Exploring New Zealand’s Lighthouses 

Department of Conservation —  06/05/2023

From Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island to Waipapa Point in the South, we have 23 historic lighthouses dotted across the country. 

With New Zealand a maritime nation, beginning with the first Polynesian explorers to reach its coast, each lighthouse has its own rich history and stories to discover. Get out and about and explore some of New Zealand’s most beautiful and rugged coastline vistas.


Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga Lighthouse, New Zealand Lighthouses.
Path to lighthouse at Cape Reinga Image: Benhi Dixon, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Cape Reinga is about an hour and a half drive from Kaitaia at the top of the North Island. This short child/buggy-friendly walk features breathtaking panoramic views and a number of information plaques. See where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean and snap a photo beside Cape Reinga’s iconic lighthouse, built in 1941.

Te Rerenga Wairua/Cape Reinga is considered the most spiritually significant place in New Zealand for Māori. It is believed to be the place at which their spirits travel before climbing down the roots of the Pohutukawa Tree clinging precariously to a rock below, and returning to the land of their ancestors, Hawaiiki.  

Cape Brett

Cape Brett Lighthouse, New Zealand Lighthouses
Cape Brett lighthouse Image: Charles Meeks, CC-BY-ND (2.0)

(Not for the faint of heart) the Cape Brett track will take you on a hard 16km journey (one-way) with spectacular coastal views, steep cliffs and regenerative bush. So make sure you are appropriately equipped. Stay overnight at this stunning location in the lighthouse keeper’s cottage, then catch a water taxi back to civilisation the following day from Deep Water Cove.

It is said that when Māori first arrived in Aotearoa, the dawn light reflecting off the sheer cliffs of Rakaumangamanga helped to guide Waka to a safe landfall. More recently, since 1910, the lighthouse has lit and protected all seafarers navigating this part of Aotearoa’s coast and continues to do so today. 


Tutukaka Heads Lighthouse
Tutukaka Head from the main track to the lighthouse Image: Jaime Apolonio 

This family-friendly walk will take about an hour; running along the top of the headland, and down onto the rocks you’ll be able to follow the old lighthouse power poles and at low tide cross to Kukutauwhao Island. 

After a final short climb, the track finishes at the Tutukaka lighthouse at the end of the headland, where stunning ocean views and a new perspective on Auckland will reward your efforts.



Rangitoto Lighthouse
McKenzie Bay, Rangitoto Island. Image: itravelNZ® (CC BY 2.0) 

Make a day trip out of this one – about two and a half hours one way (so don’t forget to check ferry times), the Lighthouse Walk to McKenzie Bay will take you west from the wharf along the coast to one of two natural sand beaches on Rangitoto. It’s the perfect place to stop for a picnic and swim. 

The iconic red and white structure is not officially a lighthouse. Instead the Rangitoto Beacon, built in 1882, flashes red every 12 seconds. 

Tiritiri Matangi

Tiritiri Matangi Lighthouse
Looking towards the historic lighthouse on Tiritiri Matangi Image: DOC

An 80-minute ferry ride from Auckland CBD, the island is the perfect day trip destination for nature lovers and families.

Rich in both Māori and European history Tiritiri Matangi is also one of the most successful community-led conservation projects in the world. Invasive predators have been eradicated and rare native birds such as the kōkako and the takahē (once thought to be extinct) live and thrive in the restored habitats within regenerating native forests.

The lighthouse complex is one of only a few surviving lighthouse settlements in New Zealand, and the one easily accessible to the public. Built-in 1864, the lighthouse is also one of New Zealand’s oldest – and Auckland’s first – lighthouse station.



Castlepoint Lighthouse
Castlepoint Lighthouse from trail Image: Chris Gin, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

An easy short walk that you can take your four-legged friend on (just don’t forget their leash). 

Explore The Castlepoint Scenic Reserve by following the boardwalk over the reef down to the lighthouse. “The Holiday Light” is the North Island’s tallest lighthouse standing at 52 meters above sea level, and is one of only two left in New Zealand with a functioning rotating beam.

Matiu/Somes Island

Matiu/Some Island Lightouse
The lighthouse on Matiu/Somes Island. Image: DOC

Escape the capital’s hustle and bustle for a day and visit Matiu/Somes Island in the heart of Wellington Harbour. It laid the foundation for New Zealand’s sheep industry, as the first quality animals sent from Great Britain to establish the animals in Aotearoa arrived here at what was then a quarantine station for livestock.

With several easy walks, you’ll be able to wander around the predator-free scientific reserve. Once also the site of a Māori pa, as well as home to German Wellingtonians during the World Wars, it provides the visitor with 360-degree views of Wellington Harbour, native wildlife, and World War heritage, such as gun emplacements.

The light at Matiu/Somes has been guiding maritime traffic safely across Wellington’s at times treacherous Harbour since 1886 and was the first inner harbour lighthouse in New Zealand.


Cape Campbell

Cape Campbell Lighthouse
Cape Campbell Lighthouse from Mussel Point in the Marfells Beach area. Image: Shellie Evans

This maritime gem is suitable for experienced backcountry hikers only. 

The unmarked route will take you along the coast to Cape Campbell, the southernmost extreme of Cook Strait. Allow half a day for this walk and be aware that the walk out to the lighthouse should only be done at low tide. 

The striking Cape Campbell lighthouse is the second at this site, built in 1903 to replace the original built in 1870.


Nugget point

Nugget Point Lighthouse
View along the path to Nugget Point Lighthouse. Image: Kathrin and Stefan Marks (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Named after its famous golden ‘nuggets’ of sandstone, Nugget Point is one of the most popular walks along the Caitln coast. A short and easy stroll leads you to the lighthouse, built in 1869 from locally quarried stone.

Nugget Point is a favourite for wildlife lovers, sunset chasers and historians alike. It is said the best time to visit is early in the morning or at sunset so visitors can make the most of the sensational panoramic views and often spectacular sunrises and sunsets. 

Bursting with wildlife, the point is home to a colony of fur seals, one of the world’s rarest penguin species, the Yellow-eyed penguin/Hoiho, and is possibly one of the only places in the world that you might see seals, sea lions and elephant seals in the same area. They all love soaking up some sun out here.

Waipapa Point

Waipapa Lighthouse, New Zealand Lighthouses
Waipapa Point Lighthouse in the Catlins, Southland. Image Shellie Evans

A short family-friendly loop track leads you to the lighthouse along the coast. Buggie and wheelchair-accessible, Waipapa Point is a wonderful place for viewing sea birds and marine mammals. 

The original Māori name for the area was Waipapapa, meaning shallow waters. The Waipapa Point lighthouse was first lit on 1 January 1884, it stands as a poignant reminder of New Zealand’s worst civilian maritime disaster, when the SS Tararua ran aground on Waipapa Reef,131 of its 151 passengers and crew drowning.