Tiritiri Lighthouse

Tiritiri Matangi Island, Hauraki Gulf

  • Tiritiri Lighthouse, Tiritiri Matangi. CC Licence 3.0. Image courtesy of Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
    Copyright: CC Licence 3.0. Taken By: Jock Phillips.
  • Tiritiri Lighthouse, Tiritiri Matangi. Image courtesy of www.jontynz.com.
    Copyright: Jonty Crane. Taken By: Jonty Crane. Date: 28/02/2015.
  • Tiritiri Lighthouse, Tiritiri Matangi. Image courtesy of www.jontynz.com.
    Copyright: Jonty Crane. Taken By: Jonty Crane. Date: 28/02/2015.
  • Tiritiri Lighthouse, Tiritiri Matangi from the air.
    Copyright: Department of Conservation.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 5403 Date Entered 25th June 1992 Date of Effect 25th June 1992


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Sec 8 Blk III Tiritiri Survey District (NZ Gazette 1987, p.3439), North Auckland Land District and the structure known as Tiritiri Lighthouse including land extending ten metres from the base thereon. Refer to the extent map tabled at the Heritage New Zealand Board meeting on 3 September 2015.

City/District Council

Auckland Council


Auckland Council

Legal description

Sec 8 Blk III Tiritiri Survey District (NZ Gazette 1987, p.3439), North Auckland Land District


Tiritiri Matangi Lighthouse, erected in 1864, is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in New Zealand and illustrates changes in marine light technology and the manning of lighthouses over the past century and a half. The first lighthouse to be established on the approaches to Auckland in the Waitemata Harbour and the first to be erected in the Auckland province, Tiritiri was also the first lighthouse completed by the Marine Board, and only the third erected in the colony after Pencarrow (1859) and Boulder Bank (1862). The cast-iron tower pre-fabricated in Britain is the centrepiece of a rare lighthouse settlement, the only such location easily accessible to the public. One of the world’s strongest lights in the 1960s, Tiritiri remains one of New Zealand’s best-known lighthouses due to its Hauraki Gulf location visited by thousands of people annually.

As one of the Hauraki Gulf Islands, Tiritiri Matangi was one of the floats of the ancestral fishing net of the explorer Toi te-Tuatahi. Within four years of the founding of Auckland in 1840, a buoy was placed off the east side of the island as a warning to European vessels approaching the colonial capital. One of thirteen locations mooted on the New Zealand Coast in 1861, the lighthouse was a provincial government initiative and was adopted in 1863 by the Marine Board which oversaw the erection of five of the seven lighthouses constructed before creation of the Marine Department in 1866.

The tower was one of three designed for the colony by MacLean and Stilman of Westminster with input from Otago engineer James Balfour. It was cast in England in half-ton sections to enable haulage by bullocks to the elevated site. The foundations incorporated concrete at the base, an early use of the material in the colony. The first plate for the lighthouse was hoisted into place on 21 October 1864. Internally, the completed structure contained five stages: the lower level was an oil store; the second, the lamp-cleaning room; the third, the watch-room; the fourth and fifth contained the lamp. Construction was supervised by Richard Alymer and H. Rolton who accompanied the lighthouse, and equipment manufactured by Chance Brothers of Birmingham, from Britain. The exhibiting of the light on 1 January 1865, was followed a day later by that at Tairoa Heads; by Mana Island (Tiritiri’s twin) on 1 February; and Godley Head, and Dog Island later the same year.

Notwithstanding the light’s range of 23 nautical miles, shipwrecks continued in the vicinity and included Marwell (1870), Triumph (1881) and Royal Tar (1901). Tiritiri was modified in 1879 when Doty burners were installed replacing colza (rapeseed) oil with paraffin as the fuel. In 1883, a red pane was added to the lantern, remaining until 1922. Reflecting changing technology, other maritime-related structures added included an Auckland Harbour Board signal station when pilotage became mandatory for most overseas vessels in 1912. The 1864 keepers’ houses were replaced in 1918. A Slaughters-Gun-Cotton-Foghorn and store was introduced in 1920, technology replaced in turn by a diaphone foghorn (1935), and an automatic fog detector (1975). In 1925, the light was converted to a flashing automatic acetylene light and came under Auckland Harbour Board control. Marine Department keepers were reintroduced in 1947 when the light returned to the coastal network under the Marine Department. A xenon light funded by a former Auckland Mayor Sir Ernest Davis was installed in 1964-5. The site was gazetted as scientific reserve in 1980. The keeper was withdrawn, later returning under the Department of Conservation. The lighthouse was solar powered and fully automated in 1990. In 2002, the light assembly was replaced by a modern rotating beacon powered by solar panels.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Tiritiri lighthouse is the oldest still in operation of the New Zealand Coast. It was one of the first lighthouses to be commissioned and erected under the auspices of the newly established Marine Board, the body responsible for the establishment of New Zealand's system of coastal lights. The lighthouse, which replaced an earlier buoy marking rocks near Tiritiri Island, represented a milestone in the development of the Auckland Province. By 1865 Auckland, still the capital of the colony, was the centre of an established overseas and coastal trade. The history of Tiritiri lighthouse illustrates change in marine light technology and fog warning mechanisms which played a significant role in the development of Auckland as a maritime centre.


One of two near identical cast iron light towers manufactured by Simpson & Co. (the other being Cape Egmont, which was moved to the site from Mana Island in 1881), Tiritiri stands on its original site and is little changed apart from its modern light apparatus.


By the nature of its function, Tiritiri light tower is a prominent feature on the island. It is the nucleus of the former Marine Department lighthouse settlement (now Department of Conservation staff headquarters).


Construction Professionalsopen/close

McLean and Stilman

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Aylmer, Richard

Richard Aylmer, the Marine Board's lighthouse aruficer, came from England in 1864 aboard the ship which brought Tiritiri's prefabricated lighthouse and keepers houses. A civil engineer by profession, Aylmer designed Tiritiri's foundation and superintended the erection of the structure itself and its associated dwellings.

Aylmer also supervised the construction of the lighthouse on Mana Island (Tiritiri's "twin") in 1986. Although erection of the Godley Head Light, Lyttelton was supervised by Thornton, Assistant Provincial Engineer for Canterbury, Aylmer went south for the fitting of the light apparatus. He was also sent to Farewell Spit to survey a suitable site for a light.

Aylmer was elected an Associate Member of the Institute of Civil Engineers in 1865 and became a member of that Institute in 1879. He had earlier returned to England in 1867 where he practised engineering in Westminster, until 1902. The exact years of his birth and death are unknown.

Simpson and Co., Pimlico (Foundry)

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Chance Brothers, Birmingham (Manufacturers of Lighthouse light apparatus)

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


McLean & Stilmari, CE, London


Tower & Simpson, London

Lantern-Light Chance Bros,



ENGINEER Richard AYLMER (c.1830-c.1909)


Tiritiri's cast iron tower stands 14.63m high, and has a diameter of 4.72m directly above the base course, and 3.33m below the gallery. It is surmounted by a 6.7m high dodecagon lantern capped by metal ball, spindle and vane giving a total height from base course to vane of 21.33m.

The shallow gabled head above the doorway bears the date 1864. The interior is divided into four "floors" each lit by three single sash timber-framed windows. A flight of iron steps winds clockwise within the tower connecting each room and leading to the lantern. Floor 1 was originally the oil store room where three 100 gallon tanks held 9 months supply of colza (refined rape seed oil) for the lamp. The fourth floor was the watch room.

The lantern, of "English" construction, with fixed dioptric apparatus of second order (or size) was a system originally invented by Augustin Fresnel in 1822. The original lamp was a pressure or "moderator" lamp which had three concentric wicks. Around the inside of the lantern is the old trimming stage supported on ornamental brackets.


The cast iron light tower and lantern have not been compromised by modification. Changes in lighting technology, however, have resulted in several changes in lighting mechanism, the most significant of which were conversion from fixed to flashing light in 1925 and in 1965 the installation of an 11-million candle power xenon light.

1879 Doty paraffin lamp replaced original colza burning lamp.

1916 A Chance's patent incandescent burner using vaporised kerosene installed.

1925 Automatic acetylene burning light installed and conversion from fixed to flashing light undertaken

1955 Conversion to diesel generated electricity.

1965 Xenon marine light installed (11-million candle-power).

1967 Submarine cable laid from Whangaparaoa Peninsula connecting Tiritiri with mainland power supply.

1983 11-million candle-power light downgraded to 1.25 -million candle-power.

1990 light output further reduced (to approximately 300,000 candle-power)

Solar panels installed alongside structure replacing mainland power supply as energy source for lighthouse

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1864 -

1879 -
Doty burners installed

1883 -
To show red light over Flat Rock to Kawau Island

1916 -
Incandescent burner installed

1922 -
Red pane removed from lantern

1925 -
Converted to flashing automatic acetylene light

1965 -
Xenon light installed

1955 -
Light converted to diesel-generated electric; new radio beacon installed

1967 -
Mains reticulation

1990 -
Solar panels installed

2002 -
Light assembly replaced with modern rotating beacon.

Construction Details

Foundation (excavated 3m below ground level) consisting of 914mm layer of concrete surmounted by scoria masonry 2.13m high and 5.6m in diameter. Tower plates bolted to squared scoria blocks by 63.5mm bolts 918mm long. Tower plates bolted together, fastened by "rust joints", caulked and cemented. Cast iron floor supported by iron girders radiating from a common centre pillar to the sides of the tower. Lantern - inclined metal sash bars glazed with 12.7mm thick plate. Copper sheathed roof.

Public NZAA Number


Completion Date

27th June 2015

Report Written By

Joan McKenzie

Information Sources

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR)

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives

1863 (D4)

1864 (D-D1)

1865 (D-1C, D-7)

1916, 1918, 1920, 1921, 1926, H15

1968 (D1)

Auckland Public Libraries

Auckland Public Libraries

Auckland Scrapbook, December 1962, p. 246, February 1965, p. 72, April 1967, p. 247

Auckland Star

Auckland Star

17 February 1965 - p5

Churchman, 1989

G. Churchman, New Zealand Lighthouses, Wellington, 1989

Daily Southern Cross

Daily Southern Cross

15 February 1850, p3(1)

22 February 1850, p5(3)

24 May 1950, p3(1-2)

31 January 1865, p10(3)

10 April 1973, p4

Department of Conservation

Department of Conservation

Dodd, Andy, ‘Tiritiri Matangi Archaeological and Historic Landscape: Heritage Assessment’, Department of Conservation (Auckland Conservancy), October 2008

Department of Conservation

Department of Conservation

‘Historic Tiritiri Matangi’, URL http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/auckland/places/tiritiri-matangi-scientific-reserve-open-sanctuary/history/

Furkert, 1953

Frederick William Furkert, Early New Zealand Engineers, Wellington, 1953

Kelly, 2003

Michael Kelly, 'New Zealand Lighthouses: a National Heritage Identification Study', [Wellington], 2003

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.

2 July 1947 p6(8)

10 June 1961 p1(1-3)

5 July 1961 p3(6) Sec. 1

18 June 1984 p20(1-2)

New Zealander

New Zealander

22 November 1864 p4(4)

4 February 1965 p4(5)

Ross, 1975

John Ross, Lighthouses of New Zealand, Palmerston North: Dunmore Press, 1975

Taylor, 1975

Peter Taylor, As Darker Grows the Night, Auckland, 1975

Weekly News

Weekly News

15 October 1864 p6(3)

14 January 1865 p13

23 October 1935 p19(1)

New Zealand Nautical Almanac

New Zealand Nautical Almanac, Ministry of Transport, Marine Division

1984, 1985, 1989, 1990, 1990, 1991

Gulf News

Gulf News

16 February 1990 - pp18-19

Rimmer, Anne

Rimmer Anne, ‘150th Anniversary of the Tiritiri Lighthouse’, p.4, URL http://www.maritimenz.govt.nz/Commercial/Shipping-safety/Aids-to-navigation/Lighthouses-of-NZ/Tiritiri_Matangi_150th_anniversary_of_Lighthouse.pdf

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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.

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