Despite their practical navigational purpose and grim role keeping boats off dangerous rocks, lighthouses are legendary towers that inspire and capture imaginations. After the first lighthouse was built on the southern headland of Sydney Harbor in 1816, tall and elegant towers quickly spread to the rocky headlands of New South Wales and right around Australia’s lengthy coastline.
All of these lighthouses have now been automated or even replaced with modern lights, but the light stations have found a new purpose welcoming tourists and visitors. And with their stunning locations, historical significance and the remote conditions endured by lighthouse keepers, it’s easy to see why many lighthouses have become muses for artists and authors.
Although it is becoming increasingly possible to visit and even stay at many light stations, boaties have the unique advantage of being able to experience these beauties from the water. Sailing by during the day can offer a great vantage point, but it’s the sweeping beams of reassuring light during the night that are truly special for passing sailors. Boat owners also have the ability to access a few of these gems that would otherwise be difficult, expensive or near impossible to visit.
Here are five lighthouses on the Queensland coast that all boaties should add to their passage plans.Lady Elliot Island Light
Lady Elliot Island is a small coral cay that sits at the very bottom of the Great Barrier Reef, just north of Fraser Island. The elegant white lighthouse was built of timber and iron in 1873 and rises above the short scrub, clearly visible from every approach. There is no sheltered anchorage at Lady Elliot, but it is possible to anchor in the lee of the island in calm weather. The lagoon at nearby Lady Musgrave Island provides a far more secure anchorage, so I’d suggest moving on there for the night after visiting the Lady Elliot light.Bustard Head Light
Located at the entrance of the popular Pancake Creek anchorage just south of Gladstone, visiting boaties can easily make the trek along the 4WD track out the headland and up to Bustard Head Lighthouse. One of the keepers’ cottages now acts as a museum and the small cemetery is a grim reminder of the harsh and lonely lives endured by early lighthouse keepers.Cape Capricorn Lighthouse
The current Cape Capricorn Lighthouse was built in 1964 to replace an older structure. Due to the significant elevation of the headland, this isn’t a particularly tall lighthouse but the tower and surrounding keepers’ cottages are perched dramatically on top of the headland. Boaties can anchor in the sheltered bay on the western side of the headland but will find a much more comfortable overnight anchorage in the nearby Yellow Patch anchorage. The track leading the lighthouse is clearly visible, and although the walk is steep you won’t be complaining when you get there.Cape Cleveland Light
Just east of Magnetic Island, the need for a lighthouse arose as Townsville became a busy shipping port in the 1860s. Like the Lady Elliot Island Light, the Cape Cleveland Light was built from timber and iron in 1879. In favourable conditions, boaties can anchor in the protection of Cape Cleveland and make the climb up the light station.Low Isles Light
Just north of Cairns and off the coast from Port Douglas, the Low Isles consist of both a low mangrove-covered island and the picturesque coral cay that hosts the lighthouse. Another timber and iron construction built in 1878, the lighthouse shares the small island with a keeper’s cottage. There are tours that take tourists out to the island, but in between these you’ll mostly have the island and the lighthouse to yourself. Boaties can anchor in the protection of the reef and take advantage of the public moorings provided.
I’d love to hear about lighthouses that boaties can visit in other parts of Australia – Jump on the Deckee forums and share your lighthouse story with us!