Lady of the Lake Queensland The TSS Earnslaw

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The arrival of the TSS Earnslaw at the Queenstown wharf is a delight for those gathered at the lakeside. All eyes are upon her as she steams into the harbour, making an elegant tour of the lakefront before docking at the pier and disembarking her passengers. She may be a centenarian, but vintage never goes out of style.

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Passengers disembark the TSS Earnslaw
Passengers disembark the TSS Earnslaw. Photo by Thomas Shepherd

The Lady of the Lake, Queenstown

Known fondly as the Lady of the Lake, the TSS Earnslaw was designed by naval architect Hugh McRae. She was built in Dunedin by John McGregor & Company shipbuilders after being commissioned by New Zealand Railways in the early twentieth century. Following construction, she was again disassembled and transported overland to Kingston, at the southernmost tip of Lake Wakatipu. From here, she was launched in 1912.

In her time, she served New Zealand Railways along with her sister ships, Ben Lomond, Antrim and Mountaineer. These vessels transported passengers, goods and even livestock as part of a rail and shipping network that linked the towns and settlements of Queenstown, Kingston and Glenorchy, as well as various high country stations around the lake.

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The Stern of the TSS Earnslaw
The Stern of the TSS Earnslaw. Photo by Thomas Shepherd

The TSS Earnslaw was nearly lost to the scrapyard in 1968, but today it enjoys a recognised heritage status. The vintage steamship is now owned by the tourism company RealNZ and is the only commercial, coal-powered passenger steamship still operating in the southern hemisphere.

Despite being launched the same year as the Titanic, her gorgeous, native Kauri wood decking and steel hull have been lovingly preserved. Meanwhile, her coal-fired engines and funnel are a forgivable touch of character—like a lady from high society who sips from a long-handled cigarette outside of the theatre.

Lake Wakatipu.
Lake Wakatipu. Photo by Thomas Shepherd

Sailing Lake Wakatipu

Today, RealNZ offers several sailings a day on most days, which depart from Queenstown and steam across to the Walter Peak High Country Farm on the far side of Lake Wakatipu. Those willing to pay a little extra are able to disembark at the other side and enjoy barbecue buffets, farm shows and horse trekking tours.

Once aboard, passengers are immersed in a unique experience of sightseeing, nostalgia and exploration that rivals all other local attractions. On the top level, a pianist tickles the ears of boarding passengers but is soon overcome by the excitement of children and adults, who scramble for seats and send scouts to inspect the cafeteria.

The Bow of the TSS Earnslaw
The Bow of the TSS Earnslaw. Photo by Thomas Shepherd

The journey to Walter Peak takes around forty-five minutes, and one is spoilt by the hospitality of both the ship and her crew. A viewing platform above the engine room invites passengers to observe the finest of Edwardian engineering as young lads shovel coal into the bright, hot furnace amidst the hiss and roar of machinery.

The TSS Earnslaw Museum
The TSS Earnslaw Museum. Photo by Thomas Shepherd

On the lower deck, one finds additional seating as well as room for stowing bicycles at the bow, where plaques and photographs tell of the history of the Lady of the Lake, Queenstown.

Meanwhile, above deck, the bow attracts the curiosity of passengers who are seeking their Titanic moment as well as those who are fond of the fresh, alpine air and scenery. Mountain ranges such as The Remarkables are a lure for the awestruck eye, although one may also marvel at the depths of Lake Wakatipu, which is as deep as the mountains are high.

Docking at Walter Peak High Country Farm
Docking at Walter Peak High Country Farm. Photo by Thomas Shepherd

Walter Peak High Country Farm

As the steamship arrives at Walter Peak, passengers disembark and are greeted on the shores of the lake by a small crew who directs them to the various attractions. Those enjoying a dining experience are directed to the historic Colonel’s Homestead. In summertime, the homestead is surrounded by lush green lawns and gorgeous gardens, with flowers that resemble an artist’s untouched palette.

The Gardens of Walter Peak High Country Farm
The Gardens of Walter Peak High Country Farm. Photo by Thomas Shepherd

Despite its remote location, the Colonel’s Homestead is large enough to host functions and gatherings, with a dedicated restaurant on site. While the emphasis may be on traditional farm-bred cuisine, the hosts are usually able to cater for guests with vegetarian requirements if given advance notice.

After dining at the homestead, one is able to tour the farm and witness the sheering skills of the local farmhands and the working dogs who herd the flocks of sheep. During our trip, however, the return of the Lady of the Lake with another round of passengers to collect us came almost too soon.

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Explore the grand history of the Lady of the Lake, Queenstown: the vintage steamer remains a century-old delight to visitors to the harbour. # #Queenstownnz

The TSS Earnslaw departs from Queenstown, with multiple sailings in a day, most days of the year. Passengers are able to enjoy a return sailing and sightseeing experience or are able to disembark at Walter Peak for dining, horse trekking and farm tours. Experienced cyclists are also able to embark on self-guided adventures from Walter Peak.

Depending on the season, Queenstown can be very hot in the summer or very cold in the winter, so be sure to dress appropriately. Suitable walking shoes are also essential, especially if disembarking on the other side.

Prices can vary, and going ashore at Walter Peak comes at an additional cost. Given the popularity of the TSS Earnslaw, advance bookings are advisable, especially during peak season.

For more information and to book your experience with the Lady of the Lake, Queenstown visit RealNZ

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Author Bio: Thomas Shepherd is a New Zealand-based writer with a love of history, culture, wide open spaces and forgotten trails. Fortunately, adventure lives on his doorstep and is never too far away.

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