Napier's first town planner, Alfred Domett, created a Lighthouse Reserve on Bluff Hill, however a lighthouse was never built there.

Discussions were held in 1872 by the Hawke's Bay Provincial Council to build a lighthouse and £300 (2016:$42,000) was set aside - but on the Gaol Reserve, off Coote Rd.

To save money the council proposed that jail officers in the gaol below the lighthouse - who were already on duty through the night - could attend to it.

Vessels coming from the Portland Island direction (off Mahia) could see the Bluff light, and just before losing it would see the Ahuriri Port light.


American steamers were reluctant to approach Napier by night because there was no guiding light.

William Colenso, a member of the provincial council, believed the lighthouse was unnecessary and argued "Why did the steamers not time themselves to arrive by daylight? They knew approximately how many hours the passage would take".

It was not that simple said Mr Kinross as "the passage from Wellington to Napier should take 17 to 18 hours, but today it had taken the mail steamer 24 hours from Wellington. A light would enable vessels to find a safe anchorage as any time, and stop them knocking about in the Bay till daylight".

In December 1873 a lighthouse was erected on the Coote Road Gaol Reserve. This was not a popular decision, with the Hawke's Bay Times believing the lighthouse would be at some point removed to the Lighthouse Reserve because the light from the present position would be shut out by the Bluff Hill just when it was needed from vessels approaching Pania's Reef. It also condemned using the gaol's prisoners to save on operating costs.

The Hawke's Bay Harbour Board (now Port of Napier) refused to take over maintenance of the light from the provincial council because they believed it was a coastal light to guide vessels around Cape Kidnappers, and therefore the government's responsibility.

In 1876 the government agreed to maintain the light after five months of discussion with the harbour board. The lighthouse's light was generated by oil, and the cost was £100 ($14,000) a year.

The lighthouse was used until an automatic light at Cape Kidnappers and Beacons Airfield (airport) made it redundant. It was demolished in 1948 by the Marine Department who had tried to pass it on to the harbour board, but with no success.

The Bluff Hill Bowling Club is on the old Lighthouse Reserve.

• My non-profit accounting course for non-accountants has sold out for November 14, however Volunteering Hawke's Bay may hold a second one. Please contact me on for details.
Michael Fowler ( is the heritage officer at the Art Deco Trust, and trainer in accounting for non-accountants