Nothing screams “phallic symbol” louder than a lighthouse — OK, except, perhaps for a rocket. But lighthouses are more than just an opportunity for scenic dick pics and Instagram innuendo. For centuries, they have helped seafarers stay suitably separated from the sea. Consulting back issues of his log, The Captain has rounded up a few notable lighthouses that have kept him off the rocks while voyaging on the high seas.
01 OCEANS COLLIDE
Cape Reinga/Te Rerenga Wairua in New Zealand is where the waters of the Tasman Sea smash into the Pacific in a maelstrom of currents. It is a sacred site for Maori, who believe it’s where the souls of the departed undertake their final journey to the ancestral homeland of Hawaiiki. At the cape’s northernmost tip is an 800-year-old pohutukawa tree, from which the spirits leap into the ocean for the big swim north. Built in 1941, the lighthouse stands 165m above sea level and was manned until 1987. Its solar-powered beacon can be seen 35km out to sea.
One of seven lighthouses marking the Tenerife coastline in Spain’s Canary Islands, the futuristic Punta del Hidalgo lighthouse first lit up in 1994. Built of white, reinforced concrete, the 50m lighthouse’s beam is visible for 16nm.
03 THE ORIGINAL
The Pharos of Alexandria was the world’s first lighthouse. Built during the reign of Ptolemey II (280–247 BC), this monolithic construction was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Destroyed by earthquake in 1480, it was estimated to be about 100m tall and its light was powered by a furnace at the top. The remains can still be seen on the sea floor of Alexandria Harbour in Egypt.
04 SCOTCH AND WATER
Bell Rock Lighthouse in Scotland, sited 18km offshore, is the world’s oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse. Built to last in 1810 by English civil engineer Robert Stevenson, it’s so solid that in more than 200 years, the masonry has never needed a reno. The Bell Rock lighthouse operated in tandem with the land-based Bell Rock Signal Tower, now a museum.
05 LONELY GUY
Thridrangar lighthouse is perched atop a jagged 36.5m rocky cliff off the coast of Iceland’s Westman Islands, about 4.5nm from the mainland. The remote lighthouse was built in 1938 by intrepid blokes who first had to scale the cliffs to reach the pinnacle, laying out the groundwork by hand. These days, access is a bit easier by helicopter.
06 BIG FELLA
At 133m, Jeddah Light in Saudi Arabia is officially the tallest lighthouse in the world. Located at the entrance to the seaport, the lighthouse doubles as the port’s control tower, but its primary function is warning approaching ships up to 21nm away of potentially dangerous coral reefs.
07 COLOURFUL CHARACTER
Japan’s Enoshima lighthouse, or “Sea Candle”, became operational in 2009. A high-powered LED projector lights up the 100m lighthouse in different colours depending on the season. Spring is pink, summer blue, autumn orange, and winter purple.
08 OLD FAITHFUL
Constructed in 2AD by the Romans, outside the city of Corunna in Spain, the Tower of Hercules is the oldest lighthouse still standing in the world. Based on the Pharos of Alexandria, most of the three-storey 56.8m tower is around 1900 years old, but an additional level was added in 1791. In 2009, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
09 END OF THE WORLD
Guarding the sea approaches to Ushuaia in Argentina, the world’s southernmost city, Les Eclaireurs is known as the “lighthouse at the end of the world”. Sitting on a craggy rock 22m above sea level, the 11m lighthouse is dwarfed by the mountains of Terra del Fuego. Built in 1920, the lighthouse is now automated and solar-powered, and can only be reached by boat.
On one of the busiest shipping routes in the world, the Creac’h lighthouse on France’s Brittany coast is one of the most powerful in the world. Constructed in 1863, its four lenses are arranged over two levels of the 53m tower, its beam has a range of about 32nm, and its foghorn can be heard for 18nm.
11 LONG SERVICE
Ireland’s Hook Head lighthouse is the oldest intact, fully operational lighthouse in the world and has been flashing warnings to passing ships for the past 800 years. These days, it’s also home to art and maritime exhibits. In winter, humpback and fin whales feed in the surrounding waters.
SHINING LIGHTS OF AUSTRALIA
01 CAPE BORDA, KANGAROO ISLAND
Possibly the only armed lighthouse in Australia was built in 1858 to guide ships heading for Adelaide, and is the third-oldest still-standing lighthouse in South Australia. The baby cannon was used to warn ships of danger during fog, and to scare off seaborne troublemakers. The colony was a bit worried about a possible Russian invasion at the time and the lighthouse was seen as a useful lookout and deterrent. The cannon was restored in 1999 and is fired every day at 1pm just in case those Russki invaders are still lurking.
02 WILSONS PROMONTORY LIGHTSTATION, VICTORIA
If you want to stay at possibly the most isolated lighthouse in Australia, you’ll need to be up for a 19km hike to reach it and the surrounding cottages. Built in 1859 with granite from a nearby quarry, the lighthouse was automated in 1993 and is now solar-powered.
03 SOUTH CHANNEL PILE LIGHT, VICTORIA
Built off the coast of Rye in 1874, this single-storey octagonal lighthouse is the last of its kind in Australia. The 6m diameter structure includes a living room with fireplace and chimney, bedroom, office and (hole-in-the-floor) toilet. Manned until 1925, it operated for 111 years until it was turned off in 1985. In severe disrepair, the entire structure was lifted out of the sea in 1998 and restored, before being returned to the Rye Channel, 3km from its original home.
04 CAPE OTWAY, VICTORIA
The oldest surviving lighthouse on mainland Australia was built in 1848 and sits on the sea cliffs 90m above Bass Strait. It was the first sight of land for 19th-century migrants. Before its construction, hundreds of lives had been lost along this “shipwreck coast” — hence the light’s alias: “Beacon of Hope”. It’s also a great whale-watching spot.
05 BUSTARD HEAD, QUEENSLAND
Australia’s deadliest lighthouse was built in 1868, some 20km north of the town of 1770. The death toll began with an unlucky worker during its construction. Then in 1887, the lighthouse keeper’s wife, Kate Gibson, went missing, eventually found dead with her throat cut. Weirdly, her death was ruled a suicide. A few years later, Kate’s daughter drowned in a sailing accident, along with the assistant lighthouse keeper and his wife. Further incidents included a child scalded to death, a love triangle that climaxed with the shooting of a local property owner and kidnapping of the lighthouse keeper’s daughter, and the subsequent death of her sister from an epileptic fit. Not to mention the lives lost aboard the many ships wrecked on the rocks below.
06 TASMAN ISLAND, TAS
One of the most isolated — and certainly the highest — operating lighthouse in Australia, Tasman Island marks the turning point for the Sydney Hobart yacht race final run into Hobart. First lit in 1906, the 29m tower was 280m above sea level. It was made of cast-iron plates bolted together on a concrete plinth and keepers had to climb 125 metal steps nightly until the station was automated in 1977. The original light comprised huge glass prisms rotated on a bath of mercury. It was topped up from time to time because it evaporated, meaning that keepers inhaled it, which may have accounted for the occasional hallucinations recorded by the keepers.
07 BARRENJOEY, NSW
The iconic sandstone structure on Sydney’s northernmost headland at Palm Beach, may be home to Australia’s unluckiest lighthouse keepers. The first keeper, George Mulhall, took on the job in 1881 with his son, George Jr, as assistant keeper. Four years later, George was struck by lightning while collecting firewood. George Jr succeeded his dad, but a few years later, he was also struck by lightning. He survived, but tried to guard against further bad luck by wrapping himself in snakeskin PPE. A few years later, lightning struck the lighthouse cottage, incinerating George Jr’s brother Bill.
08 MAATSUYKER ISLAND, TAS
Australia’s most southerly lighthouse is 10km off the Tasmanian coast, smack bang in the path of the Roaring Forties winds that hammer across the Southern Ocean. The weather is shit — the island has an average 250 rain days each year and a constant gale blows, with winds averaging up to 60 knots. As with most isolated lighthouses, its keepers often had to give a hand during shipwrecks. In 1907, they cared for survivors of the wrecked Swedish barque Alfhild until the supply ship arrived. News of the wreck was sent to.
TWO SPOOKY LIGHTHOUSES
01 EILEAN MOR
The Flannan Isles are 20 miles west of the Outer Hebrides and are surrounded by strong tides, heavy swells and hazardous rocks. Their only permanent structures are a stone chapel and the Flannan Isles lighthouse on the largest island of Eilean Mòr, which became operational in December 1899. The lighthouse is notorious for the unexplained disappearance of its three full-time lighthouse keepers — Thomas Marshall, James Ducat and Donald MacArthur — a year later. A passing steamer had noted the light was unlit and when a relief vessel was sent to the island, they found unmade beds and half-eaten meals in time-honoured Mary Celeste fashion. No trace of the three men was ever found and theories around their disappearance ranged from the trio being washed away in a storm to supernatural goings on, murder/suicide, or abduction by spies or giant seabirds. The mysterious disappearance inspired the movie The Vanishing. Subsequent keepers reported hearing distant calls for help on the wind during stormy weather.
02 PENFIELD REEF LIGHTHOUSE, CONNECTICUT
The Penfield Reef lighthouse in Fairfield, Connecticut, was built in 1874 in an attempt to stop ships regularly hitting the rocks in Long Island Sound during fog. Now derelict, it is said to be haunted by lighthouse keeper Frederick Jordan who drowned in 1916 when his boat capsized near the lighthouse. Two weeks later, his assistant, Rudolph Iten, reckoned he was back at work. In his log, Iten said the light was “behaving strangely” and he watched the ghost glide down the 11m tower’s stairs before disappearing. He then found the keeper’s log opened to the page that documented Jordan’s death. In 1942, two boys were rescued after their boat capsized near the lighthouse and later identified Jordan as their rescuer.
EVER CONSIDERED LIFE IN A LIGHTHOUSE?
At Green Cape Lighthouse in Twofold Bay, the southernmost lighthouse in New South Wales, you can stay in the old lighthouse headquarters. The buildings are a symbol of colonial endeavour, with three restored cottages featuring nautical decor. Then there’s the lighthouse itself. First lit up in 1883, it’s 29m tall, made of concrete and open for tours. The accommodation features a dining and lounge rooms, and each cottage boasts a spectacular view of the migrating whales during the season. There’s a shared kitchen, but you’ll have to bring your own food — or maybe catch your own? Salty explorers can explore the rocky ledges for crayfish and the platforms are renowned land-based game-fishing spots. There are also plenty of good walks, including the Light to Light walk from Green Cape to the historic Boyd’s Tower. Expect a visit from the local wombats in the evening to check everything’s OK.
More information at: www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
LIGHT (HOUSE) ENTERTAINMENT
01 THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019)
Two lighthouse keepers try to maintain their sanity while living on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.
02 THE VANISHING (2018)
Three lighthouse keepers on the remote Flannan Isles find a hidden trunk of gold, leading to their mysterious disappearance.
03 SOUTH SOLITARY (2010)
Meredith is a 35-year-old unmarried woman who arrives at a remote lighthouse island with her uncle, the new head keeper.
04 COLD SKIN (2018)
A young man arrives at a remote island to take a post of weather observer only to find himself defending the watchtower from deadly creatures which live on the island shores.
05 LIGHTHOUSE (1999)
Survivors of a sunken prison ship take refuge at an old lighthouse, unaware that one of the ship’s most notorious inmates has also taken shelter there.