Identity to be found in lighthouse tour

HANNAH MCKEE
Last updated 05:00 11/01/2014
Pencarrow lighthouse
ROSS GIBLIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Shedding light: Helen Beaglehole will be leading an exclusive tour of Pencarrow Head Lighthouse, the first lighthouse in New Zealand which has an extraordinary history.

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Wellingtonians are being given the chance to take an exclusive look inside one of the capital's historic icons, Pencarrow Head Lighthouse, the first permanent lighthouse in New Zealand.

The lighthouse celebrated its 155th birthday this month and is not usually open for public viewing.Helen Beaglehole, author of Lighting the Coast: A history of New Zealand's coastal lighthouse system, will be leading the tour and says the landmark was a significant achievement for the young colony in 1859.

''You need to put yourself in the shoes of the people at the time,'' she says.

''If you are a small colony in the far reaches of the South Pacific, one of the critical things that you need is navigational safety, so that ships can arrive and depart carrying things vital to the settlers' needs and their continuing prosperity.''

Beaglehole says the lighthouse marks an extraordinary faith that the settlers had for their young colony.

''They'd come from goodness knows where and decided to settle in Wellington Harbour, and it would have taken a lot longer for Wellington to develop without the lighthouse.''

Beaglehole says the Pencarrow Head Lighthouse was manned by New Zealand's first - and only - female lighthouse keeper, Mary Jane Bennet.

The Pencarrow Head Lighthouse is a Category 1 historic place for its authenticity, social significance, and scientific significance as the navigational technology was relatively advanced for its time.

The Historic Places Trust's Silke Bieda says the trust decided to organise the trip to raise heritage awareness and create a sense of identity.

''Many people in New Zealand think, oh, everything is older everywhere else in the world, but New Zealand does have some places of great historic significance,'' she says.

''I think people are looking for identity in the fast-running world around us and these buildings give us a focus of our past and identity; yes, we often get carried away with new stuff but when you have a chance to visit a place like that it's nice to rest in the past and draw a link to the present.''

-  To find out more about the Pencarrow Head Lighthouse trip on January 18 and to purchase tickets email The New Zealand Historic Places Trust at kmorris@historic.org.nz.

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