Kaipara North Head Lighthouse

Kaipara North Head, Pouto

  • Kaipara North Head Lighthouse.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: D. Reynolds. Date: 30/07/2007.
  • Kaipara North Head Lighthouse.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: D. Reynolds. Date: 30/07/2007.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7596 Date Entered 14th April 2005 Date of Effect 14th April 2005


Extent of List Entry

The registration encompasses all of the land in Gaz.1979 p.3078, including the lighthouse, its fittings and fixtures thereon. The land may contain archaeological remnants of a now-dismantled lighthouse station.

City/District Council

Kaipara District


Northland Region

Legal description

Pt Pouto No.3 Block, Blk IV Okaka SD, (Historic Reserve NZ Gazette 1979 p.3078)

Location description

About 7 km west of Pouto Point


The Kaipara North Head Lighthouse is one of only a small number of remaining timber lighthouses in New Zealand. Constructed in 1883-84, it was erected to guide shipping across the treacherous Kaipara bar. The Kaipara, on the west coast of Northland, is New Zealand's largest natural harbour and became the focus for the widespread exploitation of kauri timber around its shores in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Such timber was a major construction material, exported throughout New Zealand and overseas. Erected on a sandstone outcrop, the structure lay some 8 km from the nearest settlement at Pouto, in an area dominated by large drifting sand dunes. It was part of a larger complex, which included residences for the two permanent lighthouse keepers and their families, as well as a signal station and other ancillary buildings. Earlier Maori occupation had occurred in the immediate vicinity, reflecting an ongoing relationship between human settlement and the maritime environment.

The lighthouse was originally 13.4m tall, with a tapering six-sided tower, three storeys high. It was topped by a large lantern, and erected with a small basement in its concrete footings to allow a weight mechanism for the clockwork light to be used. Unlike other similar towers, prefabricated and imported from Britain, the structure was constructed of local materials. Most notably, the walls of the tower were designed with an external and internal skin of local kauri, while the core was erected of basalt rubble from Mt Eden, Auckland. This has enabled the building to withstand extreme winds. The structure was designed by John Blackett (1818-1893), an important individual in New Zealand's nineteenth-century engineering history, possibly assisted by Captain Robert Johnson. Johnson had put forward the earliest scheme for national lighthouse coverage of New Zealand's shores in the 1860s, stimulating a major programme of lighthouse construction by the colonial government that lasted into the 1880s. Timber structures allowed such work to be carried out at a lesser cost, and the Kaipara light proved to be the last of the coastal lighthouses erected during this period. The lighthouse and its auxiliary buildings were built at a cost of £5,571.

The light in the lantern was imported from Britain, and was first exhibited in December 1884. The cramped interior of the lighthouse was mostly used for storage and also contained trap doors in its centre to accommodate the weights associated with the operation of the light. Although the light was visible for up to 37 km in good conditions, crossing the bar remained treacherous, and within a few months of it starting operation the lighthouse keepers played host to shipwreck victims from three vessels: the Anabell, Mary Annison and Mathieu. Extreme conditions were suffered at the station as well as at sea, with shifting sands and erosion being a major problem. This eventually led to the keepers and their families moving to nearby Pouto from the early 1900s, with an extra keeper being taken on to allow two keepers to remain at the station on rotation. Many of the station buildings succumbed to the wind or were relocated at this time.

At the outbreak of the Second World War (1939-1945), the light - which was by then of gas automatic type - was extinguished, and in 1944 the original lantern was removed and eventually set up at Cape Saunders, where it remains. A smaller lantern from Cape Foulwind was subsequently installed on the top of the tower, incorporating a new automatic light. The light was relit on the same day in November 1947 that the Kaipara was formally closed as a port of entry, although the harbour still remained open for local traffic. The lighthouse was finally closed in 1955 or early 1956, after which it became derelict. A preservation society was formed in the early 1970s to restore the building, supported by the local community at Pouto. The building and the associated station site were subsequently placed under the management of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, who still operate the place as a historic property. The lighthouse remains popular, with an estimated 35,000 tourists visiting the site annually in the late 1990s, in spite of its remote location.

The Kaipara North Head Lighthouse is historically significant as a prominent reminder of the role that shipping and coastal transport has played in the social and economic development of New Zealand. It has archaeological value as the site of an associated lighthouse station. The place has considerable architectural significance as one of few remaining timber lighthouses in New Zealand, as the only 1880s example believed to be constructed locally of New Zealand materials, and for its association with John Blackett - an important nineteenth-century engineer. The Kaipara North Head Lighthouse has cultural significance for its close connections with the local community at Pouto.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Kaipara North Head Lighthouse is historically significant as a prominent reminder of the role that shipping and coastal transport has played in the social and economic development of New Zealand. It particularly reflects the importance of the Kaipara in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when the harbour was one of the busiest in the country. The lighthouse is closely linked with the economic exploitation of kauri, on which the late colonial development of the Kaipara largely depended. Milled from local timber, the structure is a physical reminder of the large stands of native kauri that once stood in the region.

The lighthouse also 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. It particularly testifies to the treacherous nature of the Kaipara bar, which hindered the economic expansion of this part of Northland during the earlier colonial period. The structure has historical value for its close connections with the nearby settlement at Pouto.

The Kaipara North Head Lighthouse and its immediate surrounds have archaeological significance as the site of an associated lighthouse station. Information about the operation and use of the lighthouse may be retrieved through archaeological recording techniques of the standing fabric.

The Kaipara North Head Lighthouse is architecturally significant as one of few remaining timber lighthouses in New Zealand. It has value as the only 1880s example believed to be constructed locally of New Zealand materials. The structure has considerable architectural value for its association with John Blackett, an important nineteenth-century engineer, and can be seen as the apex of New Zealand timber lighthouse design.

The lighthouse retains some technological significance as the casing for lighting equipment, although its value has been reduced because of the removal of the 1880s and 1947 lights. The building has aesthetic significance as an unusual and visually distinctive structure, which is located on a prominent headland. It stands out as a human-made landmark in an otherwise isolated coastal landscape.

The Kaipara North Head Lighthouse has cultural significance for its close connections with the local community at Pouto. The community has a strong affection for the lighthouse, as shown by its support for the maintenance and preservation of the lighthouse from the 1970s. Cultural interest in the lighthouse extends more widely, with the preservation society formed in the 1970s also being supported by members further afield. Despite its isolation, the lighthouse is visited and appreciated by large numbers of visitors as a NZHPT-managed property.

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

The Kaipara North Head Lighthouse is closely associated with the maritime history of New Zealand. Its progression from lighthouse to daymark, to abandonment reflects the demise of seaborne trade in many of New Zealand's ports. Its construction is closely linked with the economic exploitation of the country's natural resources during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is particularly linked with extensive logging of the kauri forests, which provided material for New Zealand's construction industry and distinctive timber architecture during this period.

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

The lighthouse is associated with a major programme of lighthouse construction around New Zealand's shores during the 1860s, 1870s and early 1880s. It is closely linked with Captain Robert Johnson, who produced a national scheme for lighthouse construction in the 1860s and John Blackett, a prominent contributor to New Zealand's engineering history.

It has a minor connection with national security concerns in the Second World War (1939-45).

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

The Kaipara North Head Lighthouse has the potential to provide information about the design and function of timber lighthouses from the 1880s. It also has the potential to supply insights into the design work of engineer John Blackett. The associated site may be able to provide information on the operation of lighthouse 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

Efforts to save the lighthouse in the 1970s and subsequently are evidence of the strong public esteem for the Kaipara North Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse was intimately connected with the settlement at Pouto, and the association between the lighthouse keepers and their families with Pouto spanned some seven decades. Today, the lighthouse is a major tourist attraction in the area. The Pouto and wider Kaipara community continue to provide logistical and physical support for the monitoring, care and preservation of the lighthouse.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

As a much-visited property under management by the NZHPT, the place has considerable potential for public education. Such education could include aspects of national and local history, as well as the importance of community involvement to preservation.

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

The lighthouse has technical and design value as a specifically New Zealand response to an international building type. It contains some elements of construction, such as vertical-plank external cladding, that are near unique in timber lighthouses of this era. Other lighthouses of a similar design were constructed of imported, pre-fabricated materials.

The architectural value of the place has been slightly reduced by the removal of the structure's 1880s lantern and light.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

Very few timber lighthouses survive in New Zealand, and even fewer on their original site. It is believed that seven of Blackett's timber lighthouses survive on their original sites, with at least two others having been relocated.

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

The lighthouse and site of the lighthouse station form part of a broader cultural landscape. This includes the grave and marker of a lightkeeper's child, the site of the lightkeepers' garden, the remains of at least one timber beacon and a midden site potentially linked to occupation of the lighthouse. The landscape also includes the remnants of earlier Maori activity - representing an earlier continuum of links with the harbour and its resources - and a nearby wahi tapu.


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.

Scott, David

David Scott was added to the staff of the Marine Department in 1878. He was the department's second lighthouse artificier.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Early New Zealand Lighthouses

The history of lit navigational aids in New Zealand began in the early 1830s, when a beacon was erected at Maketu in the Bay of Plenty. In the early years of the colony, inbound vessels frequently had difficulty in identifying ports due to a lack of navigational aids, and shipwrecks were common. During the 1850s and early 1860s, permanent lighthouses were erected by the Wellington and Nelson Provincial Councils, including an imported cast iron structure at Pencarrow in 1858-59 - the earliest permanent lighthouse in New Zealand. In 1861, a countrywide approach was outlined to provide the coast with thirteen structures, together with five lights at other harbour entrances. This plan was adopted after responsibility for navigational aids was given to a national body, the newly-appointed Chief Marine Board (later the Marine Board of New Zealand), in 1862. The Board completed the construction of several new lighthouses, including the earliest stone examples, before becoming the Marine Department in 1866.

James Balfour, who had designed the stone lighthouse at Dog Island, was appointed Marine Engineer for the new department. He set about reforming the lighthouse service following the Scottish model with which he was familiar. In the interests of speed and efficiency, Balfour adopted a policy of erecting lighthouses in timber wherever possible. After his death in 1869, this policy was continued through the 1870s and into the early 1880s by John Blackett and Captain Robert Johnson. Blackett was responsible for engineering and technical duties, while Johnson - who had instigated the 1861 plan to provide national lighthouse coverage - was head of the department. Under their stewardship, the 1870s proved to be the peak decade of lighthouse construction in New Zealand, and by 1879 there were some 25 lighthouses guiding vessels around the waters surrounding New Zealand. A further six were erected in the early 1880s before economic depression contributed to a decline in construction activity. The last of the lighthouses completed during this period was the Kaipara North Head light.

Navigational aids at Kaipara

The Kaipara is New Zealand's largest harbour, connected to its hinterland by a series of eight rivers. During the nineteenth century, vast stands of timber around its shores were milled and exported over the Kaipara bar to Australia, Britain and mainland Europe. Rather than having a single port, the Kaipara boasted a conglomeration of minor ports along its shores. The Wairoa River, which led to the northern settlement of Dargaville, was particularly busy.

The Kaipara bar was hazardous to cross, and the landmarks which helped guide a ship's course into the harbour were frequently blurred by haze, fog or smoke. The need for navigational assistance was recognised early in the colonial period. In 1855 Captain Stannaway was appointed Pilot of the Kaipara harbour, becoming Harbourmaster when a pilot station was established at South Kaipara Head in 1864. Ten years later the pilot station was relocated to the opposite side of the harbour, at Pouto, following Robert Johnson's observation during a survey of northern ports that vessels entered on the northern side of the Kaipara entrance, where they were largely obscured by spray from the station on the South Head. In 1878, Johnson completed another Kaipara survey, after which a beacon was erected in the Kaipara River and several buoys in the harbour were renewed.

In spite of these navigational aids, 17 vessels were lost and many more damaged at the Kaipara bar by 1880. Due to such losses, the stretch of sand below the Kaipara North Head became known as 'the graveyard.' The safety of shipping and cargo became especially important as the Kaipara developed into the largest exporter of timber in New Zealand between 1880 and 1910. Calls were subsequently made for improved navigational aids, including a letter signed by 25 ships masters in 1881, which is believed to have requested that action be taken to erect a lighthouse to improve the safety of the harbour.

Construction of the Kaipara North Head Lighthouse

The need for a lighthouse was soon accepted by the Marine Department, after which a suitable site at Kaipara North Head was chosen by John Blackett and Captain R. Johnson in 1882-83. The site they selected lay close to a pre-existing signal-staff, a few kilometres to the west of the fledgling settlement of Pouto, where the Harbourmaster was stationed. The lighthouse was to be constructed in an elevated position at 85m above sea level, in an area dominated by large sand dunes. Maori occupation had previously occurred in the vicinity, as evidenced by the remains of nearby ovens and middens, while land to the northeast was also marked on a 1870s plan of the area as wahi tapu.

In November 1883 work began on erecting the lighthouse. The structure was to consist of a six-sided tower, three storeys in height, topped by a lantern. This made it 13.4m high. Its appearance was evidently intended to be very similar to the Waipapa Point lighthouse in Southland, which was already under construction. Both lighthouses are likely to have been designed by John Blackett, possibly assisted by Captain Robert Johnson. The Kaipara lighthouse was to be the last nineteenth-century New Zealand lighthouse constructed of timber, coming at the end of a policy of timber construction that had been in place since the 1860s.

Kauri timber for the structure was obtained locally while shingle was brought up from Mt Eden in Auckland to provide material for the concrete foundations. The lantern, iron spiral staircase, and brass rails and fittings were imported from England and Scotland. The lantern was made by James Milne and Sons of Edinburgh, while Barbier and Fenestre, and Dove and Company respectively provided the revolving apparatus and weights. The materials were landed by sea and hauled up to the site. It is likely that construction was overseen by David Scott, the Marine Department's lighthouse artificier, who was responsible for the erection of New Zealand's lighthouses at this time.

Work on the lighthouse was hampered by the sandstorms that lashed the headland, and goggles were requested to help the builders continue with their task. The light was first operated on the night of 1 December 1884, when it consisted of a white revolving light flashing once every ten seconds. The tower was initially painted red, and the beam was visible from a distance of 37 km given good conditions.

There was still much finishing work to be done and this was carried out by two resident lighthouse keepers, who subsequently took over the running of the light. The lighthouse formed part of a larger residential station, incorporating two dwellings for the keepers and their families, water tanks, a signal station and a stable. The lighthouse and auxiliary buildings were erected at a cost of £5,571, slightly less than the facilities at Waipapa Point and among the cheaper of the lighthouses built until then.

The internal layout of the lighthouse is considered unlikely to have changed significantly between its construction and an account published in May 1893: 'The first chamber has presses round one side, wherein are kept duplicates of almost everything connected with the light, and in the centre of the floor is a square opening with a railing round about, which allows the weight that drives the machine to descend. A trap door leads down into a lower chamber in which are kept the paints, etc., used in decorating. From the first chamber one mounts a staircase that leads to the second, the floor of which, like the chamber beneath is made of kauri . . . in this chamber, beneath a small window, are four cells supplying electricity for the call bells. Another stair mounted, and we reach the tower containing the machine, and above it the light, and the lenses that reflect the light.'

Early life at the lighthouse

The first lighthouse keepers were Martin Nelson, principal keeper, and John Ansin, assistant keeper and signalman. A lighthouse diary reveals aspects of their daily routine at this time. Nights were spent watching the light, with one working from dusk to midnight and the other working from midnight to dawn. Days were spent maintaining the light and buildings. During their first months at Kaipara North Head, there was much for Nelson and Ansin to do. They painted the lighthouse and ancillary buildings, as well as putting finishing touches to the stable. They also planted a fine garden about a mile inland from the lighthouse, and went on regular trips to Pouto for provisions and mail. The lighthouse was open to visitors for six days each week.

Despite the presence of the new lighthouse, the Kaipara bar continued to claim more victims. On the night of Friday 2 January 1885, just a month after the lighthouse went into service, the brigantine Anabell was wrecked on the Tory Shoal. The captain and his crew abandoned ship and landed at Kaipara North Head where they stayed the night with the lighthouse keepers. Six weeks later the lighthouse keepers were playing host to Captain Magnussen, his family and the crew of his barque Mary Annison, which went ashore on the north spit. A month later, the captain and crew of the barquentine Mathieu landed at the lighthouse when their ship was wrecked a mile from the light. The possibility of erecting two navigation lights at the harbour to act as leading markers for crossing the Kaipara bar was investigated in the late 1890s. However, with the sand bar frequently shifting its position any new lights could quickly become ineffective as navigational aids and the idea was abandoned.

Alterations at the lighthouse station at the end of the nineteenth century included moving the signal station and constructing a hut for the signalman. In the early 1900s, the lighthouse staff and their families moved from the station to nearby Pouto, where there was a school, post office and store. Relocation was largely due to problems with shifting sand at the lighthouse. The move occurred sometime after the departure of the Harbourmaster and Customs Officer from Pouto to Te Kopuru, a timber-milling centre to the south of Dargaville, in 1903, and may have taken place in stages. Left behind at Kaipara North Head, just a short distance from the lighthouse was the grave of infant George Raymond Dallas Finch (d.1909), son of assistant keeper George Finch. The grave and its kauri marker still remain, as does a midden bearing discarded items, possibly from the occupation of the station.

Three keepers were stationed at Kaipara after the move, with each keeper serving two weeks at the lighthouse followed by one week at Pouto. This meant that at any one time, two keepers would be at Kaipara North Head. The keepers would ride the eight kilometres between Pouto and the lighthouse on horseback along the beach. A stable remained at the Heads but no feed for the horses, so chaff had to be brought in for them. One residence was left at the station, which was shared by the keepers on duty. The duties of the Pouto keeper included lighting the Pouto stationary light at dusk and extinguishing it at dawn, as well as acting as signalman when required and maintaining the navigational aids.

From 1911, several of New Zealand's manned lighthouses were automated. Prior to 1919, fuel for the Kaipara North Head light was changed from paraffin to incandescent petroleum. In 1924, it was automated with the installation of an acetylene gas light. The apparatus, however, still needed to be monitored each night.

Decline of the lighthouse station

The drifting sand that had hampered the building of the lighthouse continued to be a considerable problem through the twentieth century. These difficulties may have contributed to a cease in use of the signal station next to the lighthouse in 1923, and a year later a new signal station was erected at Pouto. Erosion also affected the station, and in 1925 a three-metre piece of land on the west side of the lighthouse broke away. Several of the outbuildings associated with the lighthouse had to be moved because of this and similar events. During the 1930s, marram grass was planted around the lighthouse as a preventative measure.

While international shipping had disappeared from the Kaipara harbour with the decline of the timber trade in the 1920s and 1930s, coastal vessels continued to ply the harbour for many years. At the outbreak of the Second World War (1939-1945), however, the lighthouse light was extinguished for security reasons. All staff, except the principal keeper, were relocated to other stations. In August 1942, the regular ferry service between Helensville and Dargaville also ceased operating. This was partly brought about by the improvement of road and rail services.

For a short while towards the end of the war, the station was effectively closed down. In 1944, work was undertaken to remove the original lantern, which involved dismantling the top of the lighthouse, removing the lantern structure and erecting a temporary roof over the tower. Weighing some ten to twelve tons, the lantern and its associated lighting equipment were transported by horse-drawn sledge to Pouto, and then on to Wellington by sea. In 1948, this was re-erected at Cape Saunders, near Dunedin, replacing an earlier timber lighthouse. The lantern was placed directly on the ground on a cliff-top site, without requiring a tower.

Although the Navy granted permission for the Kaipara lighthouse to be relit in September 1944, it was not until May 1947 that the lighthouse was re-equipped for use with a fully automatic light. A lantern from the Cape Foulwind lighthouse was installed, while gas cylinders were placed in the base of the tower to provide the necessary power for the light. Following these modifications, the tower stood at 12m high, 1.4m shorter than the original design. An assistant keeper made a weekly trip to the lighthouse, although the Kaipara harbour closed as a port of entry shortly after the light was relit in May 1947. The harbour waters, however, remained open for local traffic.During the late 1940s, the lighthouse keepers were responsible for running the post office at Pouto, and for collecting meteorological information. The Kaipara harbour was an emergency sea-plane alighting area to be used if weather conditions at Auckland prevented landings. In 1953 the last of the Kaipara lighthouse keepers was transferred to another station, and the lighthouse subsequently received regular visits from the Auckland-based lighthouse maintenance crew. In the mid 1950s, the light was extinguished and removed, and the lighthouse became a daymark. By 1967, the lighthouse had suffered at the hands of vandals, at which the Marine Department considered the structure's future.

Recognition as a historic site

In the early 1970s J. Hadden, a schoolteacher from Auckland, became interested in the lighthouse, which was by this time under threat of demolition. In 1971 the Marine Department had attempted to remove parts of the building, although their efforts were thwarted by a colony of bees in the light tower. With the support of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT), Hadden formed a preservation society called the Kaipara Lighthouse Trust. An offer was made to the Marine Department to purchase or lease the building, and to restore it. Donations of glass, paint and labour were secured. NZHPT efforts were supported by the University of Auckland Historical Society and Mr Sloane, M.P. for Hobson.

In early 1972 the lighthouse was visited by a group of government officials and its future considered. Later that year the Marine Department undertook to hand the lighthouse over to the NZHPT. Seven years later an eight hectare portion of the Pouto No. 3 block, including the site of the lighthouse, was classified as an historic reserve. The NZHPT were appointed to control and manage this reserve.

By 1982 work was underway on the restoration of the lighthouse for the NZHPT under the supervision of architect Richard Daspher. Local residents and businesses supported the restoration work with offers of labour and materials, and a large celebration was held in 1984, when the lighthouse was re-opened in its centenary year. That strong element of local support for the lighthouse continues to the present day. Today the lighthouse is the only surviving building of a number of structures that were erected at Kaipara North Head for the lighthouse service. The lighthouse attracts a large number of visitors, with an estimated 35,000 tourists visiting annually in the late 1990s.

Physical Description


The lighthouse occupies an elevated position on Kaipara North Head, overlooking the mouth of the Kaipara Harbour. Situated on a sandstone knoll, it is surrounded by sand dunes, which extend to the base of the lighthouse itself. The surrounding reserve, which contains the site of the associated lighthouse station, consists of shifting dunes with vegetation such as kikuyu, marram grass, manuka scrub and a couple of large macrocarpa. Apart from the knoll, the ground generally slopes down southwards towards the harbour foreshore. No buildings exist on the site other than the lighthouse. Remnants of a timber marker beacon lies in a derelict condition on an eroded sandhill approximately 1km to the east.


The timber lighthouse is six-sided in plan, with a tapering tower. The tower is three storeys high with a below-ground basement, and is surmounted by a small lantern taken from the Cape Foulwind lighthouse in 1947. Between the second and third storeys, a narrow balcony accessible from the tower encircles the structure. On the eastern side of the lighthouse, there is a small rectangular porch, providing access. The walls of the tower consist of external and internal skins of kauri timber planking, enclosing a bluestone (basalt) core made up of small unmortared rubble. The external face is made up of vertically-clad planks, each approximately 4 inches wide. The tower sits on concrete footings, into which the basement has been set. The porch is of similar construction to the main body of the lighthouse with external and internal timber cladding, although it has vertical walls and a gable-pitched roof. The tower is currently painted white.


Porch: Two wooden steps with a handrail rise to the small porch on the eastern side of the lighthouse. The porch is rectangular in plan with a diagonal-plank lined interior. Rails for shelving remain along one wall. The porch gives entry through a doorway into the ground floor room of the lighthouse proper.

Ground Floor and Basement: As with the porch, the kauri wallboards are arranged diagonally on the six walls of this room (in one of which is the doorway from the porch). A low cupboard with a bench top, and two shelves wall mounted above it stand against one wall. A wooden floor covers the concrete basement room, to which access is gained by a wooden ladder below a hatch in the floor. The basement was partly used to store paints in the nineteenth century. A second hatch in the centre of the floor, which originally gave access for the weights of the light mechanism, has been replaced with a solid patch, and the handrail that originally stood around this hatch has been removed, presumably when the light mechanism was altered. To the left of the entrance, a curved iron staircase rises against the wall to give access to the floor above.

First Floor: Because of the taper to the structure, this room is smaller than the one below. It is also six-sided and lined with diagonal boards. In the centre of the wooden floor, the hatchway for the machine weights is open, and surrounded by a wooden railing. There is a small square window in the west and east wall of this level. A square hatch in the ceiling is filled in with replacement boards. There is a small remnant of linoleum at the top of the stair from the ground floor, and a 'shadow' on the floor indicates the former presence of a linoleum strip from the top of that stair to the bottom of the next one. The function of this floor is mainly to give access to the floor above, as the railing around the central hatch prevents easy access to the rest of its space. From the west wall, a similar iron staircase curves up to the level above.

Second Floor: This room is again smaller, but still hexagonal and lined with the same diagonal boards. At this level the original light mechanism (now in Dargaville Museum) stood, with its ropes and weights extending down through the floors to the concrete pit in the basement. The revolving shaft to rotate the lamp penetrated the ceiling to the lantern above. The place where the machinery stood is shown by a square 'ghost' mark on the floor, but the hole for the ropes has been patched with replacement floorboards. Again, this reflects the changing nature of the mechanism housed in this tower, as it was upgraded, automated and changed over time. There is no lining on the ceiling, which comprises the joists and undersides of the boards of the lantern room itself. A circular iron band forms a tie at the top of the walls and structural members at the corners of each wall, and provides a base on which the lantern structure rests. On the east side a small rectangular door gives access out to the exterior balcony, which runs around the outside of the tower at this level. A straight steep wooden stair gives access to the lantern above.

Balcony: A narrow balcony with slatted wooden floor and wooden rails runs around the exterior of the tower at this level. On the south side, a wooden ladder rises through a hatch to allow access to the roof area outside the lantern. This hatch has recently been covered for safety reasons. The roof was originally lead or copper, but has been replaced several times, most recently with a synthetic rubber sheeting over plywood. These materials were selected to achieve weather tightness, without the risk of the loss of lead from this unsupervised building.

Lantern: The lantern now comprises only one height of glass, reduced from the original two. Triangular panes of glass alternately apex up and down are set in bronze frames. The wooden floor has one hexagonal bolt with square washer, and holes for three others, marking the place where the lamp mechanism, presumably the last in the series, formerly stood. No other trace of the lamp remains. Above the glass, a steel band fastened with copper rivets ties the glass frames together, and provides support for the metal dome. The dome rises to a central vent, which is shielded by a square plate. Originally this vent allowed heat and gas to escape through the chimney, removed when the lantern was modified.


The Kaipara North Head Lighthouse was one of a number of timber lighthouses constructed during the mid to late nineteenth century, the design of which was not always successful. The lighthouse on Portland Island in Hawke's Bay, for example, was severely affected by winds shortly after its construction in 1878. Improvements in design, however, were made with experience and it may be significant that most of the surviving examples date from the late 1870s and early 1880s.

It is believed that nine or ten land-based timber lighthouses of nineteenth-century date currently survive. Of these, seven - including Kaipara North Head Lighthouse - are considered to exist on their original sites.

The design of the Kaipara North Head Lighthouse is superficially similar to four other survivors in its tapering, hexagonal, three-storey design. On closer inspection, however, these can be divided into three separate sub-groups. The earliest consists of the lighthouses at Brothers Island (1877) and Moeraki (1878), which have less-tapered walls requiring external bracing for additional support. They also contain horizontal timber cladding on the exterior. The second sub-group consists of the single lighthouse from Akaroa Heads (1880), now in Akaroa township, which retains horizontal cladding but has walls with a greater taper. This can be seen as an intermediate form. The last sub-group includes the later Waipapa Point and Kaipara North Head lighthouses (both 1884), which retain the greater taper but have smooth external walls made up of vertical timber boards. As with the hexagonal groundplan and tapering walls, the vertical cladding presumably offered less resistance to the wind.

The Akaroa and Waipapa lighthouses, like that at Kaipara North Head, have double-skinned walls enclosing a rubble core. Unlike the Kaipara lighthouse, however, both are considered to have been substantially pre-fabricated in Britain. The Kaipara structure evidently reverted to the more standard practice of lighthouses being fabricated in New Zealand, perhaps for reasons of cost at a time of looming economic depression in the early-mid 1880s. Although largely identical to the Waipapa Lighthouse, its potentially different origins may be revealed through differences in its details. For example, its internal lining is made up of diagonal rather than horizontal planking, and its ladder also has a different form.

Unlike the Kaipara light, the Brothers, Moeraki, Akaroa and Waipapa lighthouses appear to retain their original lanterns, although in 1980 the Akaroa Head structure was dismantled and moved into Akaroa township. Both the Waipapa and Akaroa lighthouses are registered with the NZHPT as Category II historic places (#2561 and #3343 respectively). The original lantern from the Kaipara lighthouse survives at Cape Saunders. This has not yet been registered.

Other timber lighthouses surviving in New Zealand include:

Centre Island (1878)

Portland Island I (1878 - since relocated to Wairoa)

Timaru (1878 - since relocated to Timaru town)

Motuopao Island (1879)

While Timaru is a three-storey square lighthouse, at least two of the others appear to be similar in design to the Waipapa/Akaroa group but are two storeys in height. Those at Timaru, Motuopao, Wairoa (formerly the Portland light) are registered as Category II historic places with the NZHPT (#2044, #3289 and #4582 respectively). Other lighthouses constructed largely of timber, such as the wave-washed Bean Rock (1874; #3295), are built on tall frames.

Up to 15 lighthouses or lighthouse-related components have been registered, of which six have Category I status. None of the timber lighthouses has yet been registered as Category I.

Notable Features

The registration encompasses all of the land in Gaz.1979 p.3078, including the lighthouse, its fittings and fixtures thereon. The land may contain archaeological remnants of a now-dismantled lighthouse station.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1883 - 1884
Completed 1 Dec 1884 (Jim Foye, Maritime New Zealand)

- 1885
Completion of associated lighthouse station buildings, including two residences, water tanks, signal station and stable

- 1900
Removal of one residence from lighthouse station

Light converted from paraffin (kerosene) to incandescent petroleum

- 1924
Gas automatic light installed in lighthouse

- 1944
Original lighthouse lantern dismantled and shipped for use at Cape Saunders Lighthouse, Otago

- 1947
Lantern installed from Cape Foulwind, with new automatic light

- 1956
Light extinguished and removed

- 1982
Lighthouse restored, including timber repairs

Construction Details

Kauri timber, with basalt core and concrete foundations.

Completion Date

21st October 2004

Report Written By

Martin Jones, Tania Mace and Stuart Park

Information Sources

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

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives

1877, 1878, 1883, 1884, 1885, 1897, 1900, 1902, 1948 and 1956

Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)

Archives New Zealand (Wellington)

Kaipara Head Lighthouse Light 1919-1955, M 1 8/35/9; Kaipara Head Lighthouse Daily Journal 1884-1889, ML 1/1; Kaipara Head Signal Station Repairs - 1917, M 1 8/35/3; Kaipara Head Lighthouse Sand Erosion 1918-1946, M 1 8/35/10; Kaipara Head Lighthouse P & T Office, M 1/35/22; Harbours and Foreshores - Kaipara Head Lighthouse 1919-1972, BBAD 1054 3058b 12/103.

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Katherine W. Orr, 'Blackett, John 1818-1893', W.H. Oliver (ed.), Volume One 1769-1869, Wellington, 1990

Forrest, 1984

Logan Forrest, Pouto 105 Years, Pouto, 1984

Journals of the Auckland Provincial Council

Journals of the Auckland Provincial Council

Session XXX, 1875

Kelly, 2003

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

Smith, 1996

T.G. Smith, Man the Light!, Waiuku, 1996

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Northland Area Office

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.