We arrived in Lyttelton Harbour this morning around 7am. It’s a quaint English port town but surprisingly cosmopolitan. Lyttelton is a main South Island immigration port and is responsible for Christchurch success. Our ship is docked some 20 minutes from Christchurch so shuttle buses are provided for the ships passengers. Interestingly just up the hill from the ship is a Timeball Station. The port’s most visible landmark, the tower features a zinc ball that drops at precisely 1pm each day. A captain can set his or her watch by it, and shiver your timbers if they don’t. For many years, it was only reliable timekeeper in the region. There’s a wonderful nautical museum up here with all sorts of stuff on display like a collection of antique navigational telescopes, sextants etc. Many of the exhibits explain the importance of timekeeping in navigation and reveals the antique workings of the mechanical device. (Zinc Ball). The ball is no longer necessary in this computerized age, but it still drops daily for tradition. It is one of 3 remaining in the world, another is in Greenwich.
Christchurch is the South Island’s largest city, it is a place of natural beauty and tradition. Retaining the stately air of colonial New Zealand, the Garden City is known as one of the island nation’s most attractive communities. It’s filled with public parks and private gardens, the town centre is reserved as a pedestrian zone (how original!). Gothic style buildings dominate the skyline (many designed by architect Benjamin Mountfort), and the gentle Avon River bubbles right through the heart of the town. The city is lined with gorgeous walkways adding a somewhat nostalgic atmosphere to the already charming town. Antique punts (rudderless boats propelled by punters who push a stick into the riverbed) still ply the river.
Christchurch was a planned community, established by the British colonial upper classes. A party of European settlers established themselves in Christchurch in early 1840. The first “Four ships” were chartered by the Canterbury Association and arrived on December 1850 and brought the first 792 of the Canterbury Pilgrims to Lyttelton Harbour. These pilgrims had aspirations of building a city around a cathedral and college, on the model of Christ Church in Oxford. The name had already been decided prior to the ships arrival. New Zealand’s first public railway line, the Ferrymead railway, opened from Ferrymead to /Christchurch in 1863. Due to the difficulties in traveling over the Port Hills and the dangers associated with shipping a railway tunnel wad bored through the Port Hills to Lyttelton and this opened in 1867. The construction is just bloody amazing. Our bus actually travelled thru the road tunnel on it’s way to Christchurch. Opened in 1964, it’s the longest tunnel in the country
Gerrit and I are heading to the Christchurch Arts Centre. It offers a wide range of New Zealand made arts and crafts as well as entertainment, shopping, dining and educational spaces. Original site for the University of Canterbury and the oldest of its 23 historic buildings date from 1877. Once we’re dropped off the bus its an easy 10-15 minute walk from Cathedral Square. The Canterbury Museum and Robert McDougall Art Galleries are nearby. Works by local artists are shown in the annex. It’s just a beautiful building, however on the 2nd floor one of the rooms was damaged by the earth quake that hit here in January. Work is currently being done to restore the room to it’s former glory. People here are very proud of their heritage and it shows in their passion of keeping their history alive. (Added note: just heard this morning (Feb 22) that Christchurch suffered a 6.5 earthquake this morning. The cathedral has lost at least is main tower and Lyttelton is apparently basically devastated)
We viewed a lot of the local artisans work – it truly is beautiful and extremely well crafted. In another part of the centre is a Beadz store. Here one can sit down and try their hand at making “stuff”, e.g. bead making, earrings construction, painting etc. We spent a good hour in this room alone looking at everything, the variety is huge. Pat bought a small selection of items to embellish some of her creations. Thankfully they also have a web site so ordering more is easy.
On our way back to Cathedral Square we pass a local market. Oh my goodness the fresh and organically grown produce is just amazing. We stop at a local honey producer and purchase some organic honey local to Christchurch – it’s just amazing (of course, samples were available). They also had local Canterbury wine for sale – we didn’t purchase this time.
The town area is alive with people walking around and just enjoying themselves. It’s nice to have the centre of town devoted to people versus cars. A wonderful day indeed. We ran out of time to take the other shuttle into Lyttelton, a pity as we hear it is now largely destroyed after the Feb 22, 2011 earthquake. Hard to imagine that we were there only 11 days ago.