Sail­ing back IN TIME

A trip on the TSS Earnslaw is like tak­ing a time ma­chine to a by­gone era, writes Sara Litch­field.

Go Travel New Zealand - - Queenstown -

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.

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