When she turned 100 years old in 2012, almost every child in Queenstown turned out in period costume to wave and wish her ‘happy birthday’, such is the love for this historic vessel, the TSS Earnslaw. Affectionately known as the Lady of the Lake, she’s as synonymous with Queenstown as the vista of The Remarkables mountains. The Earnslaw is typically photographed beneath them, plying the waters of Lake Wakatipu in all weathers.
Owned and operated by Real Journeys, the TSS Earnslaw makes the voyage to Walter Peak High Country Farm across the lake up to five times a day. You can even tell the time by the blast of the Earnslaw’s funnel as she arrives from Walter Peak and leaves again. The voyage is one of Queenstown’s must-dos: you cannot leave town without stepping aboard.
Embarking on the 51.2m (168ft) steamship is a step back in time – the crew deftly casts off from the wharf and the coal-fired steam takes over. Above the engine room you can see men shovel coal into the furnaces, the boilers furiously powering the massive steam engines. A thick steel cable pulls the rudder and the old girl heads out into the clear blue of Lake Wakatipu.
The red and white lines of her hull cut smoothly through the wind or waves to Walter Peak, still a working sheep station. Set against the backdrop of the mountains, the Colonel’s Homestead Restaurant here is as beautiful and charming as the old steamship herself.
You can simply cruise there or back, or you can pause and enjoy the hospitality of the Real Journeys crew on the station – offering farm tours, horse treks and stunning meals. Any or all is highly recommended. And it’s all utterly charming. It’s difficult to know what to rate as the most memorable – the sheep-shearing demonstration, the affection of the farm dogs, or the skill of sheep mustering (with old dog Skye and her owner, a Southland shepherd named Pete).
A highlight is the gourmet barbecue lunch (or dinner) with chefs serving tender cuts of lamb straight off the grill. Then choose between the dozen or more beautifully presented, delicious desserts. The dining room is worth exploring for its echoes of colonial architecture, but it’s equally stunning out on the terrace with a view of the lake.
Perhaps the real star is Walter Peak High Country Farm itself. Meander over to the paddocks and scratch the noses of highland cattle leaning over the fence. Then stop and smell the roses – any of the hundreds of old-world blooms in the magnificent garden. Or simply wander along the lake’s edge and gaze up to the schist outcrops on the top-most ridge of Walter Peak.
As the TSS Earnslaw casts off again from the wharf at Walter Peak, it’s a poignant goodbye to one of the most beautiful corners of the Wakatipu, the final image being our guide and shepherd Pete, waving, with Skye, his loyal old heading dog, alongside.
For more information, call Real Journeys visit realjourneys.co.nz.