Aotearoa: Pencarrow

Seeing double: the Pencarrow lighthouses

The next time you sail from the South Island to Wellington, take note of two lighthouses standing  guard at the entrance to the harbour. The Pencarrow lighthouses, more than a century old now, lit the path for ships and boats for many years. The upper lighthouse was first to shine its light in 1856, but because low clouds often hid it from view, the lower structure replaced it in 1906.

On an overcast day I decided to hike the 7.5km path to the lighthouses, wanting to savour the stunning views I knew I would encounter along the way.  After an hour and a half I could see both beacons from afar, then later found a path up to the upper lighthouse. From there you can walk the track to Kohangapiripiri lake.

The return trip is another 7.5km, so if you’re not keen on walking, you can ride a bike. There’s a shop (near the entrance to the track) that has bikes for hire.

To see the Pencarrow lighthouses, go to Eastbourne then through to the end of Muritai Road where you’ll see the start of the track at Burdans gate. No motor vehicles are allowed inside the track.  It’s windy in Wellington, but it could get even blustier here so the best time for a visit would be a sunny and calm day.

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Sighting the two lighthouses: the upper one started operating in 1856, and the lower in 1906.
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Cycling is a good option if you’re not keen on walking the 15km (return) track.
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Anywhere along the track you can stop and admire the views.
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A footpath to the upper lighthouse is visible to the right of the signs. On the left you can go down to Lake Kohangapiripiri.
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The lower lighthouse is still operating to this day.
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Lake Kohangapiripiri (a nest clinging very strongly) is a freshwater lake and one of the country’s few unspoilt wetlands.
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The upper – and older – lighthouse. The Bennetts were keepers here for many years. Links at the end of this page take you to articles with more info.

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My tired feet stared longingly at these bikes.
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Mary Jane Bennett was keeper here – she was the first and only female lighthouse keeper in New Zealand.

For more on the fascinating history of the Pencarrow lighthouses and their keepers, see:

Retrato, in partnership with Travel Hub NZ, arranges customised tours in New Zealand. For more info, contact me or email:  travel@retratonz.com.

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