Lighthouses - guiding the way
Friday, July 25, 2014
Navigating New Zealand’s coastline and harbours can be a perilous undertaking, even with all the technology available today. Lighthouses have always been, and always will be, essential for mariners who rely on these beacons to guide them safely in dangerous waters.
Today, lighthouses in New Zealand fall within one of three categories. For vessels approaching the coastline, they will be greeted with the welcome of a landfall lighthouse. Coastal lighthouses are those that most people imagine a lighthouse looks like, perched precariously on a rugged and rocky part of the coast to warn ships to stay away from hidden rocks and reefs. These coastal lights are not only to steer vessels away from the rocks but are also used by modern mariners to fix and confirm their nautical position along the coast. The third category is harbour lights, such as Bean Rock in the Waitemata Harbour. These lighthouses are there to guide vessels safely into port, marking areas of a harbour that are unsafe for ships.
Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour is an extremely busy area of water shared by commercial shipping, ferries, cruise ships, Navy vessels and private recreational vessels. Although it is relatively sheltered from the rough weather of the outer harbour, the inner harbour is home to the Bean Rocks, named after Royal Navy Captain Bean who captained the survey ship HMS Herald which charted the Waitemata Harbour in 1840. During the 1860s, the number of ships arriving in Auckland exploded as the Gold Rush took hold in the Coromandel Peninsula. It was also the beginning of an era of immigrant shipping, bringing people to a new country to start a new life. All this new maritime traffic meant greater risk of wrecks on the Bean Rocks which are only just visible at a low tide. So the decision was made to replace the day marker with a lighthouse.
Bean Rock lighthouse, celebrating an anniversary this weekend, still stands today, guiding ships away from the danger of the submerged rocks and into the safety of the deep water. It is New Zealand’s oldest wooden lighthouse and is our sole surviving example of a sea washed tower. Today Bean Rock is registered by Heritage New Zealand as a Category One historic place (www.heritage.org.nz/the-list/about-the-list).
This lovely scrimshaw, by Sue Daumiller, depicts a typical coastal lighthouse scene with a sailing ship in the background. This object is part of the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum collection. (9893).
For more information on lighthouses: www.newzealandlighthouses.com