There's something unique about lighthouses, they're rugged and bleak, windy and remote, yet are a beacon of hope saving countless lives over the years too. There are over 100 lighthouse and mini lighthouses (light beacons) dotted around the coastline of New Zealand. These days the light beams are remotely operated from Wellington by Maritime NZ, and they still provide an important role protecting NZ's 15,000 km of coastline. Many of our lighthouses are easily accessible, and these are some of the best to visit and photograph:
The location of Cape Reinga's lighthouse at the very northern tip of New Zealand is spiritually significant for Maori as the departing place for their ancestors, and being where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet, we found it an eerie place to visit during our family campervan trip around Northland with Wilderness. If you can manage to shoot a sunset or sunrise here, you’ll experience it at its best, and on our visit we encountered a sunny and warm golden evening followed by a very moody morning the following day, providing two very different but equally beautiful conditions. Stay at Taputoputu DOC campsite for easy access to the cape.
It’s easy to have a love-hate relationship with this place on Taranaki’s west coast. It took four visits over four years to finally get a shot with both the lighthouse and the elusive Mount Taranaki both in the shot. Being there during Spring with a few friendly calves wandering up and down the fence line made it a more interesting composition too. At only an hour’s drive south of New Plymouth, it’s an easy return trip, and there's also another replica lighthouse and museum just up the road which is worth stopping into as well if you have the time.
Of all the lighthouses on the North Island, this is a real gem. Maybe it’s the remote location a good hour’s drive from the nearest town, Masterton, but more likely though it’s the topography of the area that makes this place special. The lighthouse juts out on a unique curved headland but even more interesting is Castle Rock, a steep section of rock that you can climb (if you dare!) to get a bird's eye view looking down on the lighthouse. The area is well known for seals so you do need to be very careful to keep your distance. This place is also known to be ferociously windy so trying to capture long exposures here can be particularly challenging but it is definitely a place that gets under your skin and you won't want to leave!
If you ever get the chance to visit Cape Campbell - tucked away on a private farmland on a peninsula on the east coast of the South Island between Blenheim and Kaikoura - then do it! Despite visiting on a wild and windy weekend with a good chunk of the weekend spent indoors, anytime there was a break in the weather we made a dash outdoors - experiencing the Milky Way over the lighthouse and on the last morning a double rainbow appeared over the lighthouse which was also a rare treat.
Being the ONLY person here enjoying the pastel dawn after making the 1 hour drive from Invercargill for sunrise was incredible, and being able to take photos 360 degrees around the lighthouse provides some great compositions. It's within easy access of all the amazing Catlins waterfalls that are also worth visiting and with a clear view south, it’s also the perfect spot to see the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) - so visiting in autumn or winter is a good bet if you want to try your luck!
Seeing the sunrise over the ocean at Nugget Point rivals any other sunrise experience in New Zealand. Its location in the remote Catlins area incorporating the unique Nugget rock structures is one-of-a-kind. And if you visit during the day, the variety of wildlife here - Royal Spoonbills, NZ Fur Seals, Shags and many other varieties of seabirds and penguins are sure to keep you entertained for hours.
All of the lighthouses are within 10 minutes walk from the carpark with wide, easy walking tracks which make them an enjoyable outing for all ages!
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