At first, I thought I saw a shooting star, but then realised it was the embers flying up from the bright red funnel of the coal-fired steamship and off into the night sky, joining the plethora of stars in the inky black sky.
It was one of those moments you just never forget. The rush of the cold air against your face, a bellyful of delicious barbecue, the warmth of a couple of local pinot noirs, and the singalong that was happening downstairs echoing around the ship.
I head downstairs, looking into the engine room as they stoke the furnace with coal, and spend time reading captions on old photos in the museum below deck. It was fascinating learning about the history of the ship and the surrounding region.
We had dinner at Colonel’s Homestead Restaurant at Walter Peak – a working high country farm where impressive gardens wrap around the homestead. The original homestead was damaged by a fire in 1977, but it has been carefully reconstructed.
Q&A with Peter Greer the Skipper of the TSS Earnslaw
This born-and-bred Queenstown skipper has seen much change over the years in and around Queenstown.
How did you get to become skipper?
When I was a kid the Earnslaw was chugging across the lake – but I never imagined I would skipper it one day. When I left school I went overseas – and when I came back I started working for Real Journeys.
How has Queenstown changed over the years?
Queenstown has always had a vibe that it’s growing bigger, and it’s always been a place to go for an adventure and party.
Do you have a favourite time of day on the lake?
Yes, the 4pm trip – it’s usually a quiet trip.
What are five things a visitor to Queenstown should do?
Climb the boulders over at The Remarkables – climbing up the rocks is a really fun thing to do. There’s a lot of good jet boating, it’s exciting because the boat is so small you feel everything and it really gives that sense of speed. Even going up the gondolas or the Cardrona chairlift with your bike during the summer is great, and then hooning down. There’s a small hill beside Calvin Heights – the farmer who used to own it would let people go up there as there’s a huge oriental fortress left over from a movie set. And going into Skippers Cannon to see where the goldmining has been, and see what it would have been like in the 1860s. And of course visitors should come out on TSS Earnslaw!