Keeping up appearances: The challenging job of restoring NZ's lighthousesby Fiona Terry
Photography by Tim Cuff
Ensuring lighthouses stay “shipshape” isn’t a job for the faint-hearted.
The recording was played at volume on the northernmost tip of the South Island from a speaker placed at the top of the 27m lighthouse by Chris Beckett, while he was living on site at Farewell Spit during a restoration project. It was one of the highlights of his four-month stay, almost making up for night-time invasions by sandflies and mosquitoes.
Beckett’s job was to help restore then repaint the latticed steel beacon, as part of a team contracted by Nelson company Nicholson Protective Coatings. More than 150,000 litres of fresh water and 25 tonnes of salt-free sand were carted 27km up the beach from the end of the road at Golden Bay, and then used to clean and strip the framework back to bare steel. Because the lighthouse is on a historic site and nature reserve, no contaminants could be left behind, with every flake of paint and grain of introduced sand captured within a shroud of double-layered scrim cloth.
Beckett, who’s done a few lighthouse restorations, bunked down with up to five others in one of the original keepers’ homes. “We had the most incredible sunsets,” he says. “The weather was extreme and we saw some impressive electrical storms, abandoning ship off the scaffolding a few times.”
Twice-daily visits from inquisitive tour bus passengers were a welcome connection with the outside world, with many sharing stories about themselves or relatives who’d lived at the lighthouse or worked on it. “We had some fun,” Beckett says. “When it was last painted, in 1995, it was given red legs in support of the America’s Cup red socks fundraising campaign, so we thought it would be fitting to keep them the same. We also added our names to the hidden roof space at the top, where all the other maintenance staff had signed – dating back to 1914 – before sealing it off for another 10-20 years.”
Most recently, the company repainted Nelson’s iconic lighthouse on Boulder Bank. Built in 1862, it’s the second-oldest lighthouse in the country. It was decommissioned in 1982, but has been adopted by Port Nelson and is now shining a new light, thanks to the port and a local glass company.
Repainting of the steel and cast concrete took four weeks, working with brush and roller to reduce the risk of environmental contamination from paint splatter. The only access was by boat, but the isolation adds to the excitement, reckons painter Dwayne Robinson, who’s also worked on Maritime New Zealand lighthouse restorations at Cape Campbell, south of Blenheim, Tuhawaiki (Jacks) Point near Timaru, and Waipapa Point in the Catlins.
“This type of work is magic,” he says. “I’ve shared my ‘office’ with seals, and looking back at the final finish once the job’s completed is phenomenal.”
This article was first published in the March 2019 issue of North & South.
For New Zealanders, the Cricket World Cup final was a brutal reminder of sport’s great paradox. But there's hope on the horizon.Read more
We may decry the notion, but the hostile use of space is creeping into the plans of various countries.Read more
If US$154 billion to land 12 men on the Moon seems excessive, consider the things we use every day that had their roots in a Nasa lab.Read more
Mike White talks to investigator Tim McKinnel, who says police often turn a blind eye to possible corruption out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.Read more
PM Jacinda Ardern has doubled down on her criticism of Australia's deportation policy as "corrosive", ahead of her meeting with Scott Morrison.Read more
Te Aniwa Hurihanganui looks at the outdated Adoption Act and its impact on Māori who grew up desperate to reconnect.Read more
Women with complications caused by deeply embedded vaginal mesh are being helped by a pioneering surgical technique.Read more
North Auckland farmer Fergus Riley has uncovered many important lessons in caring for his father Peter, who has Alzheimer’s.Read more