Bean Rock Lighthouse has kept seafarers safe in the Waitematā Harbour for more than 150 years. It's the only remaining wave-washed, wooden cottage-style lighthouse in Aotearoa and has served as an iconic maritime landmark for generations of Tāmaki Makaurau residents and visitors.

21 July 2022

In the beginning...

In 1868 gold was discovered on the Coromandel Peninsula. As this was quartz gold and not alluvial, its extraction required heavy machinery. Most of it was shipped from Auckland. The shipping and mercantile community requested that the Auckland Provincial Assembly erect lights between Auckland and Thames to handle the increase in night traffic. Hence Bean Rock.

The Colonial Marine Engineer James Balfour designed the lighting apparatus and lantern. After he drowned in 1869, James Stewart, district engineer for the Public Works Department in Auckland, took over.

As the rocks were constantly washed by waves, the foundations had to be secure and the lighthouse also had to handle heavy weather. It took eight months to build, and was a relatively hairy exercise for the builder William Cameron and his crew.

The design

James Stewart went for a hexagonal design, based on a beehive. Three horizontal wooden platforms sat on concrete floors. The guttering of the galvanised iron roof projected outward to form a verandah around all eight sides. Inside, there was a living room, a bedroom, and storerooms. A 400-gallon tank held fresh water. There was also a toilet, flushed with sea water. The structure was held up by seven castiron pillars, driven deep into rock, and placed in concrete foundations. Stewart’s method of concreting was reported as ingenious, and a first in the southern hemisphere.

The fuel

In 1871 the light was powered by a kerosene lamp of 350 candlepower. It was converted to solar power in the 1990s.

High maintenance

In 1871, Bean Rock Lighthouse was equipped with the following:

  • A set of copper oil measures, quart, pint & gill
  • 1 oil measure tray
  • 1 oil funnel
  • 4 pairs of lamp scissors
  • 12 lamp glass brushes
  • 10 gross wicks
  • 12 fine chamois skins – 24 linen rubbers – 24 woollen rubbers
  • 4lbs rouge in japanned tin case. 10lbs rotten stone in japanned tin case
  • 2 pieces of sponge. 4 feather dusters
  • 2 pairs flat plyers – 2 pairs cutting plyers – 2 pairs nippers – 2 spirit levels – 1 glazier’s diamond – 2 putty knives – 2 soldering bolts – 4lbs tin solder – 4lb resin
  • 1 small hand lantern.

As well, each of the Bean Rock’s three lamps came with four hand brushes or dusters, two dust shovels, and six scrubbing brushes.


In 1985 the cottage, with its four diminutive rooms and narrow hexagonal verandah was removed for restoration work. The base’s rotted kauri legs were replaced by Australian hardwood jarrah, and sunk in new concrete foundations. The cottage was winched back into place.

Ideas that went nowhere

In 1920 it was proposed that the lighthouse be turned into a war memorial. In the 1970s it was proposed that it be replaced with a new ‘futuristic’ design.

What’s unusual?

Bean Rock is now the only remaining wavewashed, wooden-cottage lighthouse in the country. It is protected by the Historic Places Act. And, it was the first lighthouse to be demanned and automated in 1912.

Further reading

  • Beaglehole, H. Lighting the Coast: A History of New Zealand’s Coastal Lighthouse System. Canterbury University Press, 2006
  • Beaglehole, H. Always the Sound of the Sea: The daily lives of New Zealand’s Lighthouse Keepers. Nelson, Craig Potton Publishing, 2009
  • Churchman, Geoffrey B. New Zealand Lighthouses. Wellington, GP Books, 1989
  • Nalder, Guinevere. Southern Lights: The Scottish Contribution to New Zealand’s Lighthouses. Caithness, Whittles Publishing Ltd, 2017
  • Ross, John O’C Ross. The Lighthouses of New Zealand. Palmerston North, Dunmore Press, 1975
  • Sheehan, Grant. Ivan and the Lighthouse. Phantom Tree House Books, 2016
  • Walsh, Frances. Endless Sea: Stories told through the taonga of the New Zealand Maritime Museum Hui Te Ananui a Tangaroa. Massey University Press, 2020

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