Quirky seaside times at Lyttelton Harbour

July 13

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If Christchurch is a relic of New Zealand’s colonial past, Lyttelton is a suggestion of its quirky, artistic present. Located just over the Port Hills from Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand, the town of Lyttelton was once the bustling port from which Christchurch’s European settlers embarked for their new home. Now, it’s a historic seaside village (still the largest in the Lyttelton harbour) with brightly coloured heritage buildings and a whole lot of creative juice. Its position on the flanks of an extinct volcano give Lyttelton a San Fransisco-esque hill-perched vibe, and almost everyone has an ocean view.

Lyttelton has that industrious feel that only working harbours can, and faces across to the sun-drenched rolling hills and beaches of Banks Peninsula. It’s great for a wander anytime of the week, but the Saturday farmers market and vintage car show on a Sunday have both the local community and Cantabrians from further afield flocking.

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What is Lyttelton famous for?

Lyttelton was the original port for ships carrying settlers from Europe to Christchurch in the 1850’s. In fact, Lyttelton was a bustling town of 300 whilst Christchurch to the north west was still bare land – though the city quickly took over. Lyttleton still thrived as the city’s main port, and in the 1960’s, the tunnel through the Port Hills was built to give the quay direct access to Christchurch city centre.

These days, Lyttelton is known for being arty, creative and with the perfect amount of grit. It’s home to over 3000 people and has a thriving cafe and restaurant scene. It’s also home to Lyttleton Pottery, an iconic and much loved ceramics studio which has made a name for itself across New Zealand.

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Unfortunately, Lyttelton was hit hard by the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, which brought down some of its most iconic buildings, including Te Ūaka, the Lyttelton Museum. Fundraising is underway to find it a new home, though and the local creative scene is stronger than ever.

Is Lyttelton worth visiting?

Hell yes. Just a twenty minute drive from Christchurch, Lyttelton has more quirk than a hipster in cut-offs and a fedora. It’s chocca with great cafes and that legit artist vibe which is impossible to fake (and can be hard to find in the rest of the Garden City). There hasn’t been the huge amount of development that’s been seen across Canterbury and the rest of the country, either, so Lyttelton has retained its independent charm.

What is there to do in Lyttelton Harbour?

There’s more than enough in the buzzing port of Lyttelton to keep one entertained for the day, if not the weekend. Wander down London Street through the historic town centre and visit community art workshops, cafes, bookshops and other creative goodies.

Time your trip right and come for Lyttelton’s Farmer’s Market on a Saturday; it’s one of the best in Canterbury, with cheap, fresh veggies from the local area and hot food which goes down a treat in the winter, when this south facing community doesn’t get a whole lot of sun. Take your coffee down to the quay and watch the harbour in action and take in expansive views.

When you’re done perusing the town, take the ferry over to Quail Island , Lyttleton’s island neighbour close by at the head of the harbour. The island has a fascinating history, and in the 1880’s was a quarantine island for people and animals. Later in the early 20th century, it was a leper colony, and these days it’s a reserve, with native planting efforts underway and camping facilities on the island.

For another marine adventure, catch the ferry from Lyttelton to Diamond Harbour, the sunny south side of Lyttelton on the northern part of Banks Peninsula. Banks is an absolute highlight of the Canterbury region, a gorgeous, little-touched peninsula that’s close enough for a day trip. Home to an abundance of beautiful secluded beaches, the coastline snakes all the way around to Akaroa, a charming village with its own fascinating history as a French settlement in the time of European colonisation. It’s still rather French – who’d have thought you’d be starting the day with a croissant and a coffee atop of a Provencal table cloth in the South Island of New Zealand?

To burn off lunch or get the heart rate going, head up the hill behind Lyttelton for the Urumau Loop, which rewards with views across the port, the peninsula, the Port Hills and the Canterbury plains. The walk snakes through Urumau Reserve, where there’s been a big community tree planting effort.

How did Lyttelton get its name?

Back in 1849, George Lyttelton established the Canterbury Association, eyed up Lyttelton as the perfect place for a port, and next, declared it as such. It was known as both Port Cooper and Port Victoria, after English aristocrats at the time. About 10 years later, the town was named after the Lyttelton family.  In the 1880’s, the Lyttelton Lighthouse was built, offering much needed navigation infrastructure for each and every ship completing their long journeys into Christchurch. In 1996 the Lyttelton Port Company was officially registered on the New Zealand stock exchange.

Is Lyttelton a volcano?

It is indeed, and Lyttelton has an interesting geographic history to rival its social one. Volcanic activity millions of years ago led to the formation of deep valleys, which is where Lyttelton and Akaroa harbours sit today. The steep sides of the ancient volcano form the Port Hills on the north side.

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How do I get to Lyttelton?

These days there are a few options. There’s the road through the tunnel which cuts through the Port Hill (the longest road tunnel in New Zealand), which cuts the journey down to 20 minutes from the centre city. Or, if you’re on the other side of town, you can take the road over the hill from Sumner close by, which’ll take about ten minutes.

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How far is Lyttelton from Akaroa?

Lyttelton is about an hour and a half from Akaroa, and next time you’re in Christchurch, it’s the perfect road trip.


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