Historic beacons need saving

By Roger Moroney

2 comments
The historic beacons once used by ships coming into harbour are in need of a spruce-up, some locals say. HBT16262601 Warren Buckland
The historic beacons once used by ships coming into harbour are in need of a spruce-up, some locals say. HBT16262601 Warren Buckland

Two tall parts of the Westshore landscape and a nod back to shipping more than a century ago are continuing to decay, much to the concern of Napier Sailing Club commodore Paul Redman.

"They are such a big part of Napier's history and it would be good to see them restored," he said.

"Without them we wouldn't be where we are today - they're not art deco but they did go through that era."

The beacons were built by the then Napier Harbour Board and completed in 1907.

In 1904 the harbour board received a quote for the two beacon lights of (in dollar terms) $2100 and $1840 and they were to be fitted with Matthews incandescent oil burners.

The Acetylene Gas Company provided details of how and where to place the structures, and in March 1906 the foundations were laid.

They were immediately successful, with the master of an arriving vessel called the SS Squall reporting he could see them distinctly from 16 nautical miles out in the bay.

As the area was largely under water, being pre-earthquake, one tower was built on the shoreline of the lagoon area and the second was on an island about 22m away.

Using incandescent oil burners to produce the guiding lighting for shipping using the port they were the first of their kind in the world.

When lit the beacons lined up with a large stand of trees on the distant hills of Rissington which are still used as a landmark by some vessels entering port.

They were decommissioned by the port in 1975 after new upgraded navigational lights were put into use.

Mr Redman said the beacon towers had been left unattended in a salty environment which had clearly affected them.

"I would just like to see them cleaned up _ we have a fine maritime history and I think it's important to recognise that."

He had a close look at the bases and could see the concrete work was not up to scratch, but if the bases were sorted structural upgrades could be carried out to bring them back to life - albeit without their lighting.

He passed them most days and was saddened to see their demise.

Another regular passerby, Chris Geddis, said he had not been able to get a close look but could see the timberwork was in poor shape.

"Now the cycleway goes past the back one - it needs a noticeboard explaining their history."

Ahuriri Rotary had looked into making the restoration one of their community projects about four years ago but close inspection showed the task was too intensive and needed specialist work.

Napier Port chief executive Garth Cowie said a restoration programme was "not on the books" with the port more focused on its expansion and future requirements.

"It had been raised at different stages in the past and we have looked at it," he said.
However, while historic they had no place in the port's present plans.

Mr Redman said while he neither had the funding nor expertise to get to work on restoring the towers he hoped publicity about their deteriorating state, and part of the region's history, could spark a possible restoration plan.

"They are a visual icon relating back to navigation of the past," Mr Geddis said.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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