Would you please tell me about Bean Rock lighthouse in the Hauraki Gulf? How old is it? Who built it? Is it possible to spend a night in the house? It's always of interest to me when I pass by in the ferry. Andy Mackrell, Sunnyhills.

What a fascinating structure this is. The lighthouse stands on the end of a reef (more of this later) and is named after a Royal Navy officer, Lieutenant P.C.D. Bean, who, in HMS Herald, helped survey and chart Auckland's Waitemata Harbour in the 1840s.

The lighthouse itself began operating on July 24, 1871. It is associated with marine engineer James Balfour, an important figure in New Zealand's early maritime history. He drowned before his plans for the lighthouse were complete, and the eventual design was the work of colonial engineer James Stewart, who incorporated many of Balfour's design features.

Shipping and assembling the heavy timber components of the lighthouse was dangerous work for building contractor William Cameron and his crew, but eventually, at a cost of £3000, the lighthouse with its English kerosene lamp of 350 candlepower was completed and commissioned. It was opened by Hugh Brown, the first keeper.

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Bean Rock is the sole surviving example of a wooden cottage-style lighthouse in New Zealand, and one of only a few remaining worldwide.

It is also New Zealand's oldest wooden lighthouse, and the only wave-washed tower. It was inhabited by lighthouse keepers and their families until 1912, when it was automated.

In 1985 the cottage, with its four tiny rooms and narrow hexagonal veranda, was removed for restoration work. The base's rotted kauri legs were replaced by Australian hardwood, jarrah, and sunk in new concrete foundations. The cottage was then winched back into place.

In the mid-1990s, the lighthouse was converted to solar power and synchronised with an automatic foghorn.

Bean Rock, or Te Toka a Kapetaua, upon which the lighthouse stands, is of historical and cultural significance to tangata whenua, being associated with the Waiohua and Ngati Paoa ancestor Kapetaua, who was marooned on the rock by his brother-in-law Taramokomoko. This led to a major campaign of fighting, extending as far as the Hauraki district.

The lighthouse has Category 1 registration under the Historic Places Act. As it is a working lighthouse, it is not open to the public. Neither is the public encouraged to go too close to the lighthouse, as the reef between the rock and the mainland really is dangerous.

Ports of Auckland owns the historic building and is responsible for its maintenance and preservation, including the light.

Sources:

Auckland City Council, Auckland Regional Council.