Mahia, Wairoa

Waikawa - Portland Island

This skinny streak of an island is only one kilometre from the edge of the Mahia peninsula but it can be a challenge to get there, depending on weather conditions. If you can get there, it is rumoured to be the perfect spot from which to observe Rocket Lab launches.

At only 700m wide, and 3.2km long, Waikawa or Portland Island measures 124 hectares. A good size for a farm, which is what it is right now, but it has been put to a number of other purposes both before and after the arrival of Captain Cook, who gave it this name on his 1769 mapping expedition. Archaeology has proved that Maori lived here up to 600 years ago, Captain Cook sailed around and mapped the island, not going ashore as warriors with spears stood and glared from the shore. Whether or not Cook knew at the time, an island of the same name and a similar size but different shape lies off British Columbia.

After the the first Pakeha arrivals indulged in the Whaling of the Southern Right Whale from here, the island was identified as a potential spot for a lighthouse, which was installed in 1878. A 'Blackett' lighthouse, it's success could be considered questionable as after it's installation four ships went down in rapid succession. Socially it could be considered a success as the various lighthouse keepers and assistants grew into a little settlement which required a school, and even a tennis court.

A popular assistant keeper was Nicola Sciascia but he was gored to death by a bull on Waikawa in 1898. It is said that there are over 2000 Sciascia descendants thanks to his fathering 11 children. His grave is on the island.

Now in the charge of DOC, some conservation efforts are centered here, as it was a rat free island for a time, but the results sound variable. It is otherwise a sheep farm run by a local Maori trust. Radio New Zealand explains the history of the island.

The lighthouse has now moved to a more sheltered spot on the Wairoa River, had all the paint removed to reveal a copper dome, and has become a symbol of the town.

Lighting the Coast: A History of New Zealand's Coastal Lighthouse System Lighthouse Family: Coastal New Zealand 1941-42 (My New Zealand Story)


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