Formal opening returns timeball to Lyttelton


The timeball’s dropping at exactly 1pm from its new tower overlooking Lyttelton on 2 November celebrates a seven year project Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga has undertaken to return the distinctive feature to the port town.

“Heritage New Zealand is thrilled to be able to return what many in the Lyttelton community told us they wanted, the unique timeball and its tower,” says Heritage New Zealand’s Director Southern Region, Sheila Watson.

“To formally open the site with support from local and national dignitaries and key supporters is very special.  It shows how important the return of such a familiar feature overlooking this port town is."

The timeball, originally built to assist seafarers in navigation and timekeeping, dropped daily for 135 years before it was closed following the September 2010 earthquake and destroyed in the June 2011 earthquake.  Following the site’s deconstruction and storage of as much heritage as possible the $3m project got underway onsite in July last year.  The project would not have been possible without the generosity of founder donor Landmark Incorporated, along with the Lottery Grants Board, Holcim, Stout Trust and Parkinson Memorial Park Trust (both administered by Perpetual Guardian) and the Mainland Foundation.  Stark Brothers repaired the timeball and flag pole, while The Building Intelligence Group also contributed generously.

Today the site, with its tower, timeball, flagpole, interpretation and landscaped grounds is open again for the public to enjoy, free of charge, during daylight hours.  The addition of feature lighting will make for stunning evening viewing of the tower against a night backdrop, but access to the site itself will be restricted.  More interpretation and landscaping will be added in the coming months.

“What we have now is a place the public can enjoy and learn about the history of the site, what the purpose of the former Timeball Station was and how seafarers from the first arrival of Māori to today have used navigation techniques to guide them.  A special marker created by Ngāti Wheke carver Caine Tauwhare will reflect the significance of local Māori history and celestial navigation expertise.  Flags will be flying here again which will add vibrancy and reflect its original purpose.

“The site is a nod to its very important past but also a newly plotted pathway to the future.  It incorporates original heritage elements with new, such as the automated timeball mechanism replacing the original component due to the extent of earthquake damage it received.  We also have returned the timeball to its original colours of cream and red.” 

The project was managed by The Building Intelligence Group and the main construction work on the tower was carried out by Hawkins.  Stark Bros Ltd of Lyttelton repaired the timeball using the original wooden frame and a new zinc skin.  The stonework, using original stones pinned to a new quake resistant core, was completed by specialist stonemasons Bosworth and Barthal Stone Restoration.  A time-lapse camera ( captured the progress of the build every 10 minutes during work hours.

For more comment (on 2 November):

Sheila Watson
Director Southern Region
Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga
tel: 027 484 4088

Background information

  • Heritage New Zealand received $1.4m in insurance, much of which was used on deconstruction and urgent site stabilisation.  Based on an expert, independent valuation in 2009 the Timeball Station was valued for insurance purposes at $2m for replacement and insured for $1.4m.

Brief timeline:

  • September 2010: The Timeball Station is damaged in the 4 September earthquake and closed to the public.
  • February 2011: Deconstruction begins following 22 February earthquake and further damage to Timeball Station.
  • June 2011: Timeball Station building destroyed in 13 June earthquake.  Deconstruction continues to retrieve as much heritage as possible, including the badly damaged timeball and mechanism, removing it to a storage facility in Ferrymead.
  • December 2012: Public engagement with Lyttelton community shows strong support for the Timeball returning in some form.
  • May 2013: Landmark Incorporated secured as founder donor, with a $1m fund injection.  Further funding from the Lottery Grants Board, Holcim, Stout Trust and Parkinson Memorial Park Trust (both administered by Perpetual Guardian) and the Mainland Foundation completed the funding required for the $3m project to proceed.
  • 2015: Heritage New Zealand firms scope of project returning timeball and tower to Lyttelton.
  • June 2016: Planned start date for on-site work starting in July 2016 put on hold for a year due to infrastructure rebuild roading priorities making access to the site difficult and too great a community inconvenience.
  • July 2017: Blessing ceremony marked by turning of first sod by Heritage New Zealand’s Māori Heritage Council Chair, Sir John Clarke, formalises onsite work beginning.
  • June 2018: The tower is completed and the Timeball returned to the site.
  • 2 November: Site is formally opened following landscaping and the first stage completion of interpretation.

Facebook:  @LytteltonTimeball