Centre Island Lighthouse

Centre Island Lighthouse marks the dangerous western approach to Foveaux Strait between New Zealand’s South Island and Stewart Island.

Centre Island light, date unknown
Centre Island light, date unknown. Courtesy Chris Underwood

Callsign: ZMC
Location: 46°28′ S, 176°51′ E
Elevation: 81m above sea level
Construction: wooden tower
Tower height: 12m
Light configuration: 50 watt rotating beacon
Light flash character: white light with red sector flashing once every 15 seconds
Power source: batteries charged by solar panels
Range: 19 nautical miles (35km)
Date light first lit: 1878
Automated: 1987
Demanned: 1987

Work began on the Centre Island Lighthouse in 1877, and the light was first lit in September 1878. Kauri was brought across from the mainland to construct the tower.

The Centre Island to Colac Bay cable developed a fault, repairs to which have not been effected, as it is now considered that it would be more economical to substitute a wireless telephone system to operate between Centre Island and Awarua, in conjunction with Puysegur Lighthouse. The proposal is now under investigation.
– Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives: Post & Telegraph Department, 1917

During World War Two, coastwatchers were stationed on Centre Island and equipped with confiscated ham radio equipment:

Consequent on the need for coastwatching communications, was the need to silence and control other non-essential radio traffic. The first emergency regulations, passed in 1939, five months before the war started, prohibited radio receiving station licensees from recording or publishing information gained from the airwaves. With ten days of the state of emergency being declared on 1 Sept, some amateur radio hams were losing their equipment ‘for the duration.’ Messrs Hazlett and Sutton Invercargill both lost their sets because they continued to use emergency corps callsigns ZL4EF and ZL4GX respectively. Their sets went to Army use on Centre Island in Foveaux Strait as callsigns ‘RFP’ and ‘RFM’, codenamed ‘Jako’ and ‘Cato’.

– Cooke, P. (2000). Defending New Zealand : ramparts on the sea 1840-1950s. Wellington, NZ: Defence of New Zealand Study Group. pp 660-661

Centre Island Lighthouse had a radiotelephone set, with callsign ZMC. Four times a day, weather observations and other information were sent from ZMC to Awarua Radio ZLB.

Radio log maintained at Centre Island Lighthouse, July 1966
Radio log maintained at Centre Island Lighthouse, July 1966. Courtesy Alex Glennie

The light station was originally home to three keepers and their families. In the mid-1950s when diesel-generated electricity was introduced to power the light it was dropped back to two keepers. By 1977 only one keeper was stationed at the lighthouse.

Centre Island Lighthouse remained a one keeper station until the light was automated in 1987.

Centre Island lighthouse
Centre Island lighthouse. Photo: Maritime NZ

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