A Nostalgic Cruise on the TSS Earnslaw


The year the TSS Earnslaw set sail on her maiden voyage.

A twin screw steamer based on Lake Wakatipu, she is one of the oldest tourist attractions in Central Otago. It is also (according to Wikipedia) the only remaining commercial passenger-carrying coal-fired steamship in the southern hemisphere.

When we were in Central Otago earlier this year, we made a trip up to Glenorchy. In the old boat shed, there are pictures and stories about The Earnslaw. I learnt that it used to travel between Queenstown and Glenorchy, transporting sheep, cattle and passengers to the surrounding high country stations. (The road to Glenorchy wasn’t built until the 60’s)

Today, she is still cruising Lake Wakatipu, showing off the beauty of Queenstown to local and international tourists.

And so we climb aboard for a nostalgic evening cruise on the lake with Real Journeys.

Instantly I am taken back to a bygone era. We are welcomed aboard with a glass of bubbles. The decor is what I would describe as ‘old elegance’ – timber floors and walls with art nouveau styled fixtures and pictures. A band is playing and we settle into our booth seats to enjoy the experience. There is a rhythmic banging coming from the engine, combined with the water lapping at the hull of the boat, it’s all very soothing.

It’s 6pm and the sun is going down.


I head out onto the deck to enjoy the view of The Remarkables while I can. Lights are reflecting off the water. It’s dreamy and beautiful.

The Earnslaw is coal powered and I make a stop above the engine room. It’s an open floor with a walkway suspended above so you can look down. Watching the pistons move up and down and staff shoveling coal, for a moment, I feel like I could be on the Titanic. It’s a strange thought to think both ships made their maiden voyage in 1912.

It’s a cold evening, but I head outside again and take a few moments to myself, remembering my Granddad. Knowing that he too stood on this deck warms my heart.

It’s a clear sky tonight (no wonder it’s so cold) the stars and milky way are beautiful though. I remind myself that I should really start learning about astro photography.

I really enjoyed my trip on the Earnslaw and I would certainly recommend it, but perhaps not the evening cruise. Seeing the light slip away behind the mountains and the lights reflect off the lake is lovely, but there is so much beauty in this area. Most of this cruise was in the dark. I would have been able to enjoy a lot more of the scenery on a day cruise.