Centenary of lighthouse marked

SEAMUS BOYER
Last updated 12:28 16/02/2013
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LOREN DOUGAN/Fairfax NZ

Brian Emerson, left, son of former lighthouse keeper Harry Emerson (keeper in 1941-45) and Grant Hinchcliff - the last lighthouse keeper 1970s to 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," 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 and 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 today and tomorrow, but has a policy to only allow eight person into the building at a time. Tickets are very limited.

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

LIGHT WORK

First operated in 1913, automated in 1988 Lighthouse stands 52 metres above sea level Made of cast iron, 23m high Light has a range of 48km 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 lens.

CASTLELIGHT from Sky-Hook on Vimeo.

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- Waikato Times

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