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5 Seal Watching
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Just getting to Cape Palliser is dramatically scenic. As you near the destination the road follows the edge of the coast, providing unstoppable views of the Bay.
The climb to the Cape Palliser lighthouse will test your fitness. There are 250 steps to climb...counted them.
During the 19th century, there were about 20 ships wrecked in or near Palliser Bay, once at the top its easy to see why.
The fur seal colony here is the North Island's largest.
3.6 km after Pirinoa, turn left into Whangaimoana Road (signposted Ngawi and Cape Palliser). The road is later renamed Whatarangi Road and leads 37 km to Cape Palliser. The road is both sealed and unsealed and towards the cape is severely threatened by active erosion. There is a gravel parking area near the base of the steps to the lighthouse.
There are 258 steps to climb to reach the lighthouse. These replaced a steep slippery rocky path with a winch to the top, used during the times when the lighthouse was manned.
The drive to Cape Palliser involves witnessing the ferocious power of the ocean at close quarters. The fearsome swells sometimes struggle to make it to shore, hindered by the offshore winds that peel off plumes of spray. You could be forgiven for thinking the waves are on fire. Explosions of foam greet the arrival of waves on the offshore stacks and enormous breakers crash up the black shingle beaches and retreat in a chaotic maelstrom of white water. The sounds of the wind and foaming seas mingle in a raw orchestrated duet that sums up this stretch of coast.
The North Island’s only colony of breeding fur seals are resident at Cape Palliser. They sunbathe and rest on the rocks between feeding at sea. Keep landward side of the seals and keep dogs under control.
Seals are known as pinnipeds (wing footed) because of their webbed flippers (replacing paws or feet). Streamlined bodies and blubber keep them warm, while their ears and nose flaps close when diving. They feed on squid, octopus and hoki.
The Cape was named by Captain Cook after his mentor Rear Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser. Cook’s entry into his journal reads “..the land ends in appoint and is the southernmost land of Aeheinomouwe which I have named Cape Palliser in honour of my friend Captain Palliser…”
The 18-metre lighthouse tower was established in 1897, following the recommendation of the Shipmaster’s Association, who thought there a dire need for such a facility. At that time there were 12 other marine lights in New Zealand. The materials for construction, including the cast iron sections (later bolted together) were brought ashore by lighthouse tenders (not an easy task given the ferocity of the swells). A solid concrete pad was laid, then the other materials winched up a tramway to the top.
Colza oil (extracted from rape seed) originally powered the light until 1900 when paraffin was used. In 1954 it was converted from oil to diesel generated electricity and then in 1967 converted to mains electricity. The light is 78 metres above sea level, flashes twice every 20 seconds and can be seen for 26 nautical miles (48 km). The 1000 Watt lamp is automated, and controlled and monitored by a computer in Wellington.
Children of early lighthouse keepers were educated by correspondence and lived at the lighthouse for 11 months of the year. They baked their own bread and ate a lot of fish. Keeper’s families had a strict code of behaviour, a response by authorities to the episodes of drunkenness exhibited by some employees to pass the time in lonely exposed places.
5km before the Cape Palliser is the small fishing settlement of Ngawi. You can stop and look at the line of fishing craft above the beach. Tractors aren’t sufficient in these parts, so bulldozers in all manner of shapes, colour and states of disrepair are needed to heave the boats up the steeply shelving black shingle beaches.
North Island ▷ Wairarapa ▷ Ngawi
Showing 13 reviews of 43.
I was there for the sunrise and even if I couldn't see the sun appear from the sea horizon, that was a great show. I was alone to watch the top of the waves illuminated by the orange sun.
I edited a short video about the beauty I saw.
30Sept18. The lighthouse is good. How many steps! A lot and steep and it was very windy when we were there. The gravel road is actually quite good. We made the mistake of walking about 3kms to get there. On the plus side we did see a lot of seals.
Long drive out but beautiful coastal drive. Lighthouse was pretty and the fur seals are great fun to watch!
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Driving the last bit of Cape Palliser Road there are plenty of opportunity to see seals! Lovely animals not afraid of us and beautiful landscapes as well.
See a huge seal colony at Cape Palliser, it is just amazing to watch the bulls, the cows and their babies! A nice lighthouse, amazing rock formations, nice beaches and lovely nature!
Really beautiful landscape, still wild. Lots of seals. You can also find some Paua on the rocks!
A cool place to go see if you are a tourist.
Absolutely lovely place. The coast is wonderful. The view from the lighthouse is stunning. There are 248 stairs that lead to the lighthouse. Unfortunately no seals whatsoever at this time of year (December).
A lot of nice walks and an awesome scenery. Nice view and seals are next to the road.
Nice to be that near to seals!
We have never seen seals in the wild, lots of small seals, they play together.
Lots of small seals, really nice and cute.
This place is very beautiful and there is a colony of seals which was very amazing.
Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍