South Solitary Island Lighthouse celebrates an important milestone

South Solitary Island is located offshore from Coffs Harbour and is home to one of only two island lighthouses in the state. It’s an incredible and remote location that if you’re lucky enough to visit, presents a unique north coast experience.

2020 marks an important milestone for the lighthouse – it’s 140th year.

FOSSIL - LIghthouse opening day
Opening Day in 1880

This month, you can find out more about the history of the island, the buildings (which are considered some of the oldest in the region) and the families who lived there at an exhibition at Coffs Central Shopping Centre. Please note though that the exhibition has a limited run through March only.

Getting to the South Solitary Island Lighthouse

The light station has been automated for almost 50 years and the on-site quarters long abandoned as residences but there are ways to experience this unusual destination for yourself. Helicopter Tours are scheduled across two weekends in August or you can become a FOSSIL!

South Solitary Island Lighthouse celebrates an important milestone
Aerial view of South Solitary Island courtesy of Precision Helicopters

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Becoming a FOSSIL

FOSSIL is the name given to the Friends of the South Solitary Island Lighthouse. This group is comprised of volunteers who head to the island for working bees across the year to assist with building maintenance and restoration. We chatted to one local FOSSIL, Paul van den Boom.

Q: Paul, why were you keen to get involved with this group?  

I thought it was an opportunity not to be missed. The volunteers are a really interesting mix such as those who lived on the island prior to 1975 to people who love everything to do with lighthouses as well as those passionate about the history of the Coffs Harbour region.

Q: What are FOSSIL’s key objectives?

FOSSIL are dedicated to restoring the buildings on the island and have them looking their best. National Parks do a stellar job in taking care of the island and AMSA are responsible for the lighthouse itself so it’s certainly a collaborative approach. The buildings had fallen by the wayside for a number of years so it’s great to be able to head over, stay on the island and all pitch in.  

Volunteering at the South Solitary Island Lighthouse by helping with restorations.
One of the FOSSIL volunteers busy with restoration work

Q: What is the feeling like on the island?

It’s so quiet. There is nothing out there – no traffic, no people (besides the volunteers). All you hear are the sounds of the ocean. It’s very serene.

As you would expect, South Solitary also delivers breathtaking views. It’s amazing to watch the sun setting over Coffs Harbour. The last working bee was a 6-day stay so we were able to appreciate this time and again. We all stay in the former keepers’ quarters.

Q: How do people volunteer or find out more about FOSSIL?

The best bet is to head to the website. Volunteers are certainly welcomed as it’s not always easy to find those who can spend a number of days on the island. I was glad to use my leave to do so for the most recent working bee but that’s not an option for everyone. 

Happinesss! A visitor jumping in the air at the South Solitary Island in front of the lighthouse.
A happy visitor to the island with the buildings and lighthouse bathed in a beautiful light behind

Read our previous article on island tours of South Solitary Island and find out more about the wonderful Solitary Islands Marine Park.