Sailing back IN TIME
A trip on the TSS Earnslaw is like taking a time machine to a bygone era, writes Sara Litchfield.
Queenstown is the South Island’s adventure capital, complete with mountain and lake vistas straight from the prettiest of postcards. It is renowned for its wild beauty and easy access to such treasured spots as Milford Sound and Glenorchy as much as for its opportunities for adrenalin-fuelled activities. So when you arrive, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to planning your days.
Making a short visit, it was difficult to be discerning, but one option stood out far above the rest and that was a trip on the TSS Earnslaw. Real Journey’s vintage steamship has been carrying passengers over the Wakatipu for a hundred years, and the ship setting course across the lake is an iconic sight.
Boarding, I was immediately struck with a sense of history and grandeur, polished wood and gleaming brass on every side, accompanied by a grand piano and its accomplished player. There’s
an extensive bar and comfortable booths to sit at, while a visit below allows you to witness the power and sophistication of this feat of engineering first hand.
You can’t get closer to the heart of the experience than on deck, where I was rewarded for braving the elements with a unique perspective of the surrounding countryside. The drive along the Wakatipu from Queenstown towards Glenorchy, which I’d
experienced previously, is stunning, but by boat the journey has a quality that just can’t be replicated on land.
The cruise ends at Walter Peak Station on the lake’s southwestern shore, where the Earnslaw docks in the most picturesque place imaginable. Disembarking, I was able to wander around the working high country farm, admire the lovely lakeside gardens, and marvel at a completely different way of life. As one of the first farms set up in the region, the station at Walter Peak is evidence of the pioneering spirit that infuses the history of this remarkable country.
I chose the evening crossing so that I could experience the gourmet BBQ dinner on offer, laid out at the Colonal’s Homestead. In lavish surroundings, I enjoyed delicious, fresh seafood and, upon tearing myself away from the clams, an astonishing array of other culinary delights, culminating in a beautiful choice of meat from the barbeque, cooked to perfection, with a variety of wines matching the meal for quality and a desert spread that took my breath away.
Contentedly full, I joined everyone by the shearing shed for a farming demonstration. The farmer, full of remarkable facts, commanded his dogs to round up the sheep from the paddock before taking us into the shed and shearing one with unexpected speed and agility. It’s certainly an experience for a city girl like me. The freshly-shorn wool is passed around before you’re given the opportunity to take some home with you in one of its many forms once it’s passed through the hands of skilled craftsmen.
Back on board, it’s a relaxing return cruise through the twilight, like something out of a dream. Your every surrounding seems to have transported you to a long-distant date, so that when you step off the ship back at the wharf in Queenstown, you feel as though you’ve left a bygone era behind.
I’d suggest that no visit to the region, regardless of the other excitements to be sampled, is complete without this trip back in time, which gives you more to take away than a quick thrill or holiday snap. The sense that I’ve experienced Queenstown below the surface, that I’ve experienced something special that might not be there forever, stays with me as I leave town, intent on spreading the word that there’s magic, a time-machine, as well as an unforgettable meal, to be had over the lake.