Port Elizabeth

About Bird Island Lighthouse

A lighthouse stands on the largest of a group of islands and rocky formations roughly 58 kilometres north-east of Port Elizabeth. It is known as Bird Island due to the largest population of Cape gannets in the world, and a fair number of penguins (seals live on the largest reef in the group of islands, known as Black Rock).

Drastic overexploitation of the incredible sea life around these islands, which used to see seals, whales, penguins and shellfish in huge numbers, led to a ruthless reduction in sea life. But today they are a declared bird sanctuary and a marine protected area. No-one, other than the lighthouse keeper, is allowed within 25 sq. miles of the Bird Islands without a permit.

Initially a wooden pyramid shaped lighthouse was erected in 1852 on the south side of the island. To give you an idea of how remote the lighthouse is, the original lighthouse keeper, W Newton, spent a number of years begging authorities to send him regular supplies, and a water tank – he collected rain water at first and had to send his wife to the mainland as there wasn't enough for them to survive.

Communication improved a little after 1906, depending on whether or not the messenger felt like flying the distance over water, when carrier pigeons took messages to the Port Elizabeth lighthouse, called The Hill, on the Donkin Reserve.

Work on a stone lighthouse began in 1872. The lighthouse has now been fully automated, after a good many years of discomfort and inconvenience experienced by lightkeepers and their families on this remote island. The last permanent lightkeeper left Bird Island in 1968. A helicopter now visits the island every few weeks taking technical staff across for maintenance.

Need to Know

Where7km off the coast of Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa

How muchFree

OvernightThe closest town is Port Elizabeth, in Eastern Cape

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