Be Enchanted by Old Workers' Cottages
Actually Lyttelton is becoming a very fashionable place to be, not just come for a visit on the weekend and have coffee, but also to live here. Houses prices have risen sharply in the past three or four years. Everywhere you can see old workers' cottages being made up, many people just buying and renovating them and putting them back on the market to make the big money.
You are lucky if you have owned a house before the big boom. And many people have renovated the old wooden cottages and villas in a very sensitive way. As some of them are absolutely tiny they look like doll houses, and you wonder why people would want to live in such shoeboxes. Well, some people do not need big houses, and some houses are bigger than you might think. Some have extensions to the backyards which you do not see from the street.
We live in a strange mixture of house... The ground floor is an original cottage from the 1860s or 1880s. We discovered it on old paintings and photos. When another small cottage next door burnt down about 15 or 20 years ago, one of the previous owners bought the two properties, converted our house into a three-storey building and put the garage on the adjacent site. So you do not see from the outside that our house has such an historic core.
The cutest places, however, are also the coldest places as those old houses have no insulation. Most old houses still have the old-style heating which means: woodfires - which blow so much smoke and dirt into the air that you cannot open the windows for airing if the wind blows from the wrong direction...
- Historical Travel
Old Cemeteries tell about Hard Life of Pioneers
Lyttelton has two very obvious cemeteries at great spots on the hillsides which offer marvellous views over the harbour. If you wander along there between the rows you will spot a lot of headstones of the early days of European settlement, and on many you can still read the inscriptions very well. They tell of hardship and early child deaths, some families losing lots of children under four years of age, and I spotted one grave where a man and his two wives have been buried.
Both cemeteries are still used today, so there are very old and some newer sections.
In the early days the decicion on which cemeteries was going to be buried depended on the congregation they belonged to. The big cemetery above Canterbury Street (close to the Upham Clock Tower) was the Anglicans' cemetery (Holy Trinity Church) and the so called dissenters of St. John's and St. Joseph's buried their deads at the cemetery in Reserve Terrace.
- Historical Travel
Museum for Maritime, Antarctic and Household Items
The Museum is housed in the former George V Seafarer's Institute which was founded in 1911. It contains colonial household and maritime displays, including a gallery devoted to the relationship between Lyttelton and the Antarctic. Even if the museum is closed you can see some maritime items on display behind bars on the outside, like an anchor and a big bell.
Quite funnily many people walk to the Museum painting straight ahead on a wall. Most times a vintage car stands in front of it. But the entrance is next to the outdoor display area.
I would say the museum is worth a visit if you are interested in the maritime and Antarctic displays. You might have seen the household items in other museums already - I have such irons and a sewing machine from my grandmother ;-)
Tuesday - Thursday 2pm-4pm
Saturday & Sunday 2pm-4pm
At other times for group bookings by arrangement with Curator, Baden Norris, tel. (03) 328 8972
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- Museum Visits
Enjoy Views from Rose Garden and Upham Clock Tower
Of course, you get the best views of Lyttelton Harbour from the Summit Road, Bridle Path and the summits above Diamond Harbour on Banks Peninsula. But the rose garden around the Upham Memorial Clock Tower is a great place which offers nice views and you do not have to walk very far, and it really is just a short stroll from the town centre and a minute up a steep stone staircase.
The Town Clock is dedicated to Dr. Charles Hazlitt Upham (1863-1950), gratefully and lovingly named "The Little Doctor". He dedicated 52 years of his life to the community and was acclaimed as the most practical Christian in New Zealand. It was said "he will take nothing from the poor but will dispense his last blanket to keep them warm". His nephew Charles Upham, born in 1908, was New Zealand's most decorated soldier.
This nice place is located above the site of Lyttelton's former gaol.
- Historical Travel
The Gaol: A place to remember - not to see
If you come to Lyttelton with the romantic idea of visiting the early settlers' gaol and expect tiny rooms with sea-view like at Port Arthur in Tasmania you will be terribly disappointed. Absolutely nothing is left of the prison which once - from 1851 - accommodated more than 300 prisoners. It was demolished in 1922.
It must have been a rough place as this gaol accepted criminals from all over the South Island, including female offenders and so-called lunatics. Sometimes it was called Reston's Hotel, referring to the chief-gaoler James Reston. The prisoners in those times had to work hard, for example quarrying stone for building retaining walls. One of the most famous prisoners whose name you will definitely come across on visiting New Zealand was James Mackenzie after whom the Mackenzie Country, the area around Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki, was named. He was a legendary sheep thief and often escaped from prison. What makes him even more legendary is that there is no record about his arriving in the country nor of his leaving. Some of his last traces are from the Lyttelton gaol. Although his fate is uncertain he was luckier than seven murderers who were hanged between 1868 and 1918.
The only thing which reminds of the gaol today is an information sign-post at the corner of Winchester and Oxford Streets. The area on the other side of Oxford Street was the site of the prison. Today it is the playground of a school, and the public swimming pool is to the left. You can walk across the ground, towards a striking colourful wall of the skateboard park, and further up a staircase to the Town Clock and Rose Garden from where you have a lovely view over the harbour.
- Historical Travel
St. John's Presbyterian/Union Parish Church
This nice little stone church, designed by architect Samuel Farr, was built in 1864 and opened on 1 January 1865. It was home to a very Scottish congregation. It was quite something at this time that just two hundred metres away, on the same side of Winchester Street, the Catholics had their church, St. Joseph's, of mainly Franco-Irish origins.
Both churches have been built from locally quarried stone, taken from Sumner Road and Governors Bay. St. John's has a tall shingled spire. In the early days it was used as a primary school during the week and for worship on the weekends.
In the meantime the Presbyterians of St. John's and the Wesleyan Methodists have joined together to form the Union Church.
Mass is on Sunday morning at 10am.
- Historical Travel
Holy Trinity Anglican Church
The Anglicans had a bad start in Lyttelton as their first church, designed by architect Benjamin Mountford, had to be demolished because the green timber shrank so much that the building became a hazard.
The second attempt, finished in 1860, lead to a stunningly beautiful result that can be seen today. It is built of rather colourful grey to reddish volcanic rock, a little white wooden bell spire sitting on top of the roof, giving it a fragrant and joyful aspect.
The church sits in a nice garden, offering views of Lyttelton Harbour. It is only open for group visits (contact Andrea King, tel. 03-328 8838), or just go to the mass on Sunday morning (10am) if you want to see the beautiful and perfectly proportioned interior. The furnishings are of historic interest, as are the large wall tablets, the bell, two sanctuary seats and a complete set of Communion vessels, stamped with the crest of the Canterbury Association, which once came from England with the first settlers.
Or, perhaps you can convince the vicar to let you have a look when you meet him mowing the lawn... ;-)
- Historical Travel
A Great Walk to the Packhorse Hut
You could reach the Packhorse Hut in a day from Diamond Harbour via the strenious Mt. Herbert walk, carry on to Mt. Bradley and down to the Packhorse Hut. But then you are still in the middle of nowhere. But: You could spend the night in this hut which has several bunk beds, cooking facilities (wood stove) and a toilet. On the next day you could walk to Gebbies Pass and along the crater rim to the Gondola and Lyttelton or Christchurch.
Another track starts at Orton Bradley Park and takes 2-3 hrs one way, or from the Kaituna Valley.
We normally start our walk to the Packhorse Hut at Gebbies Pass which you reach from Lyttelton by driving along the harbour to Governors Bay and then turn right. The carpark is super small (for 2 or 3 cars) and not specially marked, just park your car at the saddle on the roadside.
If the gate is not open at the carpark you have to climb over the fence on a stile. You follow the farm road in a big bend past a wind power generator. The track is clearly signposted and poled, so you will not get lost. (Most time we take a shortcut cross country, you will surely find one on the way back when you know which direction you have to take.)
The walk leads through native bush, pine forest plantations, in both you can hear beautiful birdsong, and then along a mountain slope. There is only one real climb to master, otherwise it goes uphill gently, so in total the walk is not a big challenge.
After McQueens Pass (no big deal) you reach the tussock landscape. The track leads along the Remarkable Dykes which are old volcanic lava channels which have burnt their way into older rock formations.
But the best part of the walk are the sensational views from the Packhorse Hut, sitting in wind-swept tussock grass landscape. You can see the crater rims of the ancient volcanoes, nearly as impressive as from Mt. Herbert (920m) which is 200 metres higher.
From the Packhorse Hut there is a track which leads up to Mt. Bradley (855m). This would take you 1 to 1.5hrs.
- Hiking and Walking
Loop Walk Bridle Path - Stan Helms Track
This is a good walk if you climb historic Bridle Path and want to go back to Lyttelton and not walk back the same way. Plus, it offers you different views of the harbour and Banks Peninsula. The way down on Stan Helms Track takes longer than on Bridle Path because it is clearly longer (45mins) and not as steep.
I would not recommend Stan Helms Track in wet conditions as the track is very narrow and on grass, sometimes over small rocks. The surprise is that you can also slip when it is very dry because then the cut grass becomes as yellow and as slippery as straw.
It offers you different views of the harbour as it leads down the hills further west, and you see more native birds because there is a lot of native vegetation, some pockets of original bush, and at the bottom replanted and young native shrubs, flax and cabbage trees. The rest is broom which looks spectacular when it flowers but is a real pest. In the flowering season it paints the slopes of the hills yellow, and later in the summer the pods open loudly, it sounds like shooting ;-)
From the towncentre you walk to the tunnel end of London Street which becomes Hawkhurst Road. After a long bend to the right it goes uphill. After 500m turn left into Ticehurst Terrace and walk along for another 500m, then turn right to Bridle Path. It takes you about 20 to 25 mins from here to the top where you have great views over the harbour and Christchurch on the other side.
Turn left onto the Whakaraupo Track which leads along the hill on the harbour side (NOT over the fence onto the Crater Rim Walk). The track goes slightly downhill. After a while you turn left onto Stan Helms Track. You will see the sign after two or three metres after turning as at most times it is a little hidden in vegetation.
Just follow the track that leads downhill in big zig-zags, and after having passed a big rock you walk uphill for a short stretch, then downhill again. At the end of the track is a wooden carved Maori gate. (cont. under Directions)
- Hiking and Walking
Climb Mt. Herbert for Spectacular Crater Views
This is my favourite place on Banks Peninsula and around Lyttelton Harbour. From nowhere you have a better view of the craters and crater rims, created by ancient volcanoes. And the views go further to the Kaikouras in the north, the Southern Alps in the south-west, over the Canterbury Plains, Lyttelton, Christchurch and huge Lake Ellesmere, down to Timaru in the south. And once on the summit, you are so far away from everything. Most times you only meet the random tramper. I only had to share the summit - 920m above sea level - with other people once.
There are three ways up Mt. Herbert - the fourth one via The Monument was blocked by farm fences, bulls and cows last time, so forget it.
Two walks are strenious, as they start at sea-level, and both ascents take 5-6hrs. One starts at Orton Bradley Park, but I prefer the start at the wharf in Diamond Harbour because then I start right from the ferry, whereas O.B.P. can only be reached by car or an additional several kms walk. The track is closed during the lambing season from 1 Sept - end Nov. As you walk through tussock grass landscape there is no shelter and can become very exhausting on a hot day. Only toilet at a shelter 10 more mins from the summit.
I recommend not to walk through Morgans Gully from the wharf, because it is up and down and humid. I always walk up the road from the wharf, turn right at the top, walk along the road for 500m, a sign-post on the left indicates the start of the track. The descent takes 3hrs.
It is less strenious and much shorter (1.5-2hrs one way) to start at the Port Levy saddle. This walk offers great views to the bays of Banks Peninsula, Kaituna Valley and Lake Ellesmere. The few trees are leaning from the high winds, others are only naked skeletons.
The first summit you reach is NOT the Mt. Herbert summit. Keep left and walk on for another 20-25mins.
If you think it is a good idea to carry on to Mt. Bradley - this takes at least another hour one way, as you cannot walk along the ridge because this is covered in gorse.
- Hiking and Walking
Make the Cliff Walk(s) in Diamond Harbour
Diamond Harbour sits on the cliff opposite Lyttelton. The ferry landing is near Godley House, which you can clearly see from Lyttelton - it is the last (white) house on the left. The right side of the settlement is Church Bay.
The nice little Cliff Walk from the jetty to Church Bay is longer than it seems. It takes you 1hr one way!
If you carry on after Koromiko Crescent (which is the official end of the walk) it can become difficult at times - once I had to climb over several tree trunks. Most of the track is in very good condition, but very close to the edge of the cliff, and offers you great views to the heads, Godley Head on the Lyttelton side of the harbour, and Adderley Head, and opposite to Lyttelton and the Port Hills.
Take the ferry to Diamond Harbour or - if you travel by car - park at the Stoddart Point carpark which is sign-posted near Godley House/jetty/wharf.
From the wharf walk a short distance up the road. A path to the right leads down to a tiny pebbly beach. Pass the toilets and follow the path along the harbour. Do NOT follow the sign to Mt. Herbert!
The track leads uphill in a zig-zag and then along the cliff. You will notice a big array of native and garden plants, succulents and lush green shrubs and cabbage trees, as the track passes properties with coastal gardens. There are several seats to enjoy the views.
Of you want to walk further than Koromiko Crescent you should walk along the roads (from Koromiko Cr. to Rainui Crescent). Once at Athol Place there is another coastal track, but this is more difficult, and false trails to the houses make orientation hard.
If you are in walking spirits after the Cliff Walk you can make another short circuit from the carpark. It leads around the so-called Pinetree Point, in a slope around Godley House. You have very good views to Ripapa Island from there. This was an early Maori pa site, and near the end of World War II a short-term prison of Felix Count Luckner, a German aristocrat who was fighting in the South Pacific, known as the Sea Wolf.
- Hiking and Walking
The Port: You can have a look but no access
As Lyttelton is a working port you have access only to the tour boats, and people from the cruise ships get ferried to the exit by buses. All this is for security reasons, as trucks with containers, wood and all other kinds of goods, and the coal train from the West Coast permanently cruise the port.
Compared to the big ports of the world Lyttelton is really small, and the noise is minimal. So life around the port can be quite nice, and the rising property prices indicate this. And the views towards Banks Peninsula are really spectacular.
I think the best views of the port are from Bridle Path which is the historic track the first settlers took over the Port Hills to Christchurch. It is a spectacular view in summer when cruise ships are in the harbour, and sometimes we even have a kind of full harbour.
Some people are shocked when they come out of the Road Tunnel, and the first thing they see are the white petrol tanks. They are actually planning to replace them by one big tank - but I cannot think that this will look much better as it will be bigger. When you get over this first impression and start to look around, you will really enjoy the atmosphere of Lyttelton, with its lively mainstreet, its history and the wonderful landscape in which it is sitting.
If you study the geological history of Lyttelton Harbour more thoroughly the basin was not created by just one volcanic eruption but by two. The centres are sitting left and right of the actual port. The eruption of Mt. Herbert created the slopes on which you see Diamond Harbour. the vent of this volcano which is several million years younger than the other two. Before the eruptions the mountains around the harbour were three times as high as you see them now, the summit sank into the crater, and the actual summits are just the crater rims - on which you can make great walks with even greater views.
The fairy-tale-like Railway Signal Box
You will definitely notice a fairy-tale-like little building on your way to the ferry and cruise ship terminal on Norwich Quay. You will see it from the overbridge to the port, and from Norwich Quay if you stand in front of the Harbour Master Café, opposite the Lyttelton Museum.
This mini house on stilts with a huge staircase is the historic railway signal box. It has been relocated to the place where you can now see it.
A coal waggon is sitting next to the signal box.
- Historical Travel
Cruise and enjoy Lyttelton Harbour
The most spectacular thing about Lyttelton surely is its location. The natural harbour reaches 18 kilometres inland to Governors Bay, like a huge fiord with many bays, and it fills the former crater lake of a sunken (and lucky us: extinct) volcano. Erosion has eaten away one side of the crater and allowed the sea to fill the harbour basin up.
On a sunny day the waters shine turquoise blue, and the best views are from the Summit Road (Pioneer Women's Memorial/Bridle Path, Sign of the Bellbird, Christchurch Gondola) which meanders along the crater rim. From up there Lyttelton looks tinier than it already is. On the other side of the Harbour you see the majestic hills of Banks Peninsula.
You can drive on a winding road around the harbour, via Cass Bay, Governors Bay and Diamond Harbour to Purau. From there the road leads up and down the hill to Port Levy and the heart of Banks Peninsula which is one of New Zealand's least visited top attractions, with the exception of the French settlement of Akaroa. On this road there is no bus service.
The Black Cat Cruises in Lyttelton offer harbour cruises. The major selling point is that you can see Hector Dolphins, the world's rarest dolphins. Do not count with whales - they only show up once or twice a year, and you must be very lucky to be on a boat right in this moment. The cruises pass at Quail and Ripapa Islands.
There are also trips to Quail Island (see Off the Beaten Path tip) which once was a leprosy colony, and where you can spend a nice day walking, picknicking or sunbathing (no shop or kiosk). Ripapa Island holds an old fort (Fort Jervois) and was a short-term prison for the "Sea Devil" near the end of World War II, the German count Felix Luckner.
There is also a ferry service (no cars) which links Lyttelton and Diamond Harbour in only 10 minutes. In Diamond Harbour you can make a nice clifftop walk, or start the strenious climb to Mt. Herbert. The old Steam Tug Lyttelton operates on Sundays - I would not wear white clothes on this trip... ;-)
- Road Trip
- Sailing and Boating
Enjoy the Magic Sunsets and Rainbows
As I have already written in the introduction of the Lyttelton page, the magic sunsets over the harbour keep on amazing me. The sunsets and the ever changing clouds which paint colourful pictures in the sky.
I always have a camera handy, so I can take photos of those fast passing moments of magic. To share those beautiful impressions with you I have created several travelogues as a place for absolutely incomplete photo collections. I have taken so many great pictures that it is nearly impossible to really chose the best and most perfect ones in a kind of hurry, but I think you will enjoy them.
Come over on a beautiful day and let the sunsets touch your soul. You can also enjoy them from the Port Hills (Summit Road) and from the Gondola which, in fact, with a glass of wine offers a great opportunity of viewing and enjoying other pleasures of life.
On not so perfect summer days we also have fantastic pictures in the sky, the ever changing winds which bring cold or warm weather can create massive monster clouds which change their shapes within seconds. When it is cold we often have purple skies. And in drizzle and sunshine we have wonderful rainbows which stretch from the Banks Peninsula side of the harbour over Lyttelton to the Port Hills.
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