37. Waipapa Lighthouse

They say when a storm comes in from Antarctica you can’t walk on the bluff here at Slope Point, the southern most point of the South Island, or you will be blown into the sea.

Not today though, it’s calm and not cold. Despite the calm, we were very aware of the power of the waves crashing onto the rocks and jumping upwards.

We drove on to Waipapa where there is a lighthouse, one of two open to the public – the other is at Nugget Point. This one is built from a double skin of kauri and totara. It was first fuelled by paraffin then kerosene before electricity was put in, with a diesel generator for back up. Lighthouse keepers were instantly sacked if they let the light go out. Lighthouses in NZ have been fully automated since 1976.
Set back from the sea and lighthouse grew a group of wind-blasted pine trees – this is the site of the old lighthouse keeper’s house. Lighthouse families were highly self sufficient and had sheep and cows and chickens and grew a range of vegetables, using lots of tricks to achieve results against the adverse weather conditions. Goods were brought in on supply vessels by sea, and when families had to move they also went by sea. Children of lighthouse families had the choice of walking 5 kilometres through mud and sea lions to school or else to be home schooled. In the early 1900’s one of the wives, washing clothes outside in freezing gales, gained a wash house after her husband complained to the authorities. The best improvements happened in the 1960’s after the government asked women for their views; almost too late as within a decade of this being done lighthouses were fully automated and their keepers pulled out!
Two sea lions basking in the sun.
A large flock of terns.
An algal bloom rides the waves.
The rocks are sedimentary and there’s plenty of sign of Jurassic wood which continues here from the Caitlins coastline.
A black backed gull.
We were both very sorry to see this little blue penguin washed up dead. It looked very recent as there was no sign of decomposition.
We walked back via a sand path through the grasses. We could see sedge and lots of the introduced marram, but not a sign of pingao which Maori traditionally used to weave raranga as the tightly coiled blades of the grass turned a brilliant golden yellow as they dried.

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