Castlepoint lighthouse centenary marked

Last updated 05:00 16/02/2013
Lighthouse keepers
LOREN DOUGAN/Fairfax NZ
FOND MEMORIES: Brian Emerson, left, son of lighthouse keeper Harry Emerson who did the job from 1941-45 and Grant Hinchcliff, the last Castlepoint lighthouse keeper in the 1970s and 1980s.

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Don't  mention loneliness to long-time lighthouse keeper Grant Hinchcliff - keeping a light shining for two decades was the best job around.

The 74-year-old travelled back from Sydney this week to celebrate the centenary of the Castlepoint lighthouse, where he worked for 19 years until it became automated in 1988.

"We as keepers all knew we had a special job," Mr Hinchcliff said. "It wouldn't suit everybody, but the view was just out of this world and I met very interesting people - we were very, very spoilt."

After starting his career as assistant keeper on Dog Island in Foveaux Strait in the late 1960s, he was promoted to the sole-charge role at Castlepoint, on the Wairarapa coast, where he lived with his wife and three children. "It was a fabulous life. I was talking to the kids the other day, and they said they couldn't have asked for anything better."

His daily routine consisted of turning the light off at dawn, checking weather readings several times a day, painting and maintenance, before turning the light back on at night.

On his watch the light only ever went out once - the result of a storm - and "no big ships ever came ashore".

When the lighthouse was automated he was offered a desk job in Wellington or early retirement. He opted for the latter and moved to Sydney.

Yesterday he met families of other lighthouse keepers, including Gisborne man Brian Emerson, whose father, Harry, helped man the lighthouse from 1941-45. "They were pretty good years."

He recalled using a draught horse every three months to haul up supplies dropped on the beach by ship.

A powhiri at the lighthouse this morning will be followed by the arrival of a cavalcade of horse riders from Cape Palliser lighthouse.

The Castlepoint lighthouse is open to the public between noon-5pm today, and from 10am-5pm tomorrow.

The lighthouse will be lit up in different colours tonight and tomorrow night, plus beach activities. A free concert and other entertainment will start tomorrow at 1pm.

First operated in 1913, it was automated in 1988 The lighthouse stands 52 metres above sea level Made of cast iron, the tower is 23m high The light has a range of 48km A 1000 watt incandescent bulb flashes three times every 30 seconds In 1922 the principal keeper died after falling from the tower while fixing a telephone wire Castlepoint is one of only two lighthouses in New Zealand that is still fitted with the original les. 

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- The Dominion Post

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