“Working towards NZART Guiding Light award”
ZL2SEA Lighthouse Activities.
Taranaki Anniversary Weekend 6 -9th March.
Nigel and I have returned from another great lighthouse weekend away. It was a stressful week for both of us and the time away almost didn’t happen due to Nigel’s work. But everything was paid for so we were not letting the Taranaki Anniversary long weekend pass by without a lighthouse!
A fair bit of preparation work had been done to get this weekend underway. My job included locating new nuts and bolts to replace the trolley’s lost ones, purchasing more metal tent pegs and 130m of rope for the 15m spaghetti pole.
That was the easy part.
The harder part was sewing a new carry bag for the 10m spaghetti pole and all its attachments. Nigel wanted a carry bag for each pole set (3), plus one for the solar panels… I bought the canvas type fabric for that, the tape for the handles and received some important sewing instructions from the canvas maker, then made up my own pattern and constructed the first carry bag. The finishing touch was hand painting Nigel’s call sign ZL2SEA on the side.
A trial run on setting up the 10 metre spaghetti pole was done in the cow paddock down by the creek. Nigel wanted to simulate field conditions using the big radio and its car battery with the antenna. Then it started raining! I had to laugh at Nigel sheltering under a tree chatting away on the radio… yep, he’s got field conditions! He also took the time to measure all the support ropes before cutting them to length.
Nigel had researched the areas we were staying and had printed off the Automobile Association’s short cut directions from the internet. I bought a new AA travel atlas that covered New Zealand. The folder’s information was updated and the radio log book and radio accessories were packed into various packs.
We had discovered there was nothing the matter with Nigel’s little radio. The UHF failed to work on Somes Island because the Wellington repeater for the National system had been turned off! Both radios (Yaesu 817and 857) had new hard cases for travelling. Nigel fixed the trolley’s wheel and resoldered all the joints on the antenna wires and coax cable. The solar panels also received attention, making it possible to move them independently. The battery was fully charged… food and bedding organised.
Everything had to be organised two days before leaving as Nigel’s work required he stay overnight in Hawera. That left me with packing everything into the car… and meeting Nigel at the water tower in Hawera at 3.30pm.
Kelly cat unsuccessfully tried hiding in one of the bags as I was packing.
Castlepoint Lighthouse Adventure.
It was closer to 4pm when Nigel met me and we headed off to Palmerston North and Castlepoint.. Following the “short cut” directions on the print out was interesting. We became slightly geographically disorientated getting through Palmerston North then a place name for heading cross country on the back roads totally disappeared off the map when needed! We missed the turn off.
7th and 8th March 09
Instead of going south, I found we were on Route 57 heading north to meet up with State Highway 3 that took us through the Manawatu Gorge and on to Woodville where we turned south onto SH 2. We decided to stick with the main roads.We stayed on highway 2 till we reached Eketahuna then headed cross country for Castlepoint.
This time I had no problem with navigating cross country! That road was sealed till we had 53 km to go then the sun beat us to our destination, leaving us in the dark on dirt road. The near full moon came out lighting the countryside. The car’s headlights were the only other lights out there. As we came to intersections in un-named villages we found the sign posts for Castlepoint, but had to be beneath them to read them. We finally made it off the dirt road approaching the tiny town of Tinui where we picked up our final sign to Castlepoint.
At 9pm Nigel pulled into the holiday park’s car park. The office was closed and Nigel asked me for the after hours instructions. He unlocked the after hours box on the veranda railing and took out the key to the Garden Cottage. The Cottage was located easily. We found it was neatly presented and had a welcoming feel to it. We unloaded the food and suitcase and fell into bed.
Saturday morning after breakfast Nigel and I took the cameras for a walk down to the lighthouse and explored the area. The air was heavy with salt spray which gave a very misty look. As we neared the lighthouse the wind direction changed and I found the air clearer and everything was so much easier to photograph. The cloud cover was heavy but the patterns in the cloud were quite attractive, though the water had the grey shades of overcast sky.
Castlepoint Lighthouse is located on a rocky point made of sandstone filled with what looks like marine pipi shells. Nigel had the Canon and took the steps up to the lookout, taking photos as he went. I had the Olympus and followed a track that went down to the edge of the rocky cliff face. The cliff fell away to another wide shelf below it, and then further down there was another shelf carved by wave action on the cliff, then the breakers. About 200 metres away there were 2 men fishing from an overhang that looked very much like the profile of a shark. Well below them the surf crashed against the base of the cliff. Embedded in the sandstone I was walking on there were beautifully preserved scallop and seashell fossils. As usual, I was taking photos of all that captured my attention and many of the lighthouse… with a 2GB card, just shoot!
A few years back Castlepoint lighthouse was restored to the stately beauty it is today. It had over the years become an unsightly rust streaked mess before its restoration.. Castlepoint is a very popular holiday destination and the lighthouse is a popular attraction that is so easy to reach. It was only a short 20 minute walk from our cottage.
Looming in the background is Castle Rock. At 162 metres above sea level, it dominates the landscape to the southwest of the lighthouse. Apparently it was named Castle Rock by Captain James Cook, as it reminded him of castle ramparts back home.
Nigel told me we were climbing it in the afternoon! I looked back at the rock not knowing its height, thinking Hmmm…! Then the brilliant thought hit… “Of course you can… you did the Cape Brett track (20 km) and a couple weeks ago climbed Mt Egmont (2,518m) … this is nowhere near Mt Egmont!” A closer look at the rock revealed the track ran along the ridge beside the rock, straight onto the rock. Easy! We’d be half way there before we started!
We left the lighthouse and went back to the cottage to watch a DVD lecture, have lunch and a rest before going for the afternoon’s walk. It was nice just being able to spend time together and unwind.
Around 3pm we headed off for the rock. We walked back along the road to the lighthouse then veered right up through a stand of pine trees and on to the top of the ridge. The view was so beautiful looking down onto the bay. The sun was shining through the cloud giving the sea aqua colours to blend with the light coloured sandy beach. Blonde seed heads of the local “toitoi” grass just begged to frame the photos of the bay.
Nigel was way ahead of me as I kept stopping to take in the view. I caught up with Nigel on the ridge near the rock and we started the ascent together. He soon out paced me in the climb and I reverted back to taking photos as I climbed. The higher we climbed the better the view back to the lighthouse became. We were soon standing on the top of the rock. I would have loved to have gone to the edge to peer over the sheer drop, but Nigel was not keen for me to be near the edge. We decided we wanted to be married a lot longer than 3 months and we both stayed back from the edge. The descent was easy and we went further down the track to walk along the beach back to the lighthouse.
We took a lot more photos of the lighthouse before continuing our walk back to the cottage.
After sunset we set up the aluminium pole in the front yard and Nigel was soon on the air, running the big radio (857) off the car’s battery. I had to take his dinner out to him and later collect the plate. He was on the radio for about an hour and a half before heading for bed. How convenient… the car was parked at the front door with the antenna set up in the front yard… too easy!! I felt it took away the adventure of the trip.
Nigel was up and dressed at 0500 next morning bright and rearing to go catch the lighthouse working. It was still pitch black. I crawled out of bed and into my clothes, grabbed the cameras and we drove down to the sand spit and walked across to the lighthouse. The wind was a good 30 knots or more… it had been forecast for 40 knots late Saturday afternoon, so walking up the path was like watching a drunk staggering up the path. I can’t recall how many times I walked into the fence railing. Between us we managed to get a few good shots of the lighthouse lit up, but the majority of them were blurred by shake. We really needed a good tripod and time exposure setting… and less wind! The thing I really noticed was that the lighthouse was roaring. I had noticed that at several other lighthouses as well… I don’t know why they roar, but it’s as if they are alive…
We watched the sunrise between taking photos then headed back to the cottage for breakfast. Nigel was on the air again at 0800 and continued till 1000. While Nigel was busy on the radio I was packing up and cleaning the cottage ready to leave at 10:00. At 1015 the car was packed and the key handed in to the office. We were on the road again, heading south to Cape Palliser, the most southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island.
Cape Palliser Adventure.
We took the Masterton-Castlepoint road and found it good bitumen all the way into Masterton. Nigel had planned we go cross country using the AA GPS directions before getting into Masterton. That was ok, the instructions were out and I had read through them and had alerted Nigel to which road we had to look for and turn off. The GPS was packed in with the radio gear. We took the turn when we saw the road and frustratingly the next set of signs didn’t include the name we were looking for. The distances were all out as well and further down the road we ended up back on the main road into Masterton about 5 km from the little town we had turned off at! We retraced our way back into the little town and continued through thinking “Grrr!! We were wasting good time on wild goose chases and we’d stick to the main roads from here!!”
8th March 09
On reaching Greytown I had Nigel turn off to Martinborough without getting geographically misplaced and we had no further problem in locating our destination of Te Kopi where we were booked into a Department Of Conservation bach for the night. About 20 km down the road was the Palliser Lighthouse Nigel was planning on working till 9:30pm Sunday evening.
The first thing out of the car was the food boxes and I was fixing lunch while Nigel was busy with the Canon. From the kitchen window I had a lovely view of the dark blue ocean through the bushes. As we settled at the table to eat, the caretaker arrived with a miniature horse in tow. It had gotten out on the road and had to be brought back in for everyone’s safety. A short rest after lunch and we were off again!
The road from the DOC cabin to the lighthouse is quite varied and one that should be seen just for the experience and beauty of it. We went past the mini horse in its paddock, over a bridge and past the Pinnacles before reaching a very bare cliff face with warning signs that it was an active slip, proceed with caution. The road wound around the coastline cliffs before opening out onto flat country and dirt road.
One of the funniest sights along the way is entering the little town of Ngawi with its great line up of bulldozers! There were pink ones, purple ones, red ones, yellow ones and green ones, large ones and small ones along with a line up of front end loaders with their buckets. Some of the bulldozers were named and others looked as if they had been decorated. Unfortunately we didn’t stop to take any photos of the dozers. The road into Ngawi was under repair and made the place a dust bowl. We continued driving…
Soon we saw the North Island’s most southern lighthouse, Cape Palliser, perched high on a rock face, overlooking the ocean. The coastline at the base of the lighthouse was flat and rocky and looked as though a lot of kelp was growing in the area. There is known to be seal colonies at Cape Palliser. We pulled into the car park beneath the lighthouse.
The sun was out and the light was great for taking photos, but we were facing into the westering sun to take photos of the lighthouse. I tried to shield the lens from the sun and it seemed to work.
The first thing Nigel and I did was to walk up to the lighthouse. Cape Palliser lighthouse is only 18m tall and is 78m up the cliff face.. It has 250 wooden steps heading up the cliff to the lighthouse. The staircase is only one person wide and there were a lot of people visiting and climbing the stairs. Passing on the stairs was not easy… Cape Palliser was popular but at least it wasn’t as busy as Cape Reinga! That was ridiculous…
Nigel was waiting for me at the top of the stairs when I finally made it up. Yes, I had stopped along the way for more photos. I found the lighthouse barely fitted into the digital screen even when I was leaning back against the fence. Nigel showed me a little track out onto the rock face at the back of the lighthouse. The lighthouse fitted better. I noticed what could be a “track” on the rock and followed it up higher, took more photos and climbed even higher for a better view. I’m not into rock climbing, but for the sake of a good photo, I seem to be turning into a mountain goat! Perched on a narrow ledge I took several photos before carefully clambering down again. The bold red and white bands of Palliser are quite striking against the blues of the ocean.
We returned to the car park and proceeded to set up the spaghetti pole over the fence in a farm paddock with the car parked near the fence. Between helping Nigel I was also taking photos of the pole being set up. Once everything was working I took the Olympus on walk-about for more photos of the lighthouse, this time with the sun behind me. I followed the road back the way we had come in till I was on the western side of the lighthouse. There wasn’t much I could do about either my height, or the lack of it, or the position of the lighthouse on the cliff, so I did the best I could on zoom. I’m happy with what I took.
On the way back to the car park I thought I saw a seal in the ocean and went over for a closer look. Yes, there was one in the tea-kettle cooling-off pose and another surfing. The other one I thought I saw was kelp in the wave action. I saw a suitable rock on the beach and walked over and stepped up onto it. I had a good vantage point where I could see without disturbing the seals. I soon noticed 4 seals asleep on various rocks not too far away. I hadn’t seen them at first. I took several photos until one I hadn’t seen woke up and started watching me, yawning and looking alert. Time to go…
I wandered a bit further down the beach to another large rock which I climbed onto. I started looking for seals there… 4… 7, 9… 11 in a small space! The eleventh one I hadn’t seen until he barked at me and I thought it was time to leave there too… this one looked larger and possibly a male.
I left there for a spot further down the pebbly beach. I soon spotted another group of seals and one that smelt rather dead. Curiosity would have liked to have investigated that seal, but the closeness of another large seal prohibited inspection. I wandered on counting and occasionally photographing the seals I found lying on and around the rocks, giving the sea a wide enough berth and staying closer to the higher side of the pebble beach near the bushes… I wasn’t walking quietly as the fist sized pebbles kept knocking each other as I trod on them. 30, 34, 37… 38, 39, 40… 41… AAARRH!
I jumped side ways in fright and swung the camera around to catch the one that barked at me. I had to zoom out to catch No.42! Less than 2 metres away from me on my left was a large seal tucked in under the bushes. If it had wanted to; I was within striking range. I was also between it and the ocean… not a good place to be! The seal when I first saw it was in an upright position they assume when alert and just as quickly it settled back to a lying position. I quietly apologised for disturbing its sleep and the seal lay there just looking at me with its big brown eyes. Wow! It didn’t even seem afraid! I quietly withdrew.
Back up on the road I took more photos of the lighthouse, still wrapt with the seal encounter, but also thankful it hadn’t been cranky. I watched the lighthouse lens for any movement as it was approaching sunset. The camera was beginning to flash low battery signal and just as I went to take another photo of the lighthouse as it lit up… the screen went blank with the message CARD FULL.. I returned to the car for another XD memory card.
Nigel was busy making and taking calls when I reached the car. I excitedly told Nigel the lighthouse lit up about 6 minutes ago. He hadn’t noticed the lighthouse was alight. I told him about the seals as well between calls which made his next few contacts a little more interesting. I slotted a 525MB memory card into the camera and went walkabout again to catch the sunset on the lighthouse.
I was having a wonderful time at this lighthouse. I thought I could hear a faint roar coming from the lighthouse. It was inviting me to climb back up to meet it, but being near dark and on my own I decided to stay on the flats. I returned to the car then went through the gate into the paddock to try something different with the silhouette of the lighthouse and the antenna mast… it was ok.
Returning to the car I settled for a short time into the garden chair beside the open passenger door. It was getting a little cool so I rummaged a quilt I had made out of the rear of the car and wrapped myself in that for a bit, but the lighthouse had to have more photos taken while I had some light left. I took as many as I possibly could to try and have at least one good photo of the light burning.
Then it got too dark, so I wrapped myself in the quilt and settled back in the garden chair watching the lighthouse over the roof of the car while listening to Nigel on the radio. You know the contented feeling of settling into a comfy lounge in front of the burning log fire… well, it was that contented feeling watching as the lens circled around and around… 2 flashes in 20 seconds into the gathering darkness.
It got me reflecting… Just watching Palliser burning brightly was comforting. Seeing the loom of a light at sea on a beautiful dark starry night is something so special it has been written into poetry. I have been in two working lighthouses in Australia where seeing the huge lens up close is awe inspiring. The crystal lenses are all so intricate and delicate, they must have been a real headache for the lighthouse keepers to keep clean when they used oil and kerosene fuels… a guided tour through Cape Byron lighthouse explained to us the cleaning of the lens and the huge job it entailed. I loved watching the way the prisms split the light into the colours of the rainbow.
Funny how… I had a growing interest in lighthouses even before I took up sailing. I’d almost forgotten seriously looking into becoming a lighthouse keeper while exploring career options in high school. Jobs were scarce and in the early 1980s many were already lost to automation…
The Cape Byron Lighthouse was the first I saw close up and the first I’d photographed. Cape Byron is Australia’s most eastern light. Its lens rotated constantly to prevent it setting the surrounding hills on fire.
Lighthouses kind of stuck and grew from there and saw me visiting at least 10 NSW coastal lights and the inner harbour lights of Sydney while sailing past many more. My favourite is the lovely sandstone Barrenjoey Lighthouse at Pittwater. I visited 3 in Western Australia: Rottnest Island, Cape Leeuwin, and Cape Naturaliste. Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse is usually open for tours so mum and I took the tour through. I’d also visited several lighthouses in QLD. Sailing across Bass Strait from Hobart, it was a relief to see the light of Gabo Island lighthouse. It meant the worst was over! New Caledonia’s beautiful Le Phare Amedee was worth the ocean race from Sydney and the day trip to visit it! It was closed for maintenance on my visit, but generally is open for the climb to its balcony.
Nigel and I were engaged at Cape Egmont Lighthouse and spent our honeymoon visiting Cape Reinga and Cape Brett lighthouses. That was so much fun we’ve kept on having fun with other lighthouses of the North Island NZ, with the added challenge of achieving the NZART Guiding Light Award…
Nigel kept working with his radio making contacts up and down NZ. Sometimes he was searching and other times he had a queue to his CQ. He had originally set the antenna wire running from fencepost to fence post across the corner of the paddock which enabled him to pick up Australia really well.
After a while he decided he needed to pick up more of NZ and changed the wire’s directions to more of an E/W direction wrapping the tie end round and round a small bush. NZ came booming in all the way down to the bottom of the South Island… I asked a lot of questions as to why the signal had changed and Nigel had patiently explained how it worked, but my understanding of what he told me is different to what he said, so I shall just settle for the bush making the difference!
It was after 9:30pm that we had antenna pole back in its carry bag and the car on the road again. The drive back to the DOC cabin seemed very short.
Monday morning we were on the road again around 10:30 heading for Wellington. Nigel had suggested we go see the Maritime Museum and see the displays commemorating the wrecks of the Inter-island Ferries “Wahini” and “Penguin”. The Museum was very interesting and worth the visit. I have a greater appreciation of the rugged coastline approaching Wellington and the importance of the lighthouses we visited there.
We headed home after the museum, arriving about 7pm to an enthusiastic welcome by Kelly cat, tired, but glad to be back safely.
We have already started researching our next lighthouses to visit, but remain undecided as to which ones it will be.