Eight long needles of light

Sourced from Tiritiri Matangi, A Model of Conservation, Anne RimmerDate: 17 September 2023Header image: 'Eight long needles of light': the David Marine Light, 1965Credit: Peter Taylor

Did you know that the Tiritiri Matangi lighthouse is a Category 1 historic place? It was actually the first lighthouse to be established on the approach to Auckland in the Waitematā Harbour. Interestingly, when it was built, there were only two other lighthouses in the entire country, Pencarrow (1859) and Boulder Bank (1862). Today it is New Zealand’s oldest working lighthouse.

The lighthouse in New Zealand was a remarkable feat of engineering. It was designed by McLean and Stilman Civil Engineers in London, and constructed by Simpson and Company. The prefabricated parts were shipped all the way from London to New Zealand, where they were put together. The end result was a stunning structure that served as a beacon of light for ships navigating the nearby waters.

It’s impressive to think that the original light lasted a whole 60 years before being replaced with the 11 million candlepower xenon lamp in 1965. There were murmurs among Aucklanders that the Tiritiri Matangi light was inadequate, likened to “just a glimmer, like someone standing up there with a torch.” Fortunately, Sir Ernest Davis, a former mayor of Auckland, prominent businessman, and avid yachtsman, generously donated £80,000 to give Auckland the light it deserved. This donation was widely publicised, and the new light, featuring a small but powerful 1800-watt xenon bulb was given the nickname ‘the Davis light’. The eight beams flashed every 15 seconds and was known to be the most powerful light in any lighthouse in the southern hemisphere. To power the Davis light, the island was connected to the national grid in 1967 via an underwater power cable. Laying the cable had required meticulous planning.

Principal Keeper Peter Taylor said “As a loom in the sky, it has been reported by ships 50 miles away, and some North Shore residents go to sleep watching it sweeping past their bedroom walls.’ It could even be seen by the Apollo astronauts in space.”

Ray Walter, the last lighthouse keeper and the first ranger of Tiritiri Matangi Island, has spent many hours, love and care restoring and preserving the Davis light and many other maritime items. These are on show in the Tiritiri Matangi Lighthouse Museum.

Left image: Principal Keeper Peter Taylor holding old and new lighthouse bulbs, 1965Credit: Peter TaylorRight image: Installing the Davis Marine Light in 1965Credit: Peter Taylor

Click to view article on the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga website

Click to view article on Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand