The Lady of the Lake transports tourists from Queenstown to Walter Peak High Country Farm.
She’s an institution, a trip back in time, a much-loved constant presence on Lake Wakatipu for over a century.
From her launch in 1912 the TSS Earnslaw — AKA the Lady of the Lake — has been chugging up, down and across the lake servicing the surrounding high country stations, from Frankton at the bottom to Glenorchy at the top, carrying sheep, cattle, cargo, mail, groceries and passengers.
Today, as befits an old lady, her duties are less onerous: she simply chugs back and forth carrying tourists from Queenstown over to Walter Peak High Country Farm — though that’s still a 45-minute trip one way, and she does it half a dozen times a day.
Because there aren’t many other places in the world where you can cruise in a twin-screw coal-fired steamship, cheerfully belching that signature smoke from her red funnel — and this one is passing through some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery.
You can watch the stokers sweating over their shovelfuls of coal, feeding the insatiable flames in the furnaces, and visit the engine room to watch the pistons busily thrusting. It’s all about effort and energy, and very satisfying to witness as you lounge with a glass of wine in your hand. The décor is authentic brass and wood, the seats are comfortable, there’s a parlour, and sometimes there’s music too.
At Walter Peak there’s a classic demonstration of sheep herding and shearing, with plenty of chatty information and a chance afterwards to get up close and pet the animals. You can’t count yourself a Kiwi, or even a proper visitor, if you haven’t had the sheep experience, and this one is very professional and entertaining. You also have a chance to look around the old homestead and find out a bit about its history before the ship leaves again.
Make sure you’re hungry enough to do the buffet lunch justice — the food is excellent, and there’s masses of it. And leave room for dessert.
ON THE WAY/NEARBY
Of course Queenstown is crammed with things to do and see, but 40 minutes away at the top of the lake, Glenorchy is well worth a visit for its less well-known but equally gorgeous scenery — you can go on a photography tour there to get tips on how to best capture it. There’s tramping and horse riding, jet-boating and kayaking, pizza and beer, and even a road sign pointing to actual Paradise.
From $75 for a Walter Peak visit, including sheep and scones, up to $149 which includes a horse trek around the station’s paddocks. You can also go cycling, or have a barbecue lunch onboard or dinner at the homestead.
BEST TIME TO GO
The Earnslaw operates year-round, apart from a month off for maintenance from early June. Each season has its glories — winter white, spring green, summer blue, autumn gold — so all you need is a clear day to appreciate those mountains and that lake. See realjourneys.co.nz