Dog Island Lighthouse

Dog Island Lighthouse lights the eastern approaches of Foveaux Strait about 5 kilometres from the entrance to Bluff Harbour.

Radio callsign: ZMG
Location: 46°39′ S, 168°25′ E
Elevation: 46 metres above sea level
Construction: stone tower
Tower height: 36 metres
Light configuration: 35 watt rotating beacon
Light flash character: white light flashing once every 10 seconds
Power source: batteries charged by solar panels
Range: 19 nautical miles (35 kilometres)
First lit: 1865
Automated: 1989
Demanned: 1989

Dog Island with Bluff in the distance, May 1955

Dog Island in May, 1955. Photo: Whites Aviation

Dog Island Lighthouse was built to warn mariners of the flat, rocky island that is only a couple of metres above sea level.

The tower was built from stone quarried on the island. The peaty subsoil caused the tower to take a slight lean, and over the next 50 years many makeshift repairs were carried out. In 1916 it was reported to be unsafe and the entire tower was encased in a concrete shell.

To make the lighthouse stand out, the tower was painted with black and white stripes, rather than the standard plain white. There are only two other lighthouses in New Zealand with stripes, at Cape Campbell and Cape Palliser.

Lighthouse at Dog Island in 1901

Lighthouse at Dog Island in 1901. Photo: JS Patterson, Otago Witness

Dog island light station originally had three keepers and their families. By the time the light was automated this had been reduced to one keeper and his family.

Life at Dog Island could be challenging for keepers with families. The island was too isolated for children to attend school on the mainland each day.

Cow in a sling being unloaded from a ship for delivery to Dog Island. in 1924.

Cow in a sling being unloaded from a ship for delivery to Dog Island. in 1924.
Photographer unknown. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

In 1939, the steamer Waikouaiti was wrecked on Dog Island. The light wasn’t visible at the time due to heavy fog. [Apparently there was no foghorn at Dog Island – Ed.]

Steamer Waikouaiti aground at Dog Island

Stephen Mead, son of lightkeeper Don Mead, recalls that during the 1950s:

Whenever Dad was baking bread we all used to go down to the back beach opposite the wreck and gather up coal that had washed ashore. This was really good steaming coal and burned a lot hotter and cleaner than normal coal. Only trouble was it soon burned out the fire grate in the ministry-supplied coal range.

In the early years supplies were sent out on the government supply ship every three months. The last keeper and his family had an easier time getting supplies. After a landing strip was built on the island, supplies were delivered fortnightly.

Dog Island was equipped with radiotelephone in 1941, enabling communication with Awarua Radio.

Technical staff from Awarua Radio visiting Dog Island in the 1950s, photographed with lighthouse keepers and children

Technical staff from Awarua Radio visiting Dog Island in the 1950s, photographed with lighthouse keepers and children. Ernie Hancock is in the centre holding two children (Stephen Mead is the child on the left) and to Ernie’s right is rigger Cyril Mincher (wearing hat). In the back row, third from the right is Stephen’s father, lightkeeper Don Mead.

Lighthouse keepers and NZPO staff bring materials for radio installation ashore at Dog island in the 1950s

Lightkeepers and NZPO staff bring materials for radio installation ashore at Dog island, c1953

Post Office linesmen bringing radio poles ashore at Dog Island, c1953

Post Office linesmen bringing radio poles ashore at Dog Island, c1953

The Dog Island Lighthouse today

The Dog Island Lighthouse today. Photo: Maritime NZ

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