Cape Egmont, Parihaka, and Ernest Rutherford

Not far from Opunake, we’d heard from friends that the Cape Egmont Boat Club was a good place to stay (#4361 NZMCA directory), and headed there.

It can be a bit confusing seeing two lighthouses on the coast. I was, at least.

The original is found on Cape Road off SH45. It marks the western-most point of the Taranaki coast.

It was built in London, and the cast iron segments were shipped to New Zealand in 1865, and assembled on Mana Island near Wellington.

This location didn’t work though. Several shipping accidents occurred and it was thought that the new lighthouse at Mana was being confused with the one at Wellington Heads.

So a decision was made to move it. In 1881, the tower was dismantled and carried in sections to be re-assembled at Cape Egmont.

It’s still doing it’s job, but was automated in 1986, after being manned for over a hundred years.

As a kid, we went to Cape Egmont occasionally. Usually on a family Sunday drive with afternoon tea packed so that we could have a picnic.

Our mum was big on picnics. Regardless of the weather.

I remember one time going to Cape Egmont. It was blowing a gale. Straight off the Tasman Sea. Us kids wanted to stay in the car.

No way. We grew up picnicking in all weathers.

I didn’t know anything about Parihaka in those days. We weren’t taught any New Zealand history in school back then. And anyway, the events at Parihaka were kept hidden until recent times. A blight on the Crown.

I didn’t know that Cape Egmont lighthouse had a connection with Parihaka.

The story of Parihaka

During the turbulent times of the mid to late 1800s, just a few miles away from where the lighthouse stands, was the settlement of Parihaka, a non-violent Māori movement led by Te Whiti O Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi, which began in the mid 1860s.

Using passive, but effective resistance, the people of Parihaka managed to delay the erection of the lighthouse.

Their peaceful resistance to European settlement on land confiscated from Māori took the form of a ploughing campaign.

In 1879 the Government started surveying confiscated land near Parihaka. Their efforts were disrupted by Te Whiti’s followers ploughing and fencing land occupied by settlers. Many were arrested, held without trial, and sent to South Island prisons, but the protests continued.

In November 1881 the Government sent more than 1500 troops to invade Parihaka.

During the invasion, the 2000 Māori inhabitants of Parihaka put up no resistance. Instead they greeted the Armed Constabulary and Government Minister accompanying them, with food, and with songs.

Brutality and rape occurred with systematic wrecking of the settlement. Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested, and imprisoned without trial, accused of “wickedly, maliciously, and seditiously contriving and intending to disturb the peace.”

In spite of the absence of their leaders, ploughing campaigns continued, with more arrests without trial of protestors.

Te Whiti returned to a ruined Parihaka on his release in 1883.

Parihaka became a symbol for many Māori in response to the Government’s land confiscation, and food and other supplies from tribes throughout the country and as far away as the Chatham Islands, was gifted to Parihaka in support.

Learn more

In 2017, a Crown apology and reconciliation compensation package was made to Parihaka for enduring one of the most violent Crown invasions in New Zealand’s colonial history.

So the second lighthouse on the Cape, the one pictured above, is 2/3 the size of the original and just north of it on Bayleys Road, Warea. It’s part of the Cape Egmont Boat Club which also houses a museum. The 1850s Fresnil Prismatic light from the original lighthouse has been installed here in the light room after being fully restored.

This is where we are camping for the night. There’s a sizeable grassed area for self contained vehicles.

The beach is rocky and the boat ramp is long. There are a few stand up paddle boarders heading out into the surf.

Later, as the sun went down, Mt Taranaki and the Pouakai Range stood majestically bathed in the soft pink hues of the sky…

…while out at sea a fiery orange sky accompanied the sun on it’s journey over the horizon.

…and cast its glow on the lighthouse…

And then, the next morning just before the sun came up again, the stunning silhouette of Mt Taranaki welcomed a new day.

Staying here is courtesy of the boat club and there’s a locked box for donations ($10 per night suggested.) I believe the restaurant is open Friday and Saturday nights, and the food is reported to be excellent.

There’s another connection I’d like to make while we are here. Something else I didn’t know.

I learned of it while reading about the lighthouse. The museum tells of it too but it was closed when we were there.

Lord Ernest Rutherford, the New Zealand-born physicist, who came to be known as the father of nuclear physics, lived here with his family as a child.

He was one of a family of twelve, born near Nelson at Brightwater. Then the family moved north to live in Pungarehu on Lower Parihaka Rd when Ernest was a child.

His father, James Rutherford, set up Taranaki’s first flax mill, having successfully run several in the South Island, as well as sawmills.

Later, Ernest was sent to boarding school in Napier and helped out at home during the holidays. In 1895, at the age of 24, he received word of his scholarship to Cambridge University in England. The rest is history.

And those mountain views were the icing on the cake. We hadn’t seen much of him since we’d been in Taranaki.


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