Lyttelton (tours to Christchurch), New Zealand cruises

Nestled in the lower slopes of a steep-sided extinct volcano, the historic port town of Lyttelton is overflowing with trendy cafés and quirky shops. It’s also the gateway to nearby Christchurch.

Lyttelton has a long, colorful history and was the point where the first European settlers, bound for Christchurch, came ashore in 1850. Today, the center of Christchurch is just over seven miles away, thanks to the 1.2-mile-long Lyttelton road tunnel, which burrows through the Port Hills. 

The entire Canterbury area was devastated in the 2011 earthquake, but is gradually being rebuilt, with new shops and buildings opening every day. The small Lyttelton Museum is maritime-themed and boasts a fascinating Antarctic gallery, as the city was the launching point for South Pole expeditions at the turn of the last century.

One of the city’s proudest features is its neo-Gothic Timeball Station. Built in 1876 to keep Greenwich Mean Time and to signal the time to ships in the harbor. In use until 1934, this outstanding example of Victorian technology is one of only five still operating around the world. It was badly damaged in the earthquake, but was painstakingly rebuilt and is once again in working order.

If you are in town on a Saturday morning, don’t miss the farmers market, which sells everything from fresh vegetables, artisanal food, and freshly baked cakes to vintage clothes and antiques. There is a great vibe and plenty to eat as you stroll around the stands, with great views over the harbor and live jazz playing in the background. 

Lyttelton Harbor is a wonderful place to explore by boat. Enjoy the scenic splendors of the city, surrounded by gorgeous volcanic peaks, and a region abounding with wildlife. You may encounter the playful Hector’s dolphins, or spot some of the many native birds, including mollymawks, fantails, and even penguins. Stopping on Quail Island, you can step back in time as you explore the shipwrecks dotting the island and visit the former leper colony.

Walk up into the Port Hills above the city for stunning, panoramic views of Lyttelton and the bay, Christchurch City, and the Southern Alps. The area is rich in Māori history and home to a spectacular range of native wildlife, as well as the unique rock formations of Castle Rock. At the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, you can witness more of the natural side of New Zealand and meet the endangered kiwi.