Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Manukau Heads Lighthouse

The road to the lighthouse

To the signal platform

Manukau Entrance


This morning I learned from the site owner that if they had been present on our arrival we would have been asked to park on the roadway between the grass sites. This was told to me whilst a small tractor was being prepared to pull us from our bogged down position on the grass. After our rescue I thankfully said goodbye; and I think they were thankful also.

A journey of a few miles east took us to Manukau Heads Lighthouse. This is available for visitors to view. The lighthouse was first lit in 1874 on the cliff edge to the west; rebuilt on concrete in 1944; demolished in 1986; rebuilt in 2006 to 1870’s plans incorporating original dome and prisms. It is 786 feet above sea level; I wonder what height we were before driving down to the car park?

Just to the east of the lighthouse is the Manukau Heads Signal Station Platform. Two years after the wreck of HMS Orpheus a platform was erected on this site in 1865. The loss of the Orpheus still remains the worst shipping disaster in New Zealand’s history with the loss of 189 lives. Previously the signalman had stood on a platform at Paratutai Island on the north side of the heads but his efforts failed to prevent the tragedy. In 1873 the platform was linked to Auckland by telegraph and only in September 1874 did the first Manukau Lighthouse commence duty.

Until the mid 20th Century the signalman stood on his platform using semaphore signals and shapes in the form of balls or diamonds to communicate with ships, and help them to cross the treacherous Manukau Bar. The signalman now uses VHF radio to communicate with commercial vessels calling at the Port of Onehunga. He does this from the signal tower on top of his house, which was infront of us. The tower is equipped with radar, radio gear, and warning lights, as well as software that provide information on the bars conditions and the weather; just because the sand bar won’t stay still.

The sands are the only thing which is shifty round here. Any wrong doers are apprehended on their way out of the peninsular at Waiuku. Last week during the storms the harbour was shut for several days trapping some ships inside. Despite the hazards of the sand bar many ships prefer using this harbour rather than make the long journey round to the Waitemata Harbour on the west coast. Two harbors, one on each coast, made Auckland a good place for early settlers to establish a community.

Our next destination will eventually be at the other side of the Manukau Entrance looking across the water towards the lighthouse. We set off to travel part way their and stay the night on the outskirts of Auckland at the Top Ten Motor camp at Manukau. We were promised rain for late morning and most of the afternoon, and the forecasters were right. With a bit of planning we went below Papakura and joined the SH1, refusing to leave this road until we were past the dreaded town. At the Top Ten camp, which is situated not too far from the airport, there were several rental vans being cleaned by their tenants.

When booking in for the night the staff member asked me if we were on the first or last day of our holiday. I said, “Neither, we have about 2 ½ months to go and have completed 9 ½ months. She looked at me in wonderment as if seeing a freak; and maybe she was.

Anyway, this camp site had internet facilities, and for a charge of £4 we were able to sit in the camp kitchen and upload several blog accounts and related pictures. It was a pity the internet would not work from our van, but a welcome opportunity to do a bit of catching up; and we did have the facilities around us to make a nice warm drink.

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