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Pouto Lighthouse, Kaipara Head

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December 2021 Issue

New Zealand has 30 lighthouses on the mainland, but few people have found this one amongst the sand dunes – a proverbial needle in a haystack. If you are holidaying near Dargaville, you can bag this beacon from a bygone era.

The old lighthouse is hidden in high sandhills 7km down the beach, on the northern shore of Kaipara Harbour. 

Set your face westward and begin the tramp from the shoreline. It can be arduous, depending on the wind conditions. Each distant headland is a waypoint, separating sections of the beach and providing a sense of scale. You will see flocks of gulls and territorial oystercatchers. 

About 3.5km along the beach, the remains of an old shipwreck protrude through the sand, weather-worn planks bleached after a century exposed to the elements.

In 2018, high tides exposed another boat, the two-masted schooner Daring, driven ashore by wild gales in 1865, with no loss of life. Unfortunately, scavengers and souvenir hunters began stealing bits of timber, much to the horror of both locals and archaeologists. The wreck is an archaeological site, protected under the provisions of a Heritage New Zealand act

This relic reminds one of earlier times. The Aurora, a 550-ton barque, was the first European ship to be wrecked at the harbour entrance in 1840. No lives were lost. Not so a year later, when the brig Sophia Pate was wrecked at the South Head. All 21 passengers perished. Such tragedies were a common occurrence, highlighting the dangers of navigating New Zealand’s then poorly charted coastal waters.

After two hours you will pass beneath a highpoint, marked Pt129 on the topo-map and where orange contour lines almost kiss the blue harbour. A kilometre further on, look over your right shoulder. There it stands, towering over the steep cliffs above: Pouto lighthouse, resplendent in red and white. A full fifteen minutes of kicking steps into soft sand will get you to the door.

This 13m-high, three-storey wooden tower was erected in 1884 as a navigational beacon for ships entering the Kaipara Harbour. The flashing lamp was visible for 18 nautical miles. 

Ships stopped using this harbour in the 1950s and the structure fell into disrepair, but it has now been restored by Heritage New Zealand as an historic landmark.

To return, retrace your footprints to the car park.

Distance
1.4km return
Total Ascent
353m
Grade
Easy
Time
4-5hr return
Access
70km south of Dargaville at Pouto Point
Map
AZ29

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