The Macquarie Lighthouse has been guarding the entrance to Sydney Harbour, gazing steadily eastward across the Pacific Ocean for nearly 200 years. Resting atop the rolling green cliffs of Vaucluse it is Australia’s oldest light station, with its first version being built by Governor Macquarie in 1816, and its beacon first set ablaze in 1818.

While modern GPS systems and satellite navigation have diminished the need for light towers considerably, the brilliant white circular tower is fully automated but still operational, blinking solemnly into the darkness from dusk until dawn each night.

Just like Gatsby’s green dock light glowing from across the bay – the Macquarie Lighthouse has been an image of hope and optimism for much of the city’s history, beckoning countless ships and sailors, trawlers and travellers through the passageway between the harbour’s heads. Its station on the cliffs is somewhat illusive as a true marker for entry into Port Jackson however – it rests nearly 2km south of the harbour gates, deceiving weary sea captains engulfed by stormy seas. The historic Dunbar passenger ship ferrying gold thirsty Englishmen from London to Sydney struck the cliffs several hundred metres north of the lighthouse one treacherous night in 1857 – only one passenger survived the infamous wreckage, which remains to be one of the country’s most devastating maritime disasters.

The original tower was designed by convict architect Francis Greenway, who is also responsible for a host of other iconic Sydney structures, those still standing include The Conservatorium of Music, the obelisk at Macquarie Place and the Hyde Park Barracks. Greenway’s soft sandstone tower started crumbling only a few years after it was completed, so a replacement version was built in 1881 just four metres to the right of the original. And this is the tower that still stands today – electricity was installed in 1933, and the lighthouse was unstaffed and completely automated by 1989.

Inside the lighthouse, original ornate Victorian encaustic tile flooring remains, as does the 19th century custom-made printed-steel spiral staircase that was imported from England. There are exactly 100 stairs to climb to reach the lantern room at the top, and as you climb, tower windows cut into the sandstone are peepholes to breathtaking snapshots of the city. At the top, the great lens piece has a still gaze fixed on the ocean, while its clear, divided pieces catch the sunlight. At night it makes two bright blinks for each scan of the horizon, throwing its light some 25 nautical miles out to sea.

While the grounds surrounding Macquarie Lighthouse are open to the public all year round as a part of the Vaucluse coastal cliff walk, and Sydney’s legendary 100km Great Coastal Walk, 20-minute guided historic tours of the lighthouse are run for one day every two months. Passionate volunteer guides will walk you through the tower and its history – as one of Sydney’s oldest monuments, that has watched over the city from its earliest beginnings.

The next tour day will be held on April 27 2014.
Tours will run from 10am - 4pm.
Bookings essential – call (02) 8969 2100

harbourtrust.gov.au