Shining a light on history

The Boulder Bank lighthouse was turned back on in front of a crowd on Saturday night, marking the end of a 4-year restoration.
The Boulder Bank lighthouse was turned back on in front of a crowd on Saturday night, marking the end of a 4-year restoration.

A cheer from a crowd gathered on the Nelson waterfront on Saturday night marked the culmination of a four-year project to re-ignite the harbour's historic lighthouse.

Thirty years after the light was decommissioned it shone again on Saturday night, which was 150 years to the day from when it was first lit on the Boulder Bank, making it New Zealand's second lighthouse.

The project to revive the old lighthouse for aesthetic rather than functional purposes was a combined effort between Port Nelson and Smith & Smith Glass in Nelson.

The company refurbished the original glass in which a small LED floodlight has been installed.

The lens used to face out to sea and had a gas lamp inside it but it now faces Nelson.

Floodlights have also been installed at the base of the lighthouse, which now illuminate the structure each night.

The crowd gathered at the Nelson Yacht Club on Saturday night for the historic re-lighting included descendants of the early lighthouse keepers.

Among them was Lawrence Cross, the grandson of the first head lighthouse keeper William Edward Cross. 

Lawrence Cross, who came from Tauranga specially for the occasion, said it was wonderful being in Nelson for the event.

The Hawkes Bay-born man was now inspired to learn more about his family's Nelson history.

Brian Kidson who is descended from the third and longest serving lighthouse keeper attended Saturday's official re-lighting with his wife Trish.

The Nelson couple said it was good seeing the light shining again, even if it was now facing the other way.

Mr Kidson said it was lucky all those years ago the lighthouse, crated in more than 90 different parts from England even got here.

The ship it was nearly lost in a storm in the Bay of Biscay.

Port company board chairman Nick Patterson said the re-lighting project was seeded more than four years ago.

''These projects look simple and quick, but it has taken since 2008 to get this far.''

The resource consent process had been a major part of the exercise, Mr Patterson said.

In 2008 Port Nelson wanted to install six solar panels next to the lighthouse to power the 250-watt mercury bulb and additional floodlights, but that idea was not approved for aesthetic reasons.

Port company chief executive Martin Byrne said running a power cable to the lighthouse would have been a ''bit expensive'' and it would also cross the shipping channel.

Wind generators were noisy, so there weren't too many options left other than what has been achieved.

The three lamps run on batteries from dusk until 11pm or midnight. A small quiet generator charges the batteries each day, as required.

''We just thought that from a community perspective it would be lovely to do something with the lighthouse,'' Mr Byrne said.

The lighthouse was automated in 1915, which ended the generation of lighthouse keepers and their families on the Boulder Bank.

During World War 2, the lighthouse was extinguished due to the threat of a Japanese invasion, and was re-lit in May of 1943.

In 1982 it was decommissioned by former Nelson harbourmaster captain John Westbrooke.

''John turned it off but the next night it shone again, and there was talk of a ghost, but it was residual gas in the line that lit it up,'' Mr Patterson said.

In 1983 the New Zealand Historical Places Trust gave the lighthouse an A classification.