Hello dear reader and welcome to the third iteration of my Queenstown trip! In the first part, I was introduced to Queenstown and visited Glenorchy. While the second part focused on a day’s journey to Wanaka! Click the links to get up to speed with the story so far. Happy reading!

If you’ve ever either searched for or better still, been to Queenstown then you will know that one of the place’s major attractions is a lake. A rather large one in fact! Also known as Lake Wakatipu, this body of water is the longest in New Zealand with a length of 80km. It is also the third largest lake the in the country and is also one of the deepest with a 380m depth!

Queenstown Lake as seen from the shores
Earnslaw is a regular sight on the Lake

Yes, it’s a formidable body of water and has flooded Queenstown a few times, most notably in 1999 when the town was quite badly damaged. Other notable towns on its shore include Kingston and Glenorchy. Speaking of which, one of the best ways to admire the beauty of the Lake is to drive the Queenstown-Glenorchy road which hugs its coastline. The other is to climb aboard the TSS Earnslaw steamship that regularly traverses the waters there.

Museum inside the TSS Earnslaw steamship on Lake Wakatipu/Queenstown
There is also a museum onboard if the view gets boring!

Let’s have a bit of a history lesson first about the TSS Earnslaw! It is a steamship that begun life in 1912 which makes it the oldest passenger carrying steamship in the Southern Hemisphere. Earnslaw is also the only hand-fired commercial passenger carrying vessel in the Southern Hemisphere! Originally commissioned by New Zealand Railways to service communities around the Lake. She actually had her maiden voyage in the same year as the Titanic (good thing there are no icebergs on this lake!). Known as the ‘Lady of the Lake’, she carried passengers, cattle, sheep, supplies and mail around the region. With a length of 48m, she was also the largest vessel on the Lake. Almost scrapped in 1968, she was then rescued by RealNZ and restored to her current glory.

Lake Wakatipu/Queenstown as seen from the TSS Earnslaw steamship
I have no words to describe this view

Enough of the lecture, what about the experience?! Well, we were in Queenstown for a few days before we took the cruise and it is a magnificent sight to see this ship sail across the Lake. It is very much a trip back in time! As is the ship itself, the charm of which is in its age. It almost makes me nostalgic about an era that pre-dates me by a long way. The ship is still as it was back in the day, with the cabin made entirely out of the wood. Everything from the colours to the lighting features are all period correct and how beautiful they are. I have this notion that vintage items such as the Earnslaw were built to last unlike a lot of what we have today which is far more disposable in nature. A notion which was affirmed by the rugged but elegant character of this ship.

Wooden construction of the TSS Earnslaw steamship
How about that for a trip down memory lane!

Despite the fact that Earnslaw is more than a century old and largely constructed of wood & steel, it doesn’t feel rickety at all. In fact, it felt a lot more reassuring that many modern ferries I’ve been on. Then again, maybe I was hypnotized by the note of her large naturally aspirated engine or the sweet sound of the music aboard the ship.

The tunes came courtesy of the dynamic duo of Kate & Tony. Armed with a piano, guitar and their voices, few sounds could have accompanied this voyage better. Music really makes experiences for me and I often look back on my life to the tune of what I was listening to at the time. As for this memory, well that dances to the beat of ‘Dreams‘ by Fleetwood Mac. Partly because my sister sung it with Kate & Tony but also because the voyage itself might as well be fantastical, it truly is that worthwhile.

Kate and Tony in charge of the music aboard the TSS Earnslaw steamship on Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown
Kate and Tony in charge of the tunes aboard the TSS Earnslaw

The journey is 1.5 hours but it feels longer and I say that in the best possible way. Once again, I will resurrect my love affair for the old when I say that time appeared to last longer pre-technology. Simple trips like these were treated like an occasion which made life special. Similarly, this cruise should serve as a chance to put your phone away and properly enjoy the ride (says the writer behind a laptop!).

Anyway, if you do feel that every journey should have a destination then fear not because Earnslaw stops at Walter Peak High Country Farm on the other end of Lake Wakatipu. The friendly staff come to the decks and wave at the ship as it comes into dock, a warm welcome indeed. Though I must warn you that your decision to step off must be quick as the turnaround time is a generous 5 minutes!

Walter Peak High Country Farm on the shores of Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown
Walter Peak High Country Farm on the shores of the Lake

The return journey was even more enjoyable if that was possible. Enjoying the sight of the Remarkables mountain range with the sound of the waves for company. This time around, the excellent musicians got a chance to rest their voices and with the ship mostly empty, it left me with a precious moment alone with my thoughts. And as you too will hopefully find, this is an experience you will never forget.

I leave you with a challenge today, spend five minutes just doing nothing at all and see what you notice!

Thanks for reading! For more travel reviews, visit Tarmac Life.

Words and pictures by Matthew D’Souza.

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