For a unique experience found nowhere else in the Southern Hemisphere a cruise across Lake Wakatipu on the famous TSS Earnslaw is just the activity for you.
Whilst there’s no shortage of adventure activities in Queenstown or the surrounding Otago region, heading down to Lake Wakatipu for a scenic cruise on the TSS Earnslaw is a must-do when in Queenstown.
Of course you will find yourself in central Queenstown walking past many of the activities here that draw thousands of people to the South Island every year but nestled in the steamer wharf of Lake Wakatipu is one of the oldest running steam engines afloat
What is the TSS Earnslaw
Built as a passenger cruise ship in 1912, 4 years before World War 1 and launched the same year as the Titanic, this Edwardian twin screw steamer is a coal-fired steamship that is still the only remaining commercial passenger-carrying steamship alive today.
Named after Mount Earnslaw at the tip of Lake Wakatipu, it’s 2889m peak was the origin and inspiration for this steamer.
She is the last in a long line of coal-powered ships that have been ferrying passengers and goods across the lakes of Queenstown bay to inaccessible regions.
Asides from transporting people, the TSS Earnslaw was used as a goods and services medium for transporting sheep and cargo around the Otago region and surrounding high country stations such as the Walter Peak station.
Explore more of Queenstown’s activities using our 2022 Guide
Despite being more than 100 years old the TSS Earnslaw cruises up and down Lake Wakatipu ferrying passengers from one side to the other for 12-14 hours of the day.
She’s ferried many a passengers such as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in 1990 and a myriad of other dignitaries like former President Bill Clinton and Duke’s of Gloucester and York.
Little known fact however, the TSS Earnslaw cruise project was almost scrapped in 1968 but was luckily purchased by RealNZ and her service to all who visit Queenstown’s waterfront continues to be a wonderful trip across lake Wakatipu.
The only way to experience a TSS Earnslaw cruise is to book using our must trusted resource Get Your Guide.
We constantly use GYG as they have fantastic service online, an easy cancellation policy and booking ahead of time means you don’t have to queue directly.
What to know before you go
Being an outdoor activity and one of the many activities in Queenstown reliant on the weather, it’s important to know that should you incur poor weather on your cruise you will be offered a full refund or credit to change the date.
Which company should I travel with?
Real NZ have established themselves as the most popular choice for cruises in Queenstown.
With an impressive safety record and amazing reviews on Get Your Guide we give them a 10/10 for ensuring their guests enjoy their time onboard the TSS Earnslaw.
They offer the longest cruise time and make this an enjoyable experience that the whole family can enjoy in particular older guests and young children especially on the farm tour.
Tours operate daily at varying times depending on availability and weather, but usually start around 12pm and go through till 6 pm every 2-3 hours.
What should I wear on a TSS Earnslaw cruise?
Personally we would suggest bringing warm clothing anytime you’re outdoors, however check your booking date and the local weather website to be sure.
When does the Cruise run?
The TSS Earnslaw runs all year long except for the months of June, July and August for scheduled annual maintenance to the mechanics of the ship as well as maintaining the small onboard museum.
What powers the TSS Earnslaw
Known affectionately by the New Zealand Railway (NZR) as ‘the lady of the lake’, the TSS Earnslaw is powered by a roaring coal fire triple expansion system housed inside the engine room.
This system is kept in the giant steam engines room accessible to guests on board their cruise, where you can feel free to take photographs and videos.
These days you won’t see too many of these ships floating around but a trip to Queenstown to join a scenic cruise on the TSS Earnslaw will have you travelling back in time.
TSS Earnslaw Reviews
This particular cruise has attracted over 550 reviews and averaged 5 stars – giving itself a name as one of the most popular tourist attractions in Queenstown.
People come from far and wide to join this tour and listen to the running commentary from the experienced guides as well as listen to the live pianist play.
Read Next >> Plan the rest of your Queenstown holiday activities using our guide
A cruise across Lake Wakatipu aboard the TSS Earnslaw
Begin the journey to Walter Peak high country farm by first boarding at the Steamer Wharf opposite the Realnz visitor centre in Queenstown Bay.
Use the Queenstown wharf walk from Beach street to guide you there before beginning your half day trip across the lake.
The ship is a museum in itself with historic displays inside for you to admire as well as a small onboard museum with historical photos of the construction and past journeys.
One of the highlights of being on board is being able to visit the engine room and see the stokers feed the fire with coal.
The giant steam engine room is what keeps this beautiful ship moving so you know these guys are working hard.
Food and drink on board the TSS Earnslaw
Guests are more than welcome to bring their own food for the day but why would you?
The Promenade café on your TSS Earnslaw cruise will look after you in terms of cafe style food and drinks to get you through the 45 minute lake crossing.
Enjoy fantastic views and make small talk with the lovely staff looking to help make your experience a memorable one before disembarking at Walter Peak.
Walter Peak station
Gliding across Lake Wakatipu is fascinating as you have 360 degree views of the surrounding mountain side, with the Remarkables at one end and Cecil peak at the other.
Once you reach the other side of the lake you arrive at Walter Peak station wharf before being taken to the Walter Peak high country farm.
Walter Peak high country farm was once used as camping sites for the Maori travelling to the Mararoa and Oreti rivers for Moa hunting.
This place is literally steeped in history and is reviewed as one of the best cultural tourist attractions on the South Island.
Here you will enjoy a beautiful BBQ lunch and buffet with delicious food including salads, vegetables and local meats direct from the farm.
Afternoon tea also includes an array of deserts, fresh breads and cheeses, however if you have dietary requirements just let your tour company know in advance so they can accommodate for you.
Enjoy the friendly service from your hosts whilst enjoying Queenstown’s surrounding landscape before you start the next part of your TSS Earnslaw cruise.
Walter Peak farm demonstration
After enjoying the smorgasbord BBQ lunch you will be invited to participate in the Walter Peak station farm tour.
This farm tour involves being greeted by the rural host of the farm and be taken to an amphitheatre to enjoy the incredible display, watching cattle dogs round up the sheep on the farm.
Next, make your way to the animal holding pens where you get to feed the sheep, deer and the unique Scottish highland Cattle.
There will even be a sheep sheering demonstration to really give you a true taste of life on the farm.
Returning to Queenstown’s waterfront
After enjoying your 3 hour tour across Lake Wakatipu and the Walter Peak high country farm, re-embark the TSS Earnslaw steamship to journey back to the Steamer Wharf for a 45 minute lake cruise.
Final thoughts on joining a TSS Earnslaw cruise across Lake Wakatipu
This really is one of the most interesting activities to try when in Queenstown purely due to the history steeped into this cruise and the significance it has played over the years forming much of Queenstown’s local culture.
Accommodation near TSS Earnslaw
Nothing beats staying right next to the days activities right? So we’ve gone ahead and done the work for you and given you access to the best accommodation in Queenstown below.
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