Cape Palliser Lighthouse is owned and operated by Maritime New Zealand. It was built in 1897 and was originally fueled by oil. In 1954 the oil lamp was replaced with an electric lamp, powered a local diesel generator. Subsequently it was connected up to the mains grid in 1967, although a diesel generator is still on site, in case of emergencies. In 1986 the light was fully automated, now managed from a control room in Wellington.
Originally, lighthouse staff had to brave a very dodgy path to the top, now replaced by a staircase of 258 steps, rising up a 58-metre-high shear cliff face. The original staircase was built in 1912 and has been replaced a number of times. Visitors can also get a feeling for the treacherous life of a light house keeper by ascending the steps to the base, where they can get 360 degree panoramic views of Cape Palliser, looking all the way to the South Island on a clear day.
Once you’re at the top of the stairs , it’s easy to see why this area became known for shipwrecks. During the 19th century, there were at least 20 ships damaged in the seas around Palliser Bay.
One of the highlights of the area at this time of year is the fur seal colony. They have pointy noses, long whiskers, small visible external ears and round bodies covered with two layers of fur. Breeding season ranges from mid-November to mid-January.
Pups start early in life, feeding on solid food before weaning, spending a large proportion of their day ‘playing’ with other pups and objects such as seaweed and reef fish. To many they look like small cats or puppy dogs but they are still dangerous, especially around their parents, who have a nasty bite and will move quickly to protect their young if they are threatened.
Cape Palliser lighthouse is one of three New Zealand lighthouses with a distinct striped paint scheme. The others are Dog Island Lighthouse and Cape Campbell Lighthouse (they have black and white stripes).