At the storm-lashed entrance to Wellington Harbour, New Zealand’s first lighthouse tells stories of early settlement, shipwreck, and one very strong woman.
The pilgrimage to Pencarrow Lighthouse makes a memorable day trip from Wellington city or the Hutt Valley. Starting from pretty Eastbourne, it’s a return walk of around four hours, or 1.5 hours on a bicycle (bike hire is available at the gate during summer).
The rugged stretch of coastline leading to Pencarrow Head offers spectacular scenery complete with whirling birds and rocky beaches strewn with flotsam. On a blowy day, it’s easy to imagine the danger facing ships passing through the treacherous heads. Interpretation panels illuminate tales of trials and tragedy.
The lighthouse has its own captivating story to tell, for not only was it the country’s first permanent lighthouse, it was also home to its first and only female lighthouse keeper – Mrs Mary Jane Bennett. From 1852, Mary and her husband George operated a light from a window of their cottage at Pencarrow Head, even more isolated than it is today. Life was a real struggle for them and their family, as you might imagine.
George died in a boating accident in 1855, but a pregnant Mary was undeterred from her duty. It was under her watch that Pencarrow Lighthouse was first lit on New Year’s Day 1859, and she stayed on as lighthouse keeper until 1865 raising her six children alone. What is it about Pencarrow that made her stay?
After nearly 8km of flat track, a short, sharp climb reveals this important landmark in all its glory – as elegant and romantic as a lighthouse should be. An octagonal, cast-iron tower nearly 12m high, it hasn’t actually shone since 1935 when it was replaced by an automated light further east.
The lighthouse lies within East Harbour Regional Park, with options for longer walks taking in other points of interest such as the rusting hull of the SS Paiaka, wrecked in 1906.
Take care when you plan a visit:
An enjoyable visit to Pencarrow Lighthouse requires forward planning. Pencarrow Head is a rugged environment and the weather can be wild, and highly changeable with a severe wind. Please check the weather conditions before you visit. Remember to take sunblock, a hat, refreshments including plenty of water, warm clothing and a jacket. Wear comfortable walking shoes.
Come and visit!
Find out about our opening hours and much more here.
In a wild lonely place, our first lighthouse was home to a female lighthouse keeper & mother of six.