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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

Sailing on the TSS Earnslaw in Queenstown New Zealand

On Lake Wakatipu, in Queenstown New Zealand, sails the TSS Earnslaw, a beautiful wooden twin screw steamer.

Launched in 1912 (the same year as the ill-fated Titanic) this is the only remaining commercial passenger-carrying coal-fired steamship in the southern hemisphere. Even before you board the boat, you get an opportunity to watch the coal being delivered and shovelled by hand onto your vessel.

Sailing away from the port in Queenstown is an opportunity to see how closely the buildings are to each other, crowded around the lake.

Most of the year, the boat carries tourist passengers from Queenstown across the lake to the Walter Peak High Country Farm. The boat operates fourteen-hour days in summer, and cruises for eleven months of the year. One month is set aside for an annual survey of the boat, in either May or June.

At the farm, you can disembark and experience a barbecue lunch, dinners in the historic home, treks and farm tours.

Aboard the boat is a bar that sells coffee, cold drinks and alcohol. There is a selection of cold snack foods to purchase as well. One of the nice things about the boat is that you can also bring your own picnic and supplies aboard if you choose. Another is the pianist who played soft background music the entire trip.

There was a choice of indoor and outdoor seating. Most of the seats retain the original style, whether on the open area or in the more intimate saloon bar.

I did not do the farm experience as I was enjoying the actual sailing tour which takes about one and a half hours from start to finish.

Visitors can wander around the boat and one of the joys was seeing the working of the steam engine and admiring the hard work of the stokers loading coal into the furnace.

The engines are on view and walkway platforms allow people to get an up-close look at the original and still functioning steam engine. It looks pretty good for a lady over 100 years old.

Technical information and old photographs are on display at the wharf and onboard the vessel, for those interested in the history of the TSS Earnslaw.

Strolling along the deck and looking out over the water is peaceful as we sailed across the lake.

Almost barren of vegetation, snow-capped mountains were partially obscured by low lying clouds. To me, this was so serenely beautiful, and I could see why New Zealand is often called "The Land of the Long White Cloud".

Seeing the mountains from the water is an opportunity to enjoy vistas and sights that you wouldn't get the opportunity to if you were driving. Waterfalls sprang from the sides of the mountains.

Experiencing the TSS Earnslaw is one of the many enjoyable delights that Queenstown New Zealand has to offer. It is a relaxing way to see the majestic mountain views in a dignified and beautiful boat.

Happy Travels!

Thanks to TSS Earnslaw - Wikipedia for some of the information included in this story.

73 views3 comments


Jan 19, 2023

I'm a lucky lass who has been on this cruise. Highly recommend farm visit too.


Jan 04, 2023

I love NZ & hope to visit the South Island this year. This wonderful experience is definitely on my "must see/do" list.


Dec 19, 2022

not sure if it’s still done but I remember as a kid, on the evening return cruises, the pianist would hand out song books around the piano and everyone would have a singalong!

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