Before radio, navigators needed accurate time to determine longitude: heading east or west. A few seconds error could place a ship on rocks even in chartered waters. With the invention of chronometers, Timeball stations were established. Lyttelton’s station was built in 1876 using an astronomical clock from the makers of London’s Big Ben. Every day at 1pm a 100kg ball was dropped above a tower so navigators could adjust their chronometers and determine error rates. By 1918 when times were broadcast by radio, the ball was dropped only twice weekly. The service was ceased in 1934. The tower has been re-commissioned and the ball drops daily at 1 pm.
The Lyttelton Timeball Station is a heritage-registered time ball station and prominent local landmark in Lyttelton, New Zealand. The original station was significantly damaged by a series of earthquakes and aftershocks in 2010 and 2011, and finally collapsed on 13 June 2011 after a magnitude 6.4 aftershock.
A huge fund raising project ensued and the $3 million re-building project got underway in July 2017, with the Timeball itself hoisted into place in late June 2018. Proudly reopened on 2 November 2018 the landscaped grounds offer a pleasant spot for relaxing, catching harbour views, watching a busy port and allowing this landmark and its maritime and human history to live on.
There are several information boards and a telescope.
How to get there:
By Car – 2 minutes
Drive up Oxford Street and take the first right up Sumner Road. Drive round a sharp left-hand bend and shortly after that take a very sharp U turn to your left. Park in the lay-by on your right and walk the short distance up the hill and up the ramp to the Timeball.
Walking – 10 minutes
Turn right out of the Information Centre and right onto Sumner Road. Walk up until you reach the first houses on your right. Cross the road and walk up the few steps, and then carry on up the ramp road. Towards the end you will see a signpost to the Timeball on your left, go up the steps to Reserve Terrace. Turn right at the top and continue until you see the Timeball on your left.