The Portland Island lighthouse was the guiding light that shone from the Māhia Peninsula as a shining beacon for those navigating around the long rugged coastline. In February 1878, the first flash of light warned ships of the perils ahead as they approached land. The lighthouse continued to operate for 77 years with approximately 28 principal keepers and in 1955 it was replaced with a fully electrified tower.
A media announcement from the Minister of Marine stated that the Portland Island lighthouse would be dismantled and disposed of. Mayor Robert Shortt was a visionary leader for the Wairoa District and saw the value of the lighthouse and the tourism potential that it would bring to the community. After prolonged discussions and dialogue with the Minister, his proposal to move the lighthouse from its current location and to be placed alongside the Wairoa River was granted. Mayor Shortt’s drive and enthusiasm ignited a spark that caught the imagination of the citizens who supported his effort to save the iconic lighthouse.
The lighthouse remained on Portland Island until 1959. The difficult task was the logistics and lack of modern technologies to safely shift the lighthouse. The cost of transport and to erect the lighthouse was approximately £6700 or NZD$950,000. The structure was dismantled from the glass apparatus to the copper dome. It was carted three kilometres across the Island down to the landing onto a launch which ferried 20 kilometres across the sea to Waikokopu Wharf. The trip happened several times prior to being transported 40 kilometres by road to be placed near the old Wairoa bridge. The old Wairoa bridge was destroyed during Cyclone Bola.
An error was made during the reconstruction of the lighthouse. Although the interior was made of solid Kauri timber the tower lacked stability in the foundation. It was badly damaged during the cyclone which enabled the situation to be rectified. The Wairoa Jaycees Club raised £500 or NZD$21,000 toward funding the reconstruction.
On 10 June 1961, an official opening took place with the Minister of Internal Affairs, Mr F A L Gotz in attendance who was welcome by Mayor Robert Shortt and the Wairoa community. The lighthouse is a significant landmark that is admired by all.
In 2016, (then) Mayor Craig Little and Chief Executive Officer Fergus Power recognised this significant landmark which initiated a complete refurbishment. For decades the dome remained covered with layers of boiled linseed oil that protected it from the harsh elements. During the refurbishment, work associated with applying a fresh coat of paint exposed the gleaming copper dome hidden beneath.
It is because of Mayor Shortt’s vision and perseverance that the lighthouse stands as an iconic piece of history in the heart of Wairoa Township.
Today it continues to shine as a warmly welcoming beacon of light aiding travellers to safely navigate a path home to Wairoa.
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