Lyttelton provides a safe, sheltered deepwater harbour, as it lies in the caldera of an extinct volcano. The town's steep streets are a novelty for many Christchurch drivers, who rarely encounter a hill (unless they deliberately drive to the hill suburbs on the edge of the city).
Lyttelton was established as a seaport in the late 1840s. The early settlers had to walk over the Bridle Path - so named because the path was so steep that horses had to be lead by the bridle as they could not be ridden. In the early years, Lyttelton provided a trans-shipment point for cargo bound for Christchurch. Passengers and light cargo would travel over the Bridle Path on foot or horseback. Heavier cargo was shipped in shallow draught coastal vessels back around the coast, across the treacherous Sumner bar and into the estuary to Ferrymead or, later, Steam Wharf, just down the Heathcote River from where the Tunnel Road meets Ferry Road.
New Zealand's first public railway was built to link Christchurch and Lyttelton, opening from Christchurch to Ferrymead in 1863 and then to Lyttelton once the 2.6km Lyttelton Rail Tunnel was completed in 1867. In 1964, the rail tunnel was supplemented by the 2.0km Lyttelton Road Tunnel. Between 1895 and 1976, steam ferries operated an overnight service between Lyttelton and Wellington, linking New Zealand's two main islands.
Lyttelton was extensively damaged in the 2010 and 2011 Christchurch earthquakes. Several historic buildings were damaged beyond repair including the famous Timeball Station, which was rebuilt in 2018.
There are three ways by car from Christchurch into Lyttelton:
- Through the Lyttelton Road Tunnel. The Tunnel is probably the best bet if you're unfamiliar with driving on the left and squeamish about steep twisty turns on hills. Although New Zealand roads are pretty good and you do get a great view going over the hills.
- Over the Port Hills along Dyers Pass Road (past the Sign of the Takahe)
- Via Gebbies Pass, though this is a rather indirect route and is probably only a practical alternative if southwest of Christchurch.
- The road marked on most maps that goes via Evans Pass, from Sumner in the south east of Christchurch, has been closed since the 2010 earthquake and it appears that it will be closed indefinitely.
Take the number 28 bus from the Bus Exchange to Rapaki/Lyttelton.
Walk the Bridal Path from Heathcote.
If you are arriving by small boat, it pays to be aware of the information on the Approach and Navigation section of the World Cruising and Sailing Wiki.
- 1 Godley Head (Awaroa). WWII coastal defence site, lighthouse and a 3 hour walking track.
- 2 Ripapa Island. An old WWI-era military base, now occasional tourist curio. Temporarily closed in 2018 due to damage to wharf.
- 3 Timeball Station. Originally opened in 1876, it provided a reliable time signal "to set your watch by", as the ball was dropped daily at 1PM. The station was destroyed in the 2011 earthquake and the tower alone was rebuilt in 2017-18.
- 1 Swim at Corsair Bay. A sandy beach at the bottom of a steep sided cove, one bay west from the port and town.
- Sail. on Lyttelton Harbour
- Lyttelton Farmers Market is an authentic farmers market in the School grounds every Saturday morning, 10AM - 1PM. Not necessarily the cheapest food in town, but always fresh, local, and seasonal. Food available ranges from fruit & veggies to bread, coffee, home-baking, farm eggs, local honey and cheeses, preserves and relishes, etc etc. There is usually some live music and always a lively collection of marketgoers, great people-watching.
- 1 , 16 London St, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Bar with an excellent selection of beers including a range of local and overseas artisan and craft beers. Some tapas food available.
- 2 Wunderbar, 19 London St, ☎ . Cafe/bar that hosts offbeat live performances such as poetry reading. Some week nights there is a band or DJ.