Lyttelton Harbour

  (Redirected from Lyttelton Harbour / Whakaraupō)

Lyttelton Harbour / Whakaraupō is one of two major inlets in Banks Peninsula, on the coast of Canterbury, New Zealand; the other is Akaroa Harbour on the southern coast. It enters from the northern coast of the peninsula, heading in a predominantly westerly direction for approximately 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from its mouth to the aptly-named Head of the Bay near Teddington. The harbour sits in an eroded caldera of the ancient Banks Peninsula Volcano,[1] the steep sides of which form the Port Hills on its northern shore.[2]

Lyttelton Harbour / Whakaraupō
View of Lyttelton Harbour / Whakaraupō
Lyttelton Harbour / Whakaraupō as viewed from near the Sign of the Bellbird
Map showing location of Whakaraupō
Map showing location of Whakaraupō
Lyttelton Harbour / Whakaraupō
Location of Lyttelton Harbour / Whakaraupō in New Zealand
LocationBanks Peninsula, South Island, New Zealand
Coordinates43°37′S 172°44′E / 43.617°S 172.733°E / -43.617; 172.733 (Whakaraupō)Coordinates: 43°37′S 172°44′E / 43.617°S 172.733°E / -43.617; 172.733 (Whakaraupō)
River sourcesTe Rapu, Waiake Stream, Te Wharau Stream, Purau Stream
Ocean/sea sourcesPacific Ocean
Basin countriesNew Zealand
Max. length15 km (9.32 mi)
Max. width5.5 km (3.42 mi)
IslandsOtamahua / Quail Island, Aua / King Billy Island, Kamautaurua Island, Ripapa Island
Sections/sub-basinsOtokitoki / Gollans Bay, Motukauatirahi / Cass Bay, Governors Bay, Head of the Bay, Te Wharau / Charteris Bay, Kaioruru / Church Bay, Te Waipapa / Diamond Harbour, Purau Bay, Te Pohue / Camp Bay, Waitata / Little Port Cooper
SettlementsLyttelton, Cass Bay, Te Rāpaki-o-Te Rakiwhakaputa, Governors Bay, Ōhinetahi, Charteris Bay, Diamond Harbour, Purau
Location and extent of Lyttelton Harbour / Whakaraupō in relation to Christchurch

The harbour's main population centre is Lyttelton, which serves the main port to the nearby city of Christchurch, linked with Christchurch by the single-track Lyttelton rail tunnel (opened 1867), a two lane road tunnel (opened 1964) and two roads over the Port Hills.[not verified in body] Diamond Harbour lies to the south and the Māori village of Rāpaki to the west. At the head of the harbour is the settlement of Governors Bay.[not verified in body] The reserve of Otamahua / Quail Island is near the harbour head and Ripapa Island is just off its south shore at the entrance to Purau Bay.[not verified in body]

The harbour provides access to a busy commercial port at Lyttelton which today includes a petroleum storage facility and a modern container and cargo terminal.[3][not verified in body]

Hector's dolphins, a species endemic to New Zealand, and New Zealand fur seals live in the harbour.[not verified in body]


Lyttelton Harbour / Whakaraupō is one of many places in New Zealand to have a dual place name, consisting of names derived from both European and Māori names for the area. The harbour was one of approximately 90 places to be given a dual name as part of a landmark Treaty of Waitangi settlement with the Ngāi Tahu iwi in 1998. [4][5] Whakaraupō translates as Bay/harbour of raupō in the South Island dialect of Māori.[6][4] This name came from a swamp of raupō reed that grew prolifically in the vicinity of Ōhinetahi, or Governor's Bay, at the head of the harbour.[7][8] Earlier sources give the Māori name as Whangaraupo, which has identical meaning to Whangaraupō but uses the wider Māori spelling of the word for harbour.[9] Captain Stokes of HMS Acheron, who led a survey of the harbour and surrounding lands in 1849, preferred to use the name Wakaraupo Bay to the then current English name of Port Cooper.[10] However, Stokes' preferred name was not used when the harbour was officially renamed Port Victoria upon it becoming a Port of Entry in August 1849.[11] The New Zealand Pilot of 1875, which is based on Stokes' survey, gives the Māori place name as Tewhaka, translating simply as 'the harbour'.[12]

The harbour was given many different names during the early days of European settlement, the first of which was Cook's Harbour after early exploration by James Cook. This same expedition named Akaroa Harbour as Banks's Harbour after Joseph Banks.[13] The first widespread name for the harbour was Port Cooper, after Daniel Cooper. This name was in common usage by the mid-1840s and was used as a brand name for farm produce from Banks Peninsula and the Dean's farm on the Canterbury Plains. The name Port Cooper was officially changed to Port Victoria (after Queen Victoria) in 1849, when the harbour became a Port of Entry.[11] Both the 1849 Admiralty chart of the harbour and 1875 sailing instructions in the New Zealand Pilot refer to the harbour as Port Lyttelton or Victoria, with the latter source noting Port Cooper as a former name.[12] Despite the name change and the use of Port Victoria on maps from the Canterbury Association, Port Cooper continued to see use as a name for some time. Charlotte Godley still refers to Port Cooper in her 1850 letters, while an 1867 immigrant also used the name when publishing his memoirs in 1928.[14]

In 1858, the harbour's name changed again, this time to Lyttelton Harbour. This coincided with the naming of the town of Lyttelton on the harbour's north shore in honour of George William Lyttelton and the Lyttelton family. Exactly when the harbour came to be known as Lyttelton Harbour is unclear, as the name appears to have been in use for almost a decade prior to the name change. The name appears in an 1849 admiralty chart, while in 1853 John Robert Godley is reported using this name in a speech to the Canterbury Association. In the early 1860s, The Canterbury Provincial Council established a Lyttelton Harbour Commission, and in 1877 the Lyttelton Harbour Board came into existence, after the Provinces were abolished. [15][failed verificationsee discussion] This name was used until the adoption of the dual name in 1998.


Lyttelton Harbour from the Bridle Path, 1937, Sydney Thompson

Whakaraupō and the surrounding hills have a long history of Māori activity. The islands of Aua and Ōtamahua (now with the dual names of Aua / King Billy Island and Ōtamahua / Quail Island respectively) were important sources of resources for local Māori, despite being uninhabited. Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Mamoe used the islands as a source of shellfish, birds eggs and flax, as well as stone for use in tools.[16] Sandstone from Aua was used to help work other stones used by Māori, such as pounamu.[17][18] The significance of Ōtamahua in this regard is recognised in its Māori name, which translates as the gathering place of eggs.[16] The nearby Ripapa Island has evidence of more permanent habitation, and was the location of a prominent defensive built by the Ngāi Tahu chief Taununu.[3] The pā was attacked during the 1820s by another group of Ngāi Tahu consisting of various hapū from across the South Island as part of the Kai huanga feud. Despite being razed by the attacking forces, the pā was rebuilt and continued to be inhabited by Ngāi Tahu after this period until it was attacked by Te Rauparaha during his invasion of Canterbury.[19][20] The pā remained uninhabited from this point, until it was removed when Fort Jervois was built on the island in 1885–95.[3] Rīpapa was used in World War I to intern German nationals as enemy aliens, the most notable being Count Felix von Luckner.

Upon the initial settlement of Canterbury, the harbour became a centre of activity for the early European settlers owing to its easier access when compared to the swamplands in present-day Christchurch. Lyttelton's population grew quickly, with the surrounding land and Quail Island being initially converted into farmland. As immigration grew, Quail Island was offered as a quarantine station to provide facilities for inbound ships with illness on board. Facilities were completed and operational on the island by 1875, and continued to be used for quarantine of inbound humans and livestock until 1929.[21] The island was also used for containing cases during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and later as a leper colony in 1918–25.[3] Otamahua / Quail Island is now a nature reserve.[3]

The growing population of Lyttelton and the harbour's position as the arrival port for many new settlers facilitated the development of new links to the wider island. The first of these links was the Bridle Path, completed in 1850 to coincide with the arrival of Canterbury Association ships."Bridle Path Historic Area". Register of Historic Places. Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 9 October 2021. This was joined in 1858 by the completion of a road to Sumner over Evans Pass, and in 1867 by the opening of the Lyttelton Rail Tunnel. In 1877 the Lyttelton Harbour Board (now Lyttelton Port Company) started building an inner harbour,[3] and in 1895 the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand started a steamship service on the 200-nautical-mile (370 km) route between here and Wellington.[22] From 1907 it was worked with turbine steamships and from 1933 it was named the "Steamer Express".[22]

However, in 1962 New Zealand Railways started the Interislander ferry service on the 55-nautical-mile (102 km) route between Picton and Wellington. This competing service not only offered a shorter crossing but also used diesel ships that had lower running costs than the Union Company's turbine steamers. The wreck of the Steamer Express TEV Wahine in 1968 was a setback for the Lyttelton service but the Union Company introduced a new ship, TEV Rangatira, in 1972.[22] She lost money, survived on a Ministry of Transport subsidy from 1974 and was withdrawn in 1976,[22] leaving the Interislander's Picton route to continue the ferry link between the two islands.


Lyttelton Harbour / Whakaraupō was formed by erosion of the Banks Peninsula Volcano, which was active during the late Miocene from eruptive centres in both Lyttelton and Akaroa harbours. As the volcano eroded, the calderas formed by the eruptions were flooded, forming both of the main harbours on the Peninsula. The harbour shares a common entrance with adjacent Port Levy / Koukourarata about 2-nautical-mile (4-kilometre) wide, between Awaroa / Godley Head and Baleine Point, with Te Piaka / Adderley Head set back slightly.[12] The entrance lies 2.5 nautical miles (4.6 kilometres) from Sumner beach at the south east end of the sandy beaches of Pegasus Bay.[12] From the entrance the harbour runs in West-South-West direction for 7 nautical miles (13 kilometres) with the port of Lyttelton being 4 nautical miles (7 kilometres) up the harbour from the heads, lies on the northern shore.[12] Between the heads the harbour is 8 fathoms (15 metres) deep which gradually reduces to 3.5 fathoms (6 metres) in the vicinity of Lyttelton port.[12] The bottom of mostly soft mud and the only significant navigation hazard between the heads and the port is Parson Rock, a detached submerged rock pinnacle, which is marked, on the south side of the harbour about 200 metres north of Ripapa Island.[12][23] The shipping channel has been dredged so the port can cope with larger container ships.[24]

The prevailing winds in Lyttelton Harbour are from the north-east and south-west.[12] South-west gales can be very violent and have been known to drive ships at anchor ashore from as early as 1851.[25][26][12] In October 2000, 32 boats were sunk and a marina destroyed in one southerly storm with sustained winds of 130 kilometres per hour (70 kn).[27][28] In strong northerly winds a heavy swell rolls up the harbour.[12]

Bays and headlandsEdit

Working around the harbour from Awaroa / Godley Head to Te Piaka / Adderley Head one encounters:[29]

Mechanics Bay
Mechanics Bay is where supplies for the Godley Head lighthouse were landed.
Breeze Bay
Livingstone Bay
Otokitoki / Gollans Bay
This bay is below Evans Pass. Gollan was one of the surveyors of the harbour.
Battery Point
Polhill's Bay
Which has been completely reclaimed for Cashin Quay.
Sticking Point
This is where construction of the Sumner Road stopped when it encountered difficult rock.
Officers Point
Erskine Bay
The Port of Lyttelton occupies this bay.
Tapoa / Erskine Point
Magazine Bay
Motukauatiiti / Corsair Bay
A popular bay for swimming at.
Motukauatirahi / Cass Bay
Thomas Cass was one of the surveyors of the harbour.
Rāpaki Bay
Governors Bay
Kaitangata / Mansons Peninsula
Head of the Bay
Moepuku Point
Te Wharau / Charteris Bay
Hays Bay
Kaioruru / Church Bay
Pauaohinekotau Head
Te Waipapa / Diamond Harbour
Stoddard Point
Purau Bay
Inainatua / Pile Bay
Deep Gully Bay
Te Pohue / Camp Bay
Waitata / Little Port Cooper
Formerly a whaling station and later a pilot station.


Aua / King Billy Island
Aua / King Billy Island is a small island between Otamahua / Quail Island and the adjacent headland of Moepuku Point. In the past it has also been called Little Quail Island.
Ōtamahua / Quail Island
The Māori name Otamahua means eggs of the sea fowl.[30] It was named Quail Island after an 1842 incident when Captain William Mein Smith flushed some native quail while out walking here to complete a sketch he was drawing of the island.[30] Both the English and Māori names were given equal status in 2003 with the dual name of Ōtamahua / Quail Island.[30][31]
Kamautaurua Island
Kamautaurua Island was previously known as Kamautaurua or Shag Reef.[32][33] In December 1862, the cutter Dolphin capsized and wrecked on the reef into an unfavourable wind and tide when returning from further up the harbour with a load of lime.[34][33]
Ripapa Island
Also known as Ripa Island. About 200 metres (219 yards) north of the island lies Parson Rock, a submerged rock pinnacle that is covered by about 2.4 metres (8 feet) of water at low tide.[12][23] The rock has been known by this name since the 1800s.[23]

In popular cultureEdit

Paul Theroux described Lyttelton Harbour as "long and lovely, a safe anchorage" in The Happy Isles of Oceania.[35]

Lyttelton Harbour as seen from Mount Cavendish


  1. ^ Hampton, S.J.; J.W. Cole (March 2009). "Lyttelton Volcano, Banks Peninsula, New Zealand: Primary volcanic landforms and eruptive centre identification". Geomorphology. 104 (3–4): 284–298. Bibcode:2009Geomo.104..284H. doi:10.1016/j.geomorph.2008.09.005.
  2. ^ "Geology of the Provinces of Canterbury and Westland, New Zealand" (web). New Zealand Texts Collection. NZETC. 1879. Retrieved 23 July 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Page 12 – Lyttelton Harbour". Story: Canterbury places. Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 13 July 2012.
  4. ^ a b "Place name detail: Lyttelton Harbour/Whakaraupō". New Zealand Gazetteer. New Zealand Geographic Board. Retrieved 27 January 2021.
  5. ^ "Schedule 96, Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998". New Zealand Legislation. New Zealand Government. Retrieved 8 October 2021.
  6. ^ "NZMS 346/2 Te Wai Pounamu, The Land and its People". Wellington, New Zealand: Te Puna Korero Whenua The Department of Survey and Land Information for the Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa New Zealand Geographic Board. 1995. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  7. ^ "Ōhinetahi — Governor's Bay". Christchurch City Libraries. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  8. ^ "Te Whakaraupō – Lyttelton Harbour". Christchurch City Libraries. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  9. ^ Taylor, W. A. (1950). "Port Cooper or Whangaraupo — (Bay of the Raupo Reeds)". Lore and History of the South Island Maori. Christchurch: Bascands Ltd: 57–63. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  10. ^ Stokes, John Lort (24 April 1850). "... extract of a private letter from Captain Stokes of H. M. Steamer Acheron, to. Sir George Grey relating to the district of Port Cooper ... May 4, 1849". New Zealand Spectator and Cook's Strait Guardian. Vol. VI, no. 493. Wellington, New Zealand. p. 3. Retrieved 30 January 2021. ... that locality, commonly named Port Cooper, by me, Wakaraupo Bay.
  11. ^ a b "Page 4 Advertisements Column 2". New Zealand Spectator and Cook's Strait Guardian. Vol. V, no. 420. Wellington, New Zealand. 11 August 1849. p. 4. Retrieved 30 January 2021. Colonial Secretary's Office, Wellington, 9th August, 1849. NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN, that His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor has been pleased to approve of Port Victoria (heretofore known as Port Cooper) in the Province of New Munster, in the Islands of New Zealand, as a Port of Entry. By His Excellency's Command, Alfred Domett, Colonial Secretary.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Richards, George Henry; Evans, Fredrick John Owen (1875). "Port Lyttelton or Victoria" (Various download options available). New Zealand Pilot (Fourth ed.). London: Hydrographic Office, Admiralty. pp. 212–215. Retrieved 30 January 2021. From surveys made by H.M. ships Acheron and Pandora, Captain J. Lort Stokes, and Commander Byron Drury, 1848–55.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  13. ^ Hight, James; Straubel, C. R. (1957). A History of Canterbury : to 1854. Vol. I. Christchurch: Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd. p. 35.
  14. ^ "THE EARLY DAYS. WAIKATO TIMES". 3 March 1928. Retrieved 20 May 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. ^ McLintock, A. H., ed. (23 April 2009) [First published in 1966]. "Lyttelton". An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Ministry for Culture and Heritage / Te Manatū Taonga. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
  16. ^ a b Brown, Derek (2001). "The Ghosts of Quail Island". New Zealand Geographic (50). Retrieved 9 October 2021.
  17. ^ "Ōtamahua / Quail Island Historic Area". Register of Historic Places. Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 5 July 2019.
  18. ^ "Ōtamahua/Quail Island Recreation Reserve". Department of Conservation. Retrieved 4 July 2019.
  19. ^ Steven, Oliver. "Tama-i-hara-nui –Biography". Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 9 October 2021.
  20. ^ "Taununu's pa, Ripapa Island, Lyttelton Harbour". Christchurch City Libraries. Retrieved 9 October 2021.
  21. ^ "Quail Island". Retrieved 9 October 2021.
  22. ^ a b c d "Steamer Express". New Zealand Coastal Shipping. 2003–2009. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
  23. ^ a b c "Place name detail: Parson Rock". New Zealand Gazetteer. New Zealand Geographic Board. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  24. ^ Hutching, Chris (3 September 2018). "Blast from the past for Lyttelton dredging project?". Stuff. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  25. ^ "JOURNAL OF THE WEEK". Lyttelton Times. Vol. I, no. 23. 14 June 1851. p. 5. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  26. ^ "JOURNAL OF THE WEEK". Lyttelton Times. Vol. I, no. 26. 5 July 1851. p. 5. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  27. ^ "Lyttelton's bad Friday". Stuff. 9 October 2010. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  28. ^ Hayward, Michael (22 January 2020). "Polystyrene blocks from wrecked pontoon left to degrade for almost two decades". Stuff. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  29. ^ Andersen, Johannes C. (1927). "Map of Banks Peninsula showing principal surviving European and Maori place-names". Place-names of Banks Peninsula : a topographical history. Wellington: Govt. Printer. Retrieved 17 January 2021.
  30. ^ a b c "Place name detail: Otamahua / Quail Island". New Zealand Gazetteer. New Zealand Geographic Board. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  31. ^ "Place name detail: Quail Island (Otamahua)". New Zealand Gazetteer. New Zealand Geographic Board. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  32. ^ "Place name detail: Kamautaurua Island". New Zealand Gazetteer. New Zealand Geographic Board. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  33. ^ a b "Place name detail: Kamautaurua (Shag Reef)". New Zealand Gazetteer. New Zealand Geographic Board. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  34. ^ "Wreck at Lyttelton". Southland Times. Vol. I, no. 12. 19 December 1862. p. 2. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  35. ^ Theroux, Paul (1992). The Happy Isles of Oceania. Mariner Books. p. 23.

Further readingEdit

  • Tolerton, Nick (2007). Lyttelton Icon: 100 Years of the Steam Tug Lyttelton. Christchurch, NZ: Tug Lyttelton Preservation Society. ISBN 9781877427206.

External linksEdit

  Media related to Lyttelton Harbour / Whakaraupō at Wikimedia Commons