Like the timeball in Greenwich, New York or Washington DC, this one was used to measure the accuracy of the navigator's chronometer.
Each day, at 1300 local (not 1300 Greenwich time, as Lonely Planet indicates) the ball drops with a loud bang, to indicate the exact time.
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.
The old Timeball station has overlooked Lyttelton since 1876 when its building by local prisoners was completed. From late December 1876 the timeball was dropped every day at 1p.m., except when there were high winds. After May 1877, Alexander Joyce became the first timeball keeper to be appointed at Lyttelton (I would love to see THAT position description!!). The station used to have an astronomical clock but this was sent to Wellington & each day the time to drop the ball was sent via tetegraph!!
Apparently, so my father tells me, the place became a run down unit after it was stopped being used in the 1930's. It wasn't until 1978 that the station was restored.
In its current form the Timeball drops at 1pm every day that the station is open - which is all summer & Wednesday to Sunday in winter.
The old Gaol is only ruins now and is part of Lyttelton Main school. All that is left are some old steps and the Rose Garden at the back of the playing fields. This site is important as it forms part of NZ's penal history.
The Gaol started out as an institution for mentally unstable people and bankrupts plus the worst criminals in 1860. The place became the site of much NZ history with 7 hangings including 1 woman. The inmates were responsible for most of the roads around the Lyttelton harbour area as they did hard labour as punishment. The inmates also built the holding cells (if you can call them that) on Quail Island for the Lepper colony and the Timeball Station.
There are three major tracks up the hill that can be accessed from Lyttelton. The Bridle Path is the most well known being the track that the Settlers used. The other two are Stan Helms Track (incl the Whaka Raupo lookout) and Major Hornbrook track (to the Gondola). You don't need any special gear other then some comfortable walking shoes and your water bottle. If you do the whole of the Bridle path and get a bit tired you can catch the bus back into Lyttelton on Bridle Path Rd (Heathcote - beside the domain).
The tracks start at the end of Lyttelton streets;
Major Hornbrook = Somes Rd
Stan Helms = Harmans Rd
Bridle Path = Bridle Path Rd
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... ;-)
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.
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.
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.
The Timeball station is part of Lyttelton's historic past and is one of the easiest landmarks to see. It's open daily in Summer & Wed to Sun in Winter (May to Sept). The Timeball mechanism drops at 1pm every day that the station is open.
Entry cost is Adult: $7, Child/Student: $2 or Family: $15 - I think this is 2 + 2.
A nice day trip from Lyttelton is taking the ferry to Diamond Harbour. DH is a quiet place with a couple of nice eating spots including Godley House. You can catch the ferry from the Lyttelton warf just down and to the left of the historic Signal Box.
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.
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.
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.
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.