Lyttleton: Magical seaport town
May 21, 2019
by TeresaGlobalTravels Teresa Lynch
Port town of Lyttleton
This stunning ‘Lyttle’ town, situated on the northern aspect of the crater rim, shadows the Port of Lyttleton Harbour. Hidden behind the Port Hills, it could easily be bypassed on your journey around New Zealand. Indeed, its splendour cannot be appreciated until you arrive into the sheltered cove where it is located. Ships sail up from the harbour entrance; and cars, buses, and cyclists arrive from Governors Bay or Sumner having enjoyed the views as they cross the hilltops and zig-zag down into the bay. In the days before roads were established, people had to climb the Port Hills on a track known as the ‘bridle path’ to get to Christchurch. Once the Lyttleton tunnel was opened in 1964, traffic had an easier and quicker route from the city just 12ks away.
Although the harbour basin had been home to Māori for more than 700 years, prior to the arrival of the first Europeans, Lyttleton provided a strategic position for the new Canterbury settlers to land in the mid-1800s. The harbour itself was first sighted by Europeans in 1770 when the Endeavour passed by; however, the working port was only settled and established in the late 1840s.
Today, the steep streets glide up the hills formed by several massive volcanoes over 10 million years ago. The hills provide shelter and aesthetic beauty as well as walking tracks and rock climbing. The port itself has welcomed shiploads of settlers, cruise ships, and cargo transported in modern container shipping; but is also a haven for yachts, kayaks, and other pleasure water sports.
The quaint township
This quaint and historic town boasts a population of around 3,000 who inhabit the small towns and villages which have risen out of Māori settlements or farming communities.
Small towns and sparking Diamond Harbour
The whole harbour valley presents a beautiful scene of sparkling tranquillity, which is off-set by Diamond Harbour across the water. Water taxi transport is provided on a regular daily timetable if you do not want to drive the 30 minutes through Corsair and Cass Bays, Rapaki, Governor’s Bay and the other small settlements along the way.
Saturday Market and Shopping
Lyttleton itself is a relatively quiet little haven; however, on Saturday mornings it comes alive with the London Street farmers market and craft stalls which are enjoyed by visitors from near and far.
Organic fruit and veggies, quality artisan bread, freshly made waffles and toasted goodies, spices, hummus, free range eggs, honey, wine, artisan cheeses, and much more are on offer. Live music and entertainment add gaiety to the sounds of the bustling crowds enjoying the ambience of the day.
The bridle path
Many traverse the ‘bridle path’ as an exercise to get to the market and trudge back up the hill with their packs full of supplies and their stomachs warm with soup or coffee. The market is held in the main street and many shops remain open to welcome the visitors.
Cafe’s and gift shops
Several cafes and gift shops line London Street and the shopping precinct. These are patronised during the weekend and weekdays alike. Two of our favourite shops are the Lyttle Kiwi gift shop and the famed Lyttleton Coffee Company.
Lyttleton Coffee Company
This cafe is where quality food and the ‘best coffee in town’ is enjoyed—as witnessed by the tables filled with customers and the lineup at the counter. In winter, the wood burner glows; and in all seasons the balcony out back provides a great view of the comings and goings of the inner harbour. During the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011, the coffee company operated out of the garage of a house whilst the main building was being repaired. We loved the atmosphere and candour of the friendly waiters and baristas, and with wood-fired pizza, excellent coffee and delicious food, they were always going to survive.
Speaking of food, showcasing the best seasonal produce, ‘Roots’ restaurant staff grow, forage, and source quality ingredients. They ‘wine match’ their food to provide a unique experience for the diner. Planned with sustainability, taste, and freshness in mind, Roots recently won the 2018 Cusine awards. In this little hideaway town, where good food consciousness is alive and well, this restaurant earns top honours. If you are visiting the area, a meal here will leave you feeling like you have visited the best place on earth!
One of the town’s iconic landmarks, ‘The Timeball’, was destroyed and subsequently dismantled following the earthquakes. It has since been rebuilt and sits at an eye-catching strategic position on the hills above the harbour. The Timeball’s history is intriguing in its provision of accurate time to match Greenwich meantime in the UK.
Aftermath of the ‘quakes’
Many Lyttleton ‘institutions’ were broken and damaged in the earthquakes and some of the Port’s historic buildings have been pulled down. Those that have been, or will be, restored provide a glimpse of the glorious past in this ever-changing landscape.
Mystical beauty of the hills
When the cloud is down on the crater rim, the mystique of this gorgeous little town continues. When the mist lifts, the grandeur of the hills is revealed and life carries on with enjoyment and appreciation of the everyday beauty of the harbour.
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May 24, 2019
Lyttleton sounds like a little gem. Pity that we will probably arrive too late on the Saturday to enjoy the market. We love meandering around markets. Sounds like well worth a visit. OMW! So much to see, so little time!!