the dangers faced by sailors and passengers during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and its association with the wreck of the SS Tararua makes this association outstanding.

The wreck of the SS Tararua and the Tararua Acre provide testament to the hazards of this isolated part of Southland's coast and the vulnerability of coastal shipping in the nineteenth century. Such events form a background to the improvement of facilities associated with maritime safety in New Zealand.

Aesthetic Significance or Value:

Waipapa Point and the associated structures have aesthetic significance. The lighthouse stands on a small promontory at the edge of the flat Southland plain. The long beach with its reefs and turbulent waters are a poignant reminder of the power of the sea. The lonely cemetery nestled behind the dunes gives a sense of isolation and loss.

Archaeological Significance or Value:

The Waipapa Point Lighthouse and its immediate surrounds, as well as the wreck of the SS Tararua itself have archaeological significance. The Lighthouse, the associated archaeological remains of the lighthouse station and the wreck could reveal information through archaeological recording techniques.

Architectural Significance or Value:

The Waipapa Point Lighthouse has architectural significance. The Lighthouse is significant as a timber lighthouse, typical of the timber towers built in the mid to later nineteenth century in New Zealand, as a response to local conditions. As with the similarly designed Kaipara North Head Lighthouse, the structure has considerable architectural value for its association with John Blackett, an important nineteenth-century engineer.

Technological Significance or Value:

The Waipapa Point Lighthouse has technological significance as an example of nineteenth century timber lighthouse design. It provides an illustration of the technology required to produce a relatively cheap to build, long lasting structure capable of withstanding rough coastal conditions for over 120 years.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

The Waipapa Point Lighthouse is associated with the maritime history of New Zealand. Its construction as a result of the wreck of the SS Tararua illustrates the importance of lighthouses as navigation aids which allowed safe travel through New Zealand's turbulent coastal waters. It was built during the peak period of lighthouse construction in New Zealand and is linked with marine engineer (and also chief engineer for the general government) John Blackett. Its subsequent demanning illustrates the changes in lighthouse technology and fits into the twentieth century maritime history of New Zealand.

The wreck of the SS Tararua and the associated Tararua Acre are outstanding reminders of the hazardous nature of coastal shipping in New Zealand waters, and the proximity of the three features adds to the significance of the place.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

Waipapa Point Lighthouse and the Tararua Acre have a special association with the wreck of the SS Tararua, which is New Zealand's worst civilian maritime disaster. The wreck, the cemetery, and the resulting construction of the lighthouse tell the story of this event which shocked the nation.

The Waipapa Point Lighthouse is associated with a major programme of light-house construction around New Zealand's shores during the 1860s, 1870s and early 1880s. It is closely linked with John Blackett, a prominent contributor to New Zealand's engineering history, and the designer of the lighthouse.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history:

The Lighthouse and the Tararua Acre have potential to provide knowledge of New Zealand's nineteenth century maritime history. In particular it provides an illustration of the vulnerability of coastal shipping along New Zealand's extensive and hazardous coastline.

The Waipapa Point Lighthouse itself has the potential to provide information about the design and function of timber lighthouses from the 1880s, and could also provide insight into the design work of John Blackett.

The associated site may be able to provide information on the operation of light-house stations and the lives of lighthouse keepers and their families through archaeological means. There is considerable surviving documentary material, such as the station's earliest day journal, which can provide further knowledge about New Zealand's lighthouse-keeping history.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:

The community hold this place in high esteem. The local community have lobbied extensively for the preservation of the lighthouse. The Department of Conservation Southland Conservancy have been working on the interpretation of the site which will tell the story of the places associated with the wreck of the SS Tararua. It is one of the most popular visitor sites managed by the Department of Conservation in Southland.

(f) The potential of the place for public education:

The Waipapa Point Recreation reserve is having an interpretation plan prepared by the Department of Conservation and as such has considerable potential for public education.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

The Waipapa Point Lighthouse (like Kaipara North Lighthouse) has value as a specifically New Zealand response to lighthouse design. It is representative of James Balfour's policy that supported the construction of timber lighthouses in the interest of speed and efficiency, and was one of the last of its type con-structed. The Lighthouse contains some elements of construction, such as vertical-plank external cladding, that are near unique in timber lighthouses of this era.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place:

The Waipapa Point Lighthouse and the Tararua Acre can be considered to have special commemorative value, as they embody the losses associated with the wreck of the SS Tararua.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

The wreck of the SS Tararua, the Tararua Acre, the associated Waipapa Point Lighthouse and lighthouse reserve, as well as the Waipapa Beach itself form a historical landscape associated with the 1881 wreck.

Summary of Significance or Values:

This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, c, e, f, g, h, k.

Conclusion:

It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category I historic place.

The Wreck of the SS Tararua, Waipapa Point Lighthouse Site and Tararua Acre are worthy of consideration as a Category I historic place they commemorate New Zealand's worst civilian maritime disaster and illustrate the vulnerability of coastal shipping in New Zealand's hazardous waters in the nineteenth century.

The Waipapa Point Lighthouse, undergoing restoration in 2008, has historical value for its association with the improvement of maritime safety in New Zealand waters. It is a reminder of the dangers faced by sailors and passengers during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and its association with the wreck of the SS Tararua makes this association outstanding. The wreck of the SS Tararua and the Tararua Acre provide testament to the hazards of this isolated part of Southland's coast and the vulnerability of coastal shipping in the nineteenth century. Such events form a background to the improvement of facilities associated with maritime safety in New Zealand.

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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.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The SS Tararua Wreck Site, the associated cemetery, the Tararua Acre, and the Waipapa Point Lighthouse (the Lighthouse), constructed to light this dangerous part of the coast, are located east of Invercargill at the head of Toetoes Bay. The Lighthouse is located close to the Otara Reef that was the site of New Zealand's worst civilian shipwreck. The Union Steamship Company's SS Tararua hit the reef on 29 April 1881, at the cost of 131 lives, and with only 20 survivors. Around 64 bodies, some unidentifiable, were buried at the Tararua Acre, about a kilometre down Waipapa Beach. The Lighthouse was constructed in recognition of the danger of this piece of coast, and the light was first lit on 1 January 1884. In 2008 the Lighthouse still sends its beam out to sea, though this is an automated service, with the last keeper withdrawn in 1976.

The southern coast around Foveaux Strait was rich in resources and occupied by iwi, as evidenced by the number of archaeological sites recorded, reflecting the lives of Ngai Tahu ki Murihiku. Waipapa Point is identified as a Wahi Taonga, a special place, in the Te Whakatau Kaupapa o Murihiku. The waters surrounding Waipapa Point were breeding grounds for marine species and were a major source of food and related resources. Te Ara a Kiwa/Foveaux Strait Kiwa was the ancestor who travelled around this coastline, traversing the isthmus that then joined Rakiura and Murihiku. Kiwa requested that Kewa (the whale) chew through the land, and the crumbs that fell from his teeth are the offshore islands. The area is of 'huge cultural significance' to Ngai Tahu Whanui. An Ara Hikoi travelled along the coastline from Waikawa to Curio Bay where Maori made use of the abundant resources, living and passing through the area on the south east coast.

The Foveaux Strait area was first occupied by Europeans during the sealing industry in the late 1700s which lasted through to the 1820s; the first observation of Maori occupation comes from around this time. A 'large old' settlement was recorded at the Toetoes in 1827. By mid 1830s the Mataura Mouth whaling station, just west along the coast from Waipapa was occupied, but this and the associated population had declined by the late 1830s as settlement was concentrated in central Foveaux Strait.

The area around Waipapa, called Otara, was also the site of a short-lived whaling station worked by James Wybrow. According to local information, the proper name of the point where the lighthouse stands is Otara, and was part of the trail used by Maori travelling up and down the coast. The Tokanui River and mouth nearby have associated burials and taonga, and the archaeological sites in the vicinity are testament to the Maori activity in the area in the past.

That the coast was hazardous was also clear as there was a report of a whaler Sandy Low being wrecked at Waipapa Point in the mid 1840s. After the whaling stations were closed the whalers retired to a more settled existence on the land, forming the nucleus of early settlement with their often Maori families.

The Catlins Coast was part of the 1853 seven million acre Murihiku purchase negotiated by Walter Mantell, and after this time more European settlers arrived, and a corresponding increase in sea traffic.

Pastoral stations were established in the 1850s, with Harry McCoy taking up the Otara Run, which was taken over by William Reynolds later in that decade. Reynolds had a homestead at Waipapa. The Run was taken over by Major Brunton and sons in the mid 1860s.

Lighthouse construction was controlled by the Marine Department from 1866. With the enormous seaboard and numerous capes and headlands provision of navigation lights was vital to New Zealand's coastal shipping, and in southern New Zealand lights at Dog Island, Cape Saunders and Taiaroa Head in the 1860s. James Balfour, who had designed the stone lighthouse at Dog Island, was appointed Marine Engineer and adopted a policy of erecting timber lighthouses as they were quick to construct, and the materials relatively easy to transport. After his death in 1869, this policy was continued through the 1870s and into the early 1880s by John Blackett and Captain Robert Johnson. The 1870s was the peak decade of lighthouse construction in New Zealand. Twenty five lighthouses were built during this period, and a further six in the 1880s, including the one at Waipapa. The last of the lighthouses completed during this period was the Kaipara North Head light. In the later nineteenth century other towers were completed, for example Stephens Island, Cape Palliser and Mokohinau, but these were constructed of stone or cast iron.

Marine engineer John Blackett directed the programme of works until 1889 and by the end of the nineteenth century the Marine Department had commissioned 16 manned lighthouses. Blackett was marine engineer for the general government from 1871-1889, chief engineer for New Zealand from 1884-1889. Blackett drew on his North American experiences and designed wooden towers, with a double wall filled with rubble to a height of around 10 ft (3 metres). The Kaipara North Head Lighthouse is of a similar design. This method of construction allowed easily transportable wood to be used, with the ballast coming from stone. Sites for lighthouses were based on recommended locations drawn up by Captains Robert Johnson and Robert Edwin, but circumstances could add another site to the list. The Waipapa Point Lighthouse was built on tragedy: the loss of the SS Tararua off the coast of Southland in 1881.

The tragic wreck has a special place in New Zealand's history. A record of 200 years of shipwrecks in New Zealand waters records that '[f]ew, if any, wrecks on the coast of New Zealand have been attended by such tragic incidents as those connected with the loss of the steamer Tararua.' The SS Tararua was on a voyage between Port Chalmers and Melbourne. On its journey south the sound of breakers was heard in the 5am darkness, and the captain recognised that the ship was too close to the rocks. After a failed attempt to turn the ship out to sea, the rudder and propeller were broken, and attempts to launch the lifeboat saw that craft holed. Passenger George Lawrence made it to shore, raising the alarm, and there was a flurry of telegrams trying to identify what assistance was required. The message was relayed inland but did not reach Dunedin until midday, and was not marked urgent, so no action was taken, and indeed it was reported that all lives were safe. There were several unsuccessful attempts to reach the shore with passengers swimming from the lifeboats, some made it, but others drowned under the watching eyes of passengers remaining on the ship. Only the ship's cook, a Maltese man and a strong swimmer, survived a swim from ship to shore. By the early afternoon the ship was breaking up in roughening conditions, and 12 hours later the ship broke up and sank with the loss of the 131 men, women and children still stranded.

Ingram's New Zealand Shipwrecks describes the tragedy:

‘A particularly heavy sea swept over the forepart, and nearly a score of people were washed overboard... Towards evening those still surviving were forced to take refuge in the rigging, and on one occasion were heard cheering by those on shore, it was supposed at the sight of the steamer Kahanui steaming from Bluff. Up till 11pm lights in the rigging were occasionally seen, as though matches were being burned. At 2.35am on April 30 the closing tragedy in the disaster occurred. Those on the beach heard the piercing shrieks from the doomed people on the Tararua, and a voice, said to be that of the captain, calling for a boat, which could not be sent, as the chief officer's boat was damaged when it capsized, and could not be repaired. At daybreak the steamer had sunk almost out of sight, and bodies were coming ashore.'

Members of the Fortrose community turned out in force to give assistance: but there were few survivors. Local man James Wybrow, with a rope looped around his waist and anchored on the shore recovered bodies from the surf, suffering much afterwards from nightmares. The first dead were taken to Fortrose, where once identified, and coffins been made, they were transported to Edendale to be taken north by train.

Bodies continued to be washed ashore, but deteriorated rapidly. It became impracticable to shift the remains far from the wreck site. Sixty four bodies, many unidentifiable, were buried at a nearby plot of land, known as the Tararua Acre, surveyed by the Government surveyor and set aside as a burial ground. Local carpenters worked day and night to build coffins. The remains were numbered and any details recorded on an official record before burial. Heavy rails were put at the head of the plots with the numbers set in wood. Later paling fences were erected around the plots, with plans supplied by architects McKenzie and Gilbertson of Invercargill.

New Zealand papers printed extra editions to meet the public demand for news: 7000 extras were sold of the Otago Daily Times.

A Court of Inquiry in Dunedin in May 1881 blamed Captain Garrard for the loss of the vessel, for adopting a course too close to shore, not checking position, and for not getting the passengers into life boats.

The Court of Inquiry recommended a light be erected on the point. A site was selected in December 1881; work began on the construction of the wooden tower and houses for three keepers and their families. The lighthouse reserve of 200 acres was gazetted as a permanent lighthouse reserve on 9 April 1882. In July 1882 the Public Works statement reported that the site had been selected and that orders had been placed in England for the light apparatus and lantern. The local newspaper indicated that it was not until November 1882 that the Stella was expected to leave Wellington to deliver construction materials to Waipapa, with confirmation of the delivery at the end of December. The delays did lead to criticism that there should have been a temporary light in place while the permanent structure was built.

According to Maritime New Zealand, the Lighthouse was the second to last wooden lighthouse tower to be built in New Zealand. More than 10 timber lighthouses had been built prior to the one at Waipapa, including towers at Brothers Island in 1877, Moeraki in 1878 and at Akaroa Heads in 1880. Kaipara North Head Lighthouse, of identical design to Waipapa Point Lighthouse (with its vertical timber cladding) was completed on 1 December 1884. The Court of Inquiry's recommendations were a turning point in maritime safety: from 1882 lifebelts had to be provided for every person on board a ship, and crews were to regularly practise life boat evacuations.

Mr Wilson of the Marine Department reported the successful opening of the Lighthouse on the 1 January 1884: ‘lighted up last night; everything right.' The Lighthouse is a double-skinned wooden structure, built of kauri and totara. The wall sections have a ballast of rock filling. The tower is 44 ft. high. The cost was close to £6000, with an annual maintenance cost of between £300 and £400. The lighthouse keepers also maintained the Tararua Acre, where some of the dead from the wreck were buried.

The Waipapa Point light keepers' houses were built at the same time as the Lighthouse. The houses suffered from exposure to the severe weather of the area, with the maintenance records reflecting this.

The original layout of the lighthouse station is shown in an 1889 survey plan. The plan shows the lighthouse and its associated structures: a signal staff, store, oil store, landing store and two houses in a fenced enclosure.

In 1886 the Southland County Council was appointed Trustee for the Tararua Acre under the Cemeteries Act. As early as 1882 there was concern about the condition of the graves and requests for an appropriate memorial. In 1899 the Government paid the Council £50 to be held as a fund for the future maintenance of the cemetery, and for many years the Council did supply paint and repair materials for the cemetery. The provision of a monument had been a project of the Tararua Disaster Committee, but it was the local school children who first raised funds for memorial headstones to the victims of the wreck. One was erected in the Fortrose Cemetery, the other at the Tararua Acre. For many years the anniversary of the wreck was marked by the local school which placed flowers on the graves.

While the new Lighthouse reduced strandings on the point there were still significant incidents. In February 1891 the keepers came to the aid of the Star of Erin, which struck the reef and was lost. All hands were saved.

In the 1890s the first salvage attempt was made on the SS Tararua. Various syndicates of divers attempted to bring up the silver coin known to have gone down with the ship. Other material washed up on shore was reused by locals; furniture, timbers for construction and the like were treasured, recalling the sad event.

A 1901 newspaper article in the Otago Witness describes the Lighthouse of ‘considerable importance.' The light apparatus was composed of ‘glass lens and prisms' of ‘second order dioptric' and ‘flashes a white light every 10 seconds, visible 13 miles out to sea.' The light made eight flashes every revolution, each revolution taking 80 seconds. On a summer night this amounted to 2880 flashes at intervals of 10 seconds, while in winter double this number were sent out. There were two keepers at the station on four hour shifts. ‘At the foot of the lighthouse cliff there are a number of reefs extending out a long way from the shore, and in fair weather these do not show any sign of danger, but in stormy weather the sea for many miles is nothing but a mass of frothing and foaming billows, thus indicating the shallowness of the water and the consequent danger to shipping.'

In 1909 the Commissioner of Crown Lands wrote to the Southland County Council about the state of the Tararua Acre urging the Council to remedy the neglected condition of the cemetery. Concerns were regularly expressed in the local paper into the 1950s. The Otara Women's Division of Federated Farms also drew attention to the poor state of the cemetery, campaigning for funds for its maintenance. A 1959 article in the New Zealand Truth lamented the state of the significant site: ‘No gorse...grows over the Tararua plot which originally was surrounded by a wooden fence which is now mostly broken down. The grave of only one Tararua victim is marked by a stone. The lead lettering is coming off it. Possibly because of the sandy nature of the ground the memorial stone to wreck victims has tilted like a wreck itself.' The article also noted that the engine and the boilers of the wreck were visible at low tide.

In 1960 the Council draughtsperson drew up a new plan, showing the original sites of the mass graves and the private plots, and arranged for the cemetery to be cleared. The National Historic Places Trust (now New Zealand Historic Places Trust) was approached for assistance for appropriate markers for the cemetery, and a bronze plaque was funded by the Department of Internal Affairs. A memorial cairn was planned to be set over the largest plot, and the smallest plot to be marked by concrete pillars. The fallen stones were to be reset. The cairn was set with Queenstown stone, and completed by local contractor Albert Poole.

A general programme of electrification of lights began in the mid 1930s, at first using diesel generators to power electric lamps, which no longer needed attendance during the night from keepers. The light at Waipapa was electrified in 1943. The Lighthouse was the first station to be connected to the national grid. Problems with salt spray on the transformer, fuses and lines caused many power outages. This was solved by burying the lines.

In 1949 legal access was provided with the construction of a road. A 1949 aerial photograph shows the lighthouse and the associated tracks and structures. The houses and stores are evident, along with shelter belt planting and garden enclosures.

By the 1970s new technologies were reducing the importance of lighthouses, as satellite navigation systems began to be installed on ships, weather reporting became automated, and faults at lighthouses could be remedied remotely. The final stage of automation was demanning the manned stations, with keepers sent a circular in 1973 informing them of proposed changes. In 1976 the light was automated, and the keepers withdrawn. The associated buildings (lighthouse keeper's house, single men's quarters, garage and sheds were demolished).

The Marine Department would have liked to have made the tower surplus to requirement in the early 1970s, with a preference to construct a smaller low cost structure. The tower was offered to local parties, including NZHPT, but all refused ownership, preferring that the Marine Department continue to maintain the tower.

The Lighthouse was recognised as unique by the Ministry of Works. The Commissioner of works noted its uniqueness, but noted it was expensive to maintain because once the station was demanned there was no local accommodation for the painting gang. He considered that the Marine Division was ‘in no position to maintain items of possible historic interest which have outlived their period of usefulness.' Beaglehole notes that the Commissioner had little patience with the Historic Places Trust or ‘locals with parochial attitudes.' The tower was saved because if local pressure prevailed and the tower was maintained, it was too expensive to build another nearby as well.

The light was solarised in 1988.

Repeated attempts were made to recover the silver bullion on board the Tararua. Salvage attempts had been made straight after the wreck, and in 1889, but it was not until 1970 that divers salvaged the brass and copper fittings and ship's souvenirs. Although the wreck was privately owned (by author Joan Macintosh, and has since changed hands but remains in private ownership), the pirating of the wreck continued. Subsequent attempts to salvage the silver failed.

In 2000 the wreck of the Tararua featured on TV One's Shipwreck series (and in the subsequent publication), which told the story of eleven wrecks. Once again the profile of the tragedy was high in the public imagination.

In February 2007 Maritime New Zealand issued a fact sheet providing information about their restoration plans for the Lighthouse. Maritime New Zealand recognising the significant heritage value of the Lighthouse were trialling various finishes to combat the rust streaking of the building, and was also working through other issues with the place including a significant problem with vandalism. Repair work was begun in 2008, and was still in progress at the time of writing.

In August 2007 the Department of Conservation, which manages the recreation reserve surrounding the Lighthouse, held a public meeting to discuss the future redevelopment of the Waipapa Reserve, one of the most popular Department of Conservation managed sites in Southland. The Department of Conservation wished to put in walking tracks, a car park and to privatise the road to the Lighthouse (with the aim of reducing vandalism, by limiting vehicle access to the area close to the lighthouse), and to improve visitor facilities.

In January 2008 a site survey of the Waipapa Point Recreation Reserve (excluding the lighthouse) was undertaken for the Department of Conservation to identify visible archaeological sites, map features, to make a photographic record and to provide a management report.

Physical Description

Construction Professionals: Waipapa Point Lighthouse

Designer: - John Blackett (1818-1893)

Construction supervisor: - E. Whiting

Lantern: - James Milne & Son

Optical Apparatus: - Barbier and Fenestre

Waipapa Point is in the Catlins region at the extreme southeast of the South Island, and is around 50km from Invercargill. The wreck of the SS Tararua is located on Otara Reef off Waipapa Point. The Waipapa Point Lighthouse is located on Waipapa Point, and the Tararua Acre is located about 1.5km down the beach from the Waipapa Point Lighthouse.

The Tararua Acre is reached from Waipapa Beach or Waipapa Lighthouse Road. This is a lonely isolated cemetery which reflects the sad history. The cemetery sits, sheltered from the sea, behind the dunes. Access is across a flat grassed paddock. The graves are fenced off from the paddock. A memorial cairn to the passengers and crew stands in the middle of the cemetery. There are several standing headstones.

The wreck of the SS Tararua sits a distance from the beach on the Otara Reef, with its boiler reportedly visible at low tide.

The Waipapa Point Lighthouse sits atop a low dune at Waipapa Point, a rocky point at the edge of the flat swampy land near Otara in Southland. The bleak lonely Waipapa Beach with its associated reefs stretches out down the coast and makes a strong visual impression. The Lighthouse reserve is surrounded by a recreation reserve now administered by the Department of Conservation. The surrounding land is largely dunes, swampy ground and farmland. The Waipapa Point Recreation Reserve itself is around 10 hectares of coastal dunes, backed by grazing land. Archaeologists Chris Jacomb and Richard Walter have completed an assessment of the reserve and indicate that historical or archaeological features include two Maori midden sites, and European features such as fences, tracks, foundations, garden outlines, windbreak plantings, as well as the lighthouse itself.

The archaeological survey indicates that the visible evidence is 'relatively sparse and unimpressive'. Jacomb and Walter's record there is 'almost no sign of either of the keepers' cottages and only the foundation pads of three of the outbuildings.' They consider that the station is 'best understood' as an 'archaeological landscape rather than a series of individual sites.' The roads/tracks, the mature Macrocarpa trees, the concrete foundation from the store, the Maori midden and wooden fence posts are considered of high significance.

Access to the Lighthouse is up a series of steps, and through the chain link fence which protects the Lighthouse from intruders.

The 13m high timber Lighthouse is hexagonal in plan, tapering towards the top. The tower is three storeys high, topped with a lantern, and is clad with vertical boards. A balcony encircles the third storey, providing external access to the lantern room. Solar panels are fixed to the balcony railings. There is a door on the ground floor, with a small window on the first floor, and a door providing access to the balcony on the second floor. There are two small windows set one above the other on the south elevation. The small windows were boarded up from the outside, but as part of the restoration have been reinstated, with the exception of the lowest window.

Access to the interior is through a door in the north elevation. Two steps lead to the door which is set deeply within its frame. The interior is clad with horizontal timbers. The ground floor has a well set centrally into the floor, providing space for the ropes and weights from the original lighting mechanism.

A narrow twisting timber stair provides access to the upper storeys and a ladder provides access to the lantern room. A support structure for the light sits centrally on the second floor.

The Light Room has a metal grating floor allowing for ventilation of the space, with the now electric light mounted in the centre of the room. There are two levels of triangular panes of glass set in metal frames. The roof is a metal dome. The 50 watt lamp operates on a battery supply charged by solar panels. The light flashes 5 times every 20 seconds and can be seen for 9 nautical miles (16 kilometres).

Construction Dates

Other
1881 -
29-30 April 1881. SS Tararua is wrecked on Otara Reef

Other
1881 -
Tararua Acre gazetted as a cemetery site

Original Construction
1881 -
11 Jan 1884. Waipapa Point Lighthouse is first lit, keepers' houses constructed

Modification
1911 - 1912
Incandescent light installed. Porches added to the lighthouse keepers' houses

Modification
1943 -
25 June, Lighthouse electrified to national grid

Modification
1959 -
Lines put underground as protection from storm damage

Addition
1965 -
New living quarters for relieving keepers built

Demolished - Other
-
Unknown. Keepers' houses demolished or removed

Modification
1988 -
Lighthouse solarised

Construction Details

Waipapa Point Lighthouse: Reported to be kauri and totara, with rubble core and concrete foundations.

Public NZAA Number

F47/10

F47/15

F47/16

F47/17

F47/18

F47/19

F47/20

F47/21

F47/38

F47/42

F47/43

F47/45

Completion Date

30th October 2008

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Anderson, 1998

Atholl Anderson, The Welcome of Strangers: An ethnohistory of southern Maori A.D. 1650-1850, Otago University Press in association with the Dunedin City Council, Dunedin, 1998

Beaglehole, 2006

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

Department of Conservation

Department of Conservation

Chris Jacomb and Richard Walter, 'Waipapa Point Archaeological Assessment', prepared for the Department of Conservation, 26 March 2008; Angela Bain, Lighthouses of Foveaux Strait - A History, Thematic Study, September 1999, [Final Draft] Southland Conservancy

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Katherine W. Orr, 'Blackett, John 1818-1893', Volume One 1769-1869, Wellington, 1990

Martin, 1966

E. R. Martin, Marine Department Centennial History 1866-1966, Wellington, 1966

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

Colin Kerr 'Waipapa Lighthouse: Some Notes on its early construction & history' [undated ms, NZHPT file 12016-006]

Macintosh, 1970

Joan Macintosh, The Wreck of the Tararua, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1970

Macintosh, 1985

Joan Macintosh, Otara: From Waste Land to Wealth: Otara Centennial Book Committee, Invercargill, 1985

Other Information

A fully referenced Registration Report is available from the NZHPT Otago/Southland Area Office

Other Heritage Listings:

The SS Tararua wreck site is listed as a historic place in the Mainland Southland West Otago Conservation Management Strategy (DOC 2000). The Tararua Wreck site is listed in the Department of Conservation's Mainland Southland/West Otago Conservation Management Strategy July 1998 for the Western Catlins (section 6.9 CMS). It is considered to have national significance (Section 3.3 Table 10). The Regional Coastal Plan for Southland records the wreck of the Tararua (H54) as part of the heritage and archaeological values of the coastal area from Fortrose to The Brothers Point (Section 3.12.8, July 2005).

The Tararua Acre is included on the NZAA site recording scheme as F47/19. This is conservation land vested in the Southland District Council. The Conservation Unit number is F470029. The Tararua Acre is administered by the Southland District Council.

The Waipapa coastal area is part of the Statutory Acknowledgements under the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998, being part of the Foveaux Strait/Rakiura Coastal Waters (Regional Coastal Plan For Southland April 2007).

The Southland District Council District Plan Schedule 6.8 Archaeological Sites records 11 archaeological sites in the area immediately around Waipapa Point and eastwards up the beach, these are largely middens/ovens indicating significant occupation of this area.

The following planning documents also refer to the coastal area. The Southland Regional Policy Statement 1997, The Southland Regional Coastal Plan, in terms of the coastal marine area, including Section 5.7 (page 68 makes specific reference to protection of sites in the coastal marine area via the Historic Resources Strategy - H54 SS Tararua Wreck Site); and Te Tangi a Tauira Iwi planning document.

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.