|Every day for 58 years at 1pm the Lyttelton timeball
signalled Greenwich time to all ships in its harbour.
Captains were able to check their chronometers by the
drop of the timeball and calculate their longitude more
In 1875-6 when local prisoners were builiding the Timeball Station, Lyttelton was a busy port both for coastal vessels and clippers taking wool to London. The safety of ships was very important, and the daily time signal helped to ensure their safety.
The timeball signalling system is still in working order and remains as an important example of the mechanical engineering of its time. The machinery was made of bronze, cast iron, and steel, and apart from its iron and copper electromagnet, is in its original condition. It was restored by local entusiasts and the Ministry of Works and Development. Lyttelton's ball was one of many built around the world but is one of only 5 known to still be working. In 1934 radio time signals replaced the old ball. The timeball's flagstaff was still used regularly until 1941 for communicating with ships and signalling shipping arrivals to the town.
The Timeball Station is situated above Reserve Terrace on the eastern side of Lyttelton. It is clearly visible from most parts of the town. There is parking a short distance up Reserve Terrace from the Sumner Road. You cannot park on Reserve Terrace below the Timeball Station itself.
From the Lyttelton entrance to the Road Tunnel drive along Norwich Quay, turn left up Oxford Street then right on to the Sumner Road. There is a tight turn back into Reserve Terrace from this direction.
Coming from Sumner, the Reserve Terrace leaves the Sumner Road before you reach Lyttelton itself. The Timeball Station is up steep paths and steps from Reserve Terrace, and access for diabled people is difficult. Lyttelton is 20 minutes from Christchurch through the tunnel, but about 45 minutes through Sumner and over Evans Pass.