New Zealand’s only female lighthouse keeper, Mary Jane Bennett, was the inaugural operator of New Zealand’s first permanent lighthouse. Bennett was the wife of the previous keeper, George White Bennett, who had drowned in the harbour in June 1855.
The cast iron Pencarrow lighthouse, on a strategic location once occupied by Māori at the entrance to Wellington harbour, was first lit on 1 January 1859 to guide seafarers before being discontinued in 1935.
The lighthouse, accessed by an 8km walk from Eastbourne, is an octagonal tapering cast-iron tower of 11.5 metres. The light system and prefabricated cast iron tower were ordered from England, arriving in 480 packages on the Ambrosire in 1858.
Bennett was in charge when the colza oil light first shone and maintained the lighthouse till 1865 when she returned to England.
Before the lighthouse was built, Bennett and her husband had operated a light from a bay window in their cottage at Pencarrow Head in response to the loss of a ship, and 30 lives, in 1851.
A low level light was built in 1906, and the original high light was discontinued in 1935 in favour of an electric light at Baring Head. The old tower, used as a day mark, was offered to the NZHPT in 1966 and restored in 1980.
Note: Pencarrow Head is a rugged environment and the weather can be changeable with a severe wind. Please check the weather conditions before you visit. Remember to take sunblock, a hat, refreshments including plenty of water, warm clothing and a jacket. Wear comfortable walking shoes.
To access the lighthouse, you must walk from the road end at Burden's Gate (past Eastbourne). You cannot drive further than this gate. The unpaved path is flat for most of its 8km, following the coastline, but rises steeply at the end along a narrow track to reach the lighthouse.