Richard Hayes Digital

Nugget Point, Southland

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Discovering Nugget Point & Tokatā lighthouse, Southland, New Zealand

Tokatā lighthouse at Nugget Point, Southland reveals itself perched up high on steep cliffs – a simple, unassuming structure – but obviously tasked with the important job of protecting ships in this dangerous stretch of water. Built in 1869, standing 76m above sea level, it is still in operation today – albeit remotely.

Finding ourselves a little way out of Invercargill already, after watching a road cycling race, we took a chance late one afternoon and headed out to The Catlins – Nugget Point and Lighthouse to be exact. On a previous trip, we had ventured as far as Waipapa Point to see the lighthouse, the rugged coastline and sand dunes – even lucky enough to sea lions sunbathing on the beach.

We had hoped to venture further and see more of The Catlins but ran out of time on that trip, so hence our last-minute decision and dash to Nugget Point that afternoon. Not knowing if we would have another trip or opportunity, we headed off with blackening skies and heavy rain threatening the horizon.

We passed through a little village called Kaka Point, about 11km from Nugget Point, famous for its surfing, beaches, and of course, lighthouse. To our surprise, the sun shone as we reached the car park at Nugget Point. The slither of blue was now covering the whole sky. With the strong wind whipping up around us, though, we were more bothered about thick jackets and hats, but the reality was T-shirts and sunblock!

Hidden from view initially, Tokatā Lighthouse is perched up high – a simple, unassuming structure – but obviously tasked with protecting ships in this dangerous stretch of water. Built-in 1869, standing 76m above sea level, it is still operating today – albeit remotely – like many of us!

How lucky were we, the 5 o clock evening light was the perfect time to see ‘the nuggets’ as they are called, the various bits of eroded rock that stick up out of the water – so named by Captain Cook as they looked like pieces of gold. Even though we had the golden light, we couldn’t quite see what Captain Cook saw on that day but with views of the dramatic, rugged coastline and the surrounding blue, blue waters – you can’t help but not be impressed. This is nature at its rawness – if that is a word! The cliffs’ sheer rock face makes you hold onto the rail or take a step back particularly if you are peering over the edge – it’s quite a drop. We didn’t spy any fur seals or penguins that day as it wasn’t the right time of year but there was plenty of birdlife riding the blustery conditions. As the only ones there, standing on the viewing platform that evening, we felt like the only people alive standing at the very tip end of the world.

For us, it made us realise there is definitely gold out there to discover.

Nugget Point & Tokatā lighthouse Information

  • The famous rocks were named by Captain Cook because they looked like pieces of gold.
  • History – Nugget Point was considered a dangerous stretch of water particularly for small ships travelling to the Clutha River.
  • Tokatā is the Māori name for Nugget Point.
  • Tokatā Lighthouse was built in 1869 and stands 76 metres above sea level.
  • Nugget Point is approximately 10km along from Kaka Point (named after the Kaka parrot), at the northern end of the Catlins coast.
  • Viewing Platform and lighthouse is an easy 10 – 20 min return walk.
  • Distance – Nugget Point from Invercargill – 2 hours, from Balclutha – 30 minutes, from Dunedin 1.5 hours
  • The light began operating in July 1870, originally powered by oil, converted to diesel-generated electric power, and then later connected to mains electricity.
  • Nugget Point lighthouse’s last keeper finished in 1989 and the light is now monitored remotely from Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office.
  • The original light was replaced in 2006 with a LED beacon. It is now powered by mains electricity backed up by battery power.

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