Historic Town Walk is a thing of the past
You can still walk the streets of Lyttelton and pass the sites I had described in the tip below - but instead of the beautiful historic buildings you will find mostly empty sites. Nearly all big old buildings have been demolished in the meantime. One exception: at the site of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Winchester Street you will find an old wooden church which had been sitting at this site many, many decades ago. It has been relocated from a schoolground in Christchurch back to Lyttelton to give the township a new-old church to cherish.
If you walk around a big block and then walked down to the harbour and up to the Timeball Station you have seen most of Lyttelton's historic buildings of significance. The plus is that in those streets I suggest you also see a lot of historic cottages of the first settlers. Most are in marvellous condition and add much colour to streets of the mostly greyish stone buildings.
You start your walk at the start of London Street, at the pharmacy, walk down towards the supermarket, past old stone buildings of the 1900s.
Cross Canterbury St after the Volcano Café and turn right at the next street. Walk up Dublin St and turn the next right (Winchester St). From there you have nice harbour views. On both sides of the street are three beautiful old churches, the Union Parish Church, The Holy Trinity Anglican Church and St. Joseph's Catholic Church.
When you reach Oxford Street you spot a sign on the footpath downhill with information about the Lyttelton Gaol which does not exist anymore. It once was on the other side of the street, and although there is nothing to see of it anymore, the area is worth a short visit. Past the graffity sprayed walls of the skateboard park and a staircase uphill you find a clock tower and rose garden from where you have fine views over the whole harbour.
Back down on Oxford Street walk down towards the harbour. There are some big historic stone buildings, and when you turn left into Norwich Quay at the colourful British Hotel you come to the former building of the Lyttelton Times which is a café now, and to the Lyttelton Museum. On the opposite side of the street is the historic signal box.
Without a visit to the museum the tour should not take you much longer than one hour.
Add extra time for the walk to the Timeball Station up the hill from Oxford Street.
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
No more time-check at the Timeball Station
Update April 2011 - Update 2013
Unfortunately the Timeball Station that had just been renovated was terribly damaged in the 22 February 2011 earthquake and even worse in June 2011. So instead of being dismantled and restored at some point, the beautiful mini-castle-like building was demolished. However, efforts are being made to fund the construction of a lookalike new Timeball Station at the same site. But don't expect any miracles anytime soon. Even the smallest earthquake repairs are taking forever.
In pre-radio times it was essential to have visual signals for communication between ships and ports. For this reason we have the wonderfully restored Timeball Station which has become Lyttelton's landmark building with its castle-like shape and the big flag pole some metres beside, both sitting dramatically over the harbour on a cliff. Plus, it is one of the few timeball stations worldwide which are still in working order, and the only one that has survived in NZ.
Daily from 1876-1934, the dropping of the Lyttelton timeball signalled Greenwich time to shipping in the harbour. This enabled navigators to check their chronometers and so calculate accurately their position of longitude once back at sea.
The machinery and the astronomical clock are from Britain, the timeball comes from Germany, from the famous Siemens Brothers. The building was designed by a Canterbury architect named Thomas Cane - and my husband's father was involved in the restoration in the 1970s :-) It was built in local scoria and quoins of white Oamaru stone - and was obviously one of the first infamous NZ leaking homes ;-) They were busy adding parts over many years and putting concrete on the walls to make the station weather-proof.
From the end of World War I the signal was dropped less frequently as radio communications were increasing. On 31 dec 1934 the service stopped. The Timeball Station was used for other purposes. In 1969 it was leased to the Lyttelton Maritime Association which started to restore it. In 1978 the station reopened.
The timeball is dropped at 1pm on days when the station is open.
The flags, which predated the Timeball Station, were used on the flagstaff nearby to signal to ships and to communicate shipping advice to the town. Today they are on the pole on special occasions to welcome visitors.
1 Nov-30 Apr: daily 10am - 5.30pm
1 May - 31 Oct: Wed-Sun 10am-5.30pm
Closed Christmas Day and Good Friday
Admission (as Feb. 2007) $7, children/students $2, families $15.
- Historical Travel
The lost beauty of the Harbour Lights
The Harbour Lights Theatre has been one of the historic buildings that have been demolished soon after the February 2011 earthquake. All you can see there right now is an empty space :-(
Although it sits intriguingly on busy London Street you cannot just visit or have a coffee at the Harbour Light Theatre - although it is a licensed venue. It hosts entertainment evenings, and it is only open on such evenings. (And you can hire it for private functions, free of charge, if you use their services.)
The Harbour Light is housed in the impressive old Harbour Light Theatre building with two towers, built in 1916 and used as a cinema and live theatre until 1982. Since 1992 it operates as the described entertainment and function venue. Although transformed on the inside, it still reflects its past, displaying a filmstrip mural and memorabilia.
At the Harbour Light you can encounter acts of jazz, celtic music, rock, pop, acapella, choirs, country, alternative music, comedy, cabaret and theatre.
You can reserve a table by pre-ordering food for the evening. This guarantees you the tickets for the event automatically. Or the other way round: Reservations for tickets and seats are not available unless food is pre-ordered.
This BTW is very affordable, and nothing fancy either. They have platters (bread, antipasti, seafood etc.) and pizza for 1 to 3 persons to share, and none costs more than $30. Also starters and desserts available.
Check the programme on the Harbour Light website (What's on). By clicking the reservations button you get the menu.
Tickets are normally between $15 and 20. So really not an expensive evening.
- Theater Travel
The oldest house is back to its former glory
Update 2010 - updated in January 2012
I am very pleased to announce that the region's oldest non-prefabricated workers cottage - named Grubb Cottage - is back to its former glory. It had been fenced off for ages, with no work happening for four years. Finally this year renovation started in May 2010 - and now it is standing there proudly with a fresh coat of paint, the chimney held together by metal reinforcement - while a lot of chimneys in Lyttelton had to be demolished after suffering damage in the earthquakes that have rocked the region after the magnitude 7.1 earthquake on September 4.
The building is being turned into a museum. It will be run by the Grubb Cottage Trust. The City Council passed ownership to the trust (chairman Sam Strati) in early October 2010. The plan is to open the property to the public in 2012.
On the second photo you can see Grubb Cottage before the restoration.
My updated reviews since 2007:
Grubb Cottage on London Street is the oldest surviving non-prefabricated workers cottage in Lyttelton and Christchurch, dating from March 1851.
Although the city council has purchased the cottage a year ago or so (now is Feb. 2007) nothing has been done yet to restore it. The only thing that has changed since the purchase is that a fence has been erected along the street, so vandals have no access and cannot do more damage to the derelict cottage. It is registered by the NZ Historic Places Trust as a category 2 historic building, so we wait and see when and if ever it regains its original charm.
Grubb Cottage was the home of an early settler named John Grubb who arrived in Lyttelton on the Charlotte Jane in 1850. It was originally a two-room home, later additions have been made.
Update June 2008
The City Council has allocated $ 250,000 for the restoration of Grubb Cottage. So at some point the works should start, and the cottage should look great again. There is discussion about converting the additions into an information centre - but obviously there is no water and no power supply to the cottage, so major works would be required.
Update May 2009
Just to let you know - not that you think I have forgotten to update you about the process of restoration of Grubb Cottage... Not a lot has changed since my last update. Just the windows have been secured by wooden panels, and the chimney wrapped in foil. Ah well, and an info panel has been placed inside the fence, so now you can read what they are planning to do, whenever, and also about the history of Grubb Cottage.
- Historical Travel
Update: Timeball Station Reopened after Vandalism
Update on 1 May 2007
Just as renovation works were going to be finished the Timeball Station has been hit by vandals in mid April. Stone walls in the so called Wedding Garden were dismantled, an at least 60 year old cabbage tree was broken in half and a sign stolen from the grounds.
Apart from that the exterior of the building had been largely completed. The kitchen has been rebuilt.
They are planning to introduce a new modern information system for visitors when reopening.
Update on 13 July 2007
Still no change, now works and scaffolding at the flagpole.
Update 12 January 2008: Timeball Station Reopened
Finally the Timeball Station has been reopened in December. It has really taken a long time to fix it. Open daily from 10am to 5pm.
Update Oct 2010: Earthquake damage
The Timeball Station, just refurbished, has suffered damage in the magnitude 7.1 earthquake centred west of Christchurch and a 5.0 aftershock centred near Lyttelton. As other damaged buildings it is not accessible for the public.
Update April 2011: More earthquake damage
See tip above. The Timeball Station is going to be dismantled resp. deconstructed.
- Historical Travel
Lyttelton Art Gallery
This is a nice little gallery on Oxford Street, dwarfed by a hige historic stone building right beside.
Paintings, sculptures, jewellery, prints, drawings, watercolours, photographs and ceramic worksfeature in the gallery, often with Lyttelton scenes. Sometimes they have special exhibitions like the annual summer exhibition from mid February to mid March.
Open Wed- Sun from 10.30am until 5.30pm.
Update 8 August 2008
I have just read that the Lyttelton Visitor Centre will reopen soon at 20 Oxford Street - which is where the Art Gallery is. The Visitor Centre had been there before but due to insufficient funding it was closed. In the past two years it had been operated by the owners of Anchor Fine Arts in their shop in London Street. The Art Gallery will probably remain on site as they write that the works of local arts and crafts people should feature there on a monthly rotation.
Update 18 May 2009
Yes, the Visitor Centre is at 20 Oxford Street in the meantime. Still I recommend to make bookings for harbour cruises directly at the Blackcat Office on Norwich Quay - which is the street right along the waterfront. From the Visitor Centre you would walk straight down the hill, the next street is Norwich Quay. Cross the street and walk to the right. The office comes after about 50 metres.
- Arts and Culture
Timeball Station has been build 1876. a Ball dropped from its mast to the stone tower, signalling the time for the ships in Lyttelton Harbour. this Timebal is one of the few of its kind in the world, only 5 are still in working order.
the ball itself is held in the Canterburry colours..red and black.
and wouldn't you know it, the timeball apparatus came from the German firm Siemens.the astronomical glock from Dent in London, work and business does not know nationalities!!
for more details have a look at the webpage below
- Historical Travel
- Road Trip
Enjoy the Café Scene in London Street
London Street - the first parallel street uphill from the road along the harbour (Norwich Quay) - is Lyttelton's main street with an incredible lot of cafés, restaurants, pubs, bars, fish'n'chips shops, fashion, gift and book shops, pharmacy/post shop, general store, bottle store, library, hairdresser and a hotel. Also the Tunnel Vision Backpackers is there. And this is not all yet.
The street is not really long, and all the action I just mentioned is within a stretch of 200 metres between Oxford and Canterbury Streets.
You can spend the whole day there, falling from one café into the next.
Unfortunately one of the most unique places has closed down in 2006: the Rat & Roach. This was an old style pub with great and cheap bar meals, including the famous Rat & Roach Burger, a burger you have never ever seen. When tourists were served this giant burger the size of a double height carrot cake, they were speechless in the first moment and took a photo in the next before starting the fight with the food. The black and white posters and photos on the walls told the story of Lyttelton, and you could meet or just watch the most unique characters and strange figures, it was really a sociological study of working people. I loved it! Now Freeman's, a rather bland looking restaurant with Italian food, is in the building, and all the character and history is gone. The burger is now served in the Mitre Tavern.
Update 23 August 2008
I had to update this tip because this week the supermarket (SuperValue) went into receivership and was closed from one second to the other this week, without warning. This is quite a blow for the community as now you have to go to Christchurch for grocery shopping. However, there are two dairies, a delicatessen and an organic produce shop where you can get some basics you might urgently need for cooking.
Update 18 May 2009
Not long, and we will have a supermarket again. They are working on the premises of the former supermarket. It will become a Four Square Supermarket.
Update October 2010
The supermarket had just opened when the 7.1 magnitude earthquake and a 5.0 aftershock centred near Lyttelton rattled the region. The supermarket had to be closed for a big clean-up but has reopened in the meantime.
- Beer Tasting
- Historical Travel
on the Road
on the Road around the Hills into Lyttelton Harbour, with stunning views over the natural layout of the Port and the surrounding Hills, you'll encounter.....
the Pride of Madeira ECHIUM CANDICANS...... this beautiful blue shrub grows quite happily here, high above the cliffs.click on the pic, I think its beautiful!! and please visit my Friend Goncalo's HP, link below.
- Water Sports
- Road Trip
An amazing Mural of the Pioneer Days
I have just asked my husband where he thought this mural is. He suggested: "The Berlin wall?"
No, not really...
It is about 200 or 300 metres from our house in Lyttelton, in a bend of Bridle Path Road, just some steps from the end of London Street.
I think it is a beautiful reminder of how the first Europeans settled in Lyttelton and Christchurch. The mural shows pioneer women and men in their traditional clothes, packed with their belongings, probably passing exactly the spot where this mural is now, on their way to Bridle Path. This was the only access over the Port Hills to the swampy place where they would found Christchurch and settle.
If you sometimes meet totally unfit people in sports gear and proper hiking boots on Bridle Path and see them struggle to get up to the top you wonder which training those pioneer women had to walk this track in their long skirts and surely a lot less comfortable shoes, and all the luggage. They can only be admired.
- Arts and Culture
St. Joseph's Catholic Church
This church was opened on 14 July 1865. Like St. John's it was built from locally quarried stone.
Obviously the people were very relieved to see this nice church as its architect Benjamin Mountford had lead a disastrous project before: He had designed the first Anglican Church in 1851, being constructed of green timber, but this shrunk so much, rendering the building so dangerous that it had to be demolished. After the success with St. Joseph's he became one of New Zealand's most acclaimed architect of neo-gothic buildings he designed in Canterbury.
St Joseph’s Church initially served all of Lyttelton and Christchurch. Although it is not huge it was considered luxurious in those days as before the Catholic populastion had held mass in private homes. From 1869 the church also housed the Catholic school which was built in 1878 to the left of the church. Right to the church which you reach after walking up a stone staircase, is a school sportsground.
In 1921 a brick school-room was built behind the church. This was replaced in 1983 by the present school. The church was extended in 1941 and the interior altered in the 1960s.
- Historical Travel
Walk up the historical Bridle Path
This is the walk to do in Lyttelton. Although it is not really long it is rather strenuous because the climb is steep.
Once I met people who walked in historic costumes, and some of those guys were absolutely unfit and had to rest every some metres. It must have taken them ages to reach the Summit Road. This little encounter has even filled me with more respect for the early settlers who arrived on the first four ships in 1850, as they did not only walk like you and me, in suitable tramping or jogging shoes, but the women in their long skirts, carrying heavy bags and their kids to the other side of the Port Hills.
You can start your walk right from the port but Bridle Path starts high above Lyttelton, and then leads up to the Summit Road where a memorial reminds of the Pioneer Women. From there you can either walk back to Lyttelton or down to Christchurch (Heathcote) and catch a bus back to Lyttelton through the tunnel or to the city centre. On the Christchurch side Bridle Path ends next to the base station of the Gondola. If you cross the fence beside the Pioneer Women's Memorial you can walk up to the summit station of the Gondola in another 20 minutes. The walk from the port to the Summit Road might take you 30 to 45 minutes.
The views over the harbour and towards Banks Peninsula are breathtaking from any spot of Bridle Path. There are several seats made of stone on the way up, and also at the top lookouts, which carry the names of the first four ships (Randolph, Charlotte Jane, George Seymore and Cressy).
Directions to the start of Bridle Path:
Leave the main shopping and restaurant area of London St (main street) behind you and walk straight ahead (direction towards the tunnel). When London St makes a big bend to the right it continues as Hawkhurst Road. This leads rather steeply uphill for about 500 metres. Turn left into Ticehurst Terrace. Carry on straight ahead on this flat road until you see Bridle Path signposted to the right. The road leads steeply uphill. At the last house the surface turns into gravel, and at the stone seat on the right side (map of Lyttelton on display) is the official start of Bridle Path. It winds up the hill and offers great views.
Photo 2 shows the view from the Pioneer Women's Memorial to the other side of the Port Hills.
On photos 3 to 5 you have the ever changing fantastic views of Lyttelton Harbour.
- Hiking and Walking
Coastal Walk to Magazine, Corsair and Cass Bays
This is a nice little walk along the harbour basin, so it is mostly flat and comfortable. It leads you to places of historical interest and natural beauty, including two small swimming beaches.
Start your walk on Norwich Quay, which is the bus route road along the harbour. It continues as Simeon Quay. Carry on, the road goes slightly uphill and turn the second to the left, this is the signposted road to Governors Bay. You walk along old cottages and soon come to a gate on your left. The path leads you down to Magazine Bay.
There you find the Thornycroft Torpedo Boat Museum which is housed in the historic powder magazine building from 1874. It has short opening hours (Tue, Thu, Sat, Sun 1pm-3pm in summer; only Sat, Sun 1pm-3pm in winter, admission $2, as Feb. 2007), so you might miss out. But do not expect too much, only some reconstructed parts of the torpedo boat, the bow and the stern, are displayed. You can see a scale model of the boat, and photos, and if you want, a film.
I quite like the building itself which sits right on the beach, only two metres above the sea.
Above the museum are deserted gun emplacements.
Further along the harbour you have nice views over the water to Banks Peninsula, the Port Hills and Quail Island. The next two bays are for swimming, Corsair Bay and Cass Bay. They have changing facilities and toilets. They can also be reached by car.
Photo 2 shows one of the gun emplacements.
Photo 3 shows the Thornycroft Torpedo Boat Museum.
Photo 4 is a great shot of the Lyttelton Marina, with a view to Diamond Harbour.
Photo 5 is an impression on the way to Cass Bay.
- Historical Travel
- Hiking and Walking
On the traces of the early settlers in Lyttelton
If you see the little township of Lyttelton, its colourful houses dotted on the rocky hillside of an extinct volcano, on the shores of a spectacular natural harbour which is a seawater filled former crater lake, you would not think that this place was once bigger than Christchurch. The first four ships (Charlotte Jane, Randolph, Cressy and Sir George Seymore) with 800 English settlers landed here between 16 and 27 December 1850.
Many immigrants walked over the Port Hills on Bridle Path (see: Walks in the Port Hills) to a then swampy place where they founded Christchurch. Heavy goods were transported by boat around the Sumner Estuary up the Avon River.
Today you can see many restored and extended cottages of the early days. Other buildings of historic interest are the Holy Trinity Church, Canterbury's oldest stone church, and the Timeball Station in Reserve Terrace, which is one of the few still working timeball stations worldwide. It looks a little bit like a castle tower. (Visits daily Nov. - March, and Wed. - Sun. from April to Oct.)
The Lyttelton Museum on Norwich Quay hosts old household items as well as nautical and Antarctic items. The big expeditions to the Antarctic start in Lyttelton's port. There are also remains of the old prison (gaol), and two old cemeteries.
The big attractions today are the Harbour Cruises where you can see Hector Dolphins (see extra Things to do tip). For its just over 3000 inhabitants Lyttelton boasts with an incredible lot of nice cafés and restaurants, shops, two banks and a supermarket. There are not a lot of the dark and scary sailors' pubs left. The views over the turquoise blue waters of the harbour to Banks Peninsula are breathtaking.
Lyttelton was formerly called Port Cooper and Port Victoria. It was named after George William Lyttelton of the Canterbury Association, which had led the colonisation of the area. Some travel guides suggest the name comes from "little tin town" or "little town" - this is absolute rubbish.
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel
Discover the hidden Passage-ways
If you are not used to driving narrow streets with sharp curves, Lyttelton's hillside areas can make you sweat ;-) Apart from the fact that you can get hopelessly lost because the streets take strange turns and lead to unexpected areas, even I think they are better to walk.
Those narrow streets are linked by even much narrower passage-ways, especially the streets on the sunny side of Lyttelton, as the area around the Timeball Station is called because they get the evening sun.
As I recommend to walk up to the Timeball Station, discover some of the passage-ways on the way back. You do not only have great views over the harbour but also get an insight into Lyttelton's lifestyle and backyards ;-)