May 2010

Lighthouses of Foveaux Strait – a History explores the world of the Southland light keepers and their families. It’s a fascinating tale of hardship and isolation, family life and braving the elements.

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Lighthouse keeper and family, 1970s, Waipapa Point.
Lighthouse keeper and family, 1970s Waipapa Point

Lighthouses of Foveaux Straight: a history (PDF, 2394K)


The lighthouses at Puysegur Point, Dog Island, Centre Island and Waipapa Point guard the waters of New Zealand’s southern-most waterway, and are amongst the most inaccessible and isolated in the country.

Extreme weather conditions made Puysegur Point lighthouse one of the most notorious within the Light Service to work on. A stint here was regarded as a prison sentence by some lighthouse keepers.

Dog Island lighthouse is New Zealand’s tallest and perhaps most distinctive light with its black and white stripes. Constructed in 1865 in the dangerously shallow and narrow stretch of water near Bluff Harbour, Dog Island had the first revolving light in the country.

The historic Southland lighthouses tell a story of an era that is gone and will never return. For 131 years, from 1859 to 1990, keepers lived with their families at lighthouses around New Zealand. With the advent of automated technology the world of the lighthouse keeper was no more. New Zealand was the first country in the world to totally automate its lighthouses. Centre Island lighthouse in the west of Foveaux Strait was one of the last two lighthouses in NZ to be demanned.

DOC provides access to the land around Waipapa Point and Puysegur Point lighthouses, though Puysegur is difficult to reach due to its isolation. Dog Island and Centre Island lighthouses are not accessible to the public. The lighthouses are maintained by Maritime New Zealand.

Publication information

Author: Angela Bain

ISBN: 978-0-478-14765-0

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Further reading

  • Beaglehole, Helen Lighting the Coast: A history of New Zealand’s coastal lighthouse system, CUP, 2006.
  • Fox, Lois. Wild waves and isolation: memories of a childhood on Centre Island Lighthouse, Foveaux Strait. Matamata: L. A. Fox, 2003.
  • Alpin, Jeanette. The lighthouse keeper’s wife: an autobiography. Auckland: Cape Catley, 2001. and sequel.

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