Timeball Station is a rare piece of maritime history, fabulously restored and boasting spectacular views over Lyttelton Harbour. A fine example of Victorian technology, Timeball signalled Greenwich time to ships in the harbour each day from 1876 to 1934. The rare Timeball Station is one of only five in the world known to still be in working order.
The timeball mechanism is 15m high and consists of a hollow sphere made from a wooden frame covered with thin sheets of painted zinc. It measures 1½m in width and weighs over 100 kg. An Oregon pine mast is threaded through a hole in the ball's centre, and the ball is hoisted by handwheel to the top of the mast where it rests on a catch. At a predetermined time the timeball was released by pulling away the catch, which released the ball dropping it down the mast. Ships took their readings the instant the timeball left the top of the mast.
Visual signals were important features of many ports, enabling navigators to check their chronometers and ensure accurate navigation. However, use of the timeball was eventually discontinued in 1934 when it was replaced by radio signals, though flag signals continued until 1941.