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Visit a local icon for anniversary day

Visit a local icon for anniversary day

A chance to visit a New Zealand icon is on offer on Wellington Anniversary Weekend with a coach trip to the country’s first permanent lighthouse.

First lit on 1 January 1859, Pencarrow Head Lighthouse was also home to New Zealand’s first – and only – female lighthouse keeper Mary Jane Bennett. Decommissioned in 1935, the 11.5 metre, prefabricated cast-iron lighthouse, is now a Category 1 historic place, and maintained by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT).

The day trip on Saturday 18 January will be led by historian Helen Beaglehole, who authored the first comprehensive history of New Zealand's lighthouses – Lighting the Coast: A history of New Zealand's coastal lighthouse system. There is also an open day at the lighthouse on 18 January from 11am to 4pm.

Helen says the opening of Pencarrow Lighthouse in 1859 was a huge moment for the young colony of New Zealand.

“If you are a small colony in the far reaches of the South Pacific one of the critical things that you need is navigational safety, so that ships can arrive and depart carrying things vital to the settlers’ needs and their continuing prosperity. New Zealand’s long and difficult coastline meant navigation was by no means certain, so lighthouses were of enormous significance.”

She says those attending the trip can also expect to learn a bit about the history of Pencarrow itself and something of the conditions under which the keepers lived.

“It’s an extraordinary place just to visit because of the terraces, the views that you get – it’s quite different from the normal view of Wellington.”

She says the lighthouse represents early pioneer aspirations and hopes – set in the backdrop of a spectacular coastline.

“I find it enormously exciting to be at this place that has stood for so long and to actually look out from the lighthouse tower is to be somehow thrown out into the landscape in a way that one never is in any other form.”

Recent restoration work on Pencarrow Lighthouse has given an extra sparkle to the iconic Wellington landmark and popular visitor attraction, which celebrated its 155th birthday on 1 January. The lighthouse is a popular attraction for cyclists, walkers and tourists, with commanding views of the entrance to Wellington harbour and Cook Strait.

For those unable to make the 18 January trip, viewing the inside of the Lighthouse can be pre-arranged throughout the year.

Pencarrow Lighthouse remained operational until 1935 when it was discontinued in favour of an electric light at Baring Head. It has been maintained by the NZHPT since 1966, and received Category 1 registration in 1982. It is surrounded by a recreational reserve, including lakes and walking tracks.

The tour will take three to four hours and cost $30 for NZHPT members, and $35 for non-members. $15 for children 5-15 and free for children under five.

Tickets can be purchased on Eventfinder at www.eventfinder.co.nz/2014/pencarrow-lighthouse-tour/lower-hutt or by emailing the NZHPT at kmorris@historic.org.nz.

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