Lighthouse still casts its spell

BY TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:00 16/01/2010

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Likea moth to a flame, I am drawn to Nelson's lighthouse. Maybe it's something to do with the beacon it once was for ships making landfall after storm-ridden journeys, or its role in warning mariners of the threat of being shipwrecked on the Boulder Bank's rocky western flank.

A quick look at the visitors' book inside the old cast-iron lighthouse reveals it to be a drawcard for plenty of others.

Pete Burton, from Christchurch, wrote in November last year, "Can I live here?" after viewing Tasman Bay from the top of the 148-year-old octagonal lighthouse atop its concrete plinth.

June Spillett recorded at the same time that she had lived in Nelson for 50 years but it was her first visit to the lighthouse.

Tammana, from China, noticed the "lovely birds". Let's hope he/she did not mistake their protective wheeling, screeching and dive-bombing for welcoming gestures.

It pays to keep in mind when visiting the area that nesting birds take precedence over picnickers, so tread carefully and move on quietly when the gulls adopt their kamikaze dive toward your head.

The Nelson lighthouse – the second permanent one built in New Zealand – was once surrounded by a small collection of buildings, occupied by a succession of lighthouse keepers and their families.

Their role was to man the beacon that guided boats to the safety of Nelson Haven, firstly through the "old entrance" near what became Fifeshire Rock, and later through the Cut.

The lighthouse was decommissioned in August 1982 and is today a museum piece. Visitors are welcome to step into it and stomp up the narrow, spiral staircase through six levels to the light at the top.

Once there, it's worth stooping down to crawl through the small door and out on to the balcony, where you'll get a blast of breeze, fresh off Tasman Bay.

This "soft adventure" combines a brief sea voyage with some boulder-hopping across one of nature's most inspired inventions – the Boulder Bank.

I've lost count of how many times I've visited the lighthouse, which rests as a monument to Nelson's sturdy maritime heritage.

It has held fast against a century and a half of corrosive elements, yet each time I visit, it's different.

The most recent was on the first day of 2010 – a typical Nelson summer day, which so far this season has been quite rare. Blue sea and sky lured husband Rob and me across the harbour with a picnic stowed in our kayaks.

My aim to be the first person in the lighthouse this year was thwarted by a posse of New Year's Eve revellers and a Nelson family in a small boat whose outboard was more powerful than my paddling.

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Stephen Brown and Suzi Hume, plus their 14-year-old son, Max Brown, had the same idea for a picnic at the lighthouse. They sizzled sausages on a small gas cooker set up near the shore, while their runabout was positioned ready for a quick getaway in case Ms Hume, a midwife, needed to dash.

There is the option of making the trip on the Haulashore Island ferry, which operates commercially from near the early settlers' memorial.

Plenty make the journey to a landing point near the lighthouse in kayaks and small craft.

The door to the lighthouse is padlocked, but the public can get a key from the gatehouse at Port Nelson, down Carkeek St, off Vickerman St. All you need is some photo identification. There's no charge, but don't forget to return the key.

Try This is a regular feature in which Nelson Mail reporters try out a new experience, or a new take on an old one, and report back. Email geoff@nelsonmail.co.nz.

- The Nelson Mail

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