When it comes to the waters surrounding Auckland, popular Waitemata Harbor tends to get all the attention. This is probably because it fronts the city and is lined with sailboats and yachts, but many visitors aren’t even aware that Auckland has a second harbor. Forming the city’s southern boundary, Manukau Harbor is the industrial cousin to flashy Waitemata.
While the cargo ships don’t have the same charm as ferries to wine covered islands, there are still places in Manukau Harbor with beauty its neighbor can’t match. One such spot is the Manukau Heads Lighthouse, a lonely outpost at the harbor entrance facing the Tasman Sea.
Originally constructed in 1874, the lighthouse is one of a handful in New Zealand where it’s still possible to scale the steps and stand in the lightkeeper’s den. Unfortunately, the lighthouse was erected a few years too late, as 11 years prior, in 1863, the HMS Orpheus ran aground on a nearby Manukau reef. In the end, 189 sailors drowned in the waters just off the lighthouse, and the event remains New Zealand’s largest maritime disaster.
Today, Manukau Heads looks much the same as it did in the 1800s, with rolling fields and pastureland abutting the mostly-calm waters. If you’re lucky, it’s sometimes possible to spot whales and dolphins swimming near the mouth of the harbor—with one species, the Maui Dolphin, being the rarest dolphin in the world. On clear days, the summit of snowcapped Mt. Taranaki can often be seen to the south, and the shiny, steel Auckland skyline floats on the northern horizon.
The Manukau Heads Lighthouse is open from 9am-5pm daily. It’s located approximately 63 miles from downtown Auckland, or 1 hour and 45 minutes by car. Be sure to pack food, water, and snacks, as there aren’t any shops or supplies, although there’s a small restroom by the parking lot at the base of the lighthouse steps.