A Nostalgic Cruise on the TSS Earnslaw

1912.

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.

Fast.

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.

Wine tasting in Queenstown

What do Burgundy, Oregon and Otago have in common?

They all make outstanding Pinot Noir.

So when in Queenstown, no trip is complete with out visiting the vineyards and sampling some of the delicious wines produced in the area.

We are booked onto ‘The Wine Trail Tour’ with Queenstown Winery Tours. We are picked up from our hotel by our fun and knowledgeable host, Susana. There are 7 of us on this tour, plus Susana, and within minutes we are all chatting away like old friends.

Our first stop is not to a vineyard. Susana take us to Lake Hayes. A beautiful, picturesque lake just outside Queenstown’s center. While taking in the scenery (and Daniel is photographing ducks) we play a little game to help prepare us for what lies ahead.

You may recall in a previous post, I smelt a range of wine fragrances then tried to match them to their scent without much luck. You can read that post here. Even with my previous experience, the results were no different. I wont be giving up my day job!

We smelt many fragrances, from sweet smelling strawberry to pineapple to lychee to some less expected ones like mushroom and peat. We were also educated in the art of wine tasting (it is very technical) so we could all at least pretend that we knew what we are doing.

Sorted.

Our first vineyard is Akarua. With a beautiful outdoor dining area, set amongst mature trees, it is not only the perfect place to taste some wine, but also to enjoy an exquisite meal.

I love travel shows and on a Canadian travel vlog, I heard about something called ‘ice wine’. A dessert wine that has been made with grapes that have frozen on the vine.

I have wanted to try it ever since.

My lucky day – I was informed that Akarua is the only place in New Zealand that produces it. (The grapes are artificially frozen as they don’t get enough consecutive freezing cold days to produce it naturally) Deliciously sweet and sticky, needless to say a bottle of this came home with us.

After our wine tastings we delved into a scrumptious shared lunch which provided a great opportunity to chat with our fellow wine tasting tour buddies and get to know them more.

The food was amazing, as was the company.

We then headed to Chard Farm by way of a narrow winding road next to a very steep drop. (I feel like our 4 wheel drive trip to Skippers Canyon the day before prepared us well for this!) The scenery at Chard Farm is gorgeous!

Chard Farm produce another of my favourite wines, Gewurztraminer. It was not on the tasting list that day, so I purchased a bottle. I am still yet to try it.

Moving onto Gibbston Valley we go on a short tour around the vines, learning about the wine making process. We then head into their wine cave (The largest in New Zealand) for our wine tasting experience.

Our last stop for the day is Wet Jacket located in a beautifully done up wool shed. The wines we tasted were all exquisite. We tasted 6. I was about to suggest to Daniel that we buy one of each when he spotted another wine, not available for tasting, called ‘The Pirate’. An exclusive Pinot Noir in a leather bound bottle complete with a map of Dusky Sounds (Where Wet Jacket Arm is).

Instead of 6 bottles of wine, we walked away with The Pirate, number 893 of 929.

We purchased this on our 10 year wedding anniversary, I think we will be saving this for our 20th anniversary. (Or another level 4 lock down)

Speeding up the Shotover River

Queenstown, known as New Zealand’s ‘Adventure Capital’ has no shortage of activities for thrill seekers.

I don’t like heights and I am certainly not an adrenaline junkie but a jet boat ride on the iconic Shotover river is a thrill I was keen to experience.

There are several different tour companies offering jet boat rides in Queenstown, needless to say, I did my research.

We did our tour with Skippers Canyon Jet. It is one of the more expensive tours (I did manage to get it on sale) but I would consider it the best value for money. The other jet boat tours are just that, 20 – 30 minutes on the jet boat. With Skippers Canyon Jet, you are driven out to the Upper Shotover river though some absolutely stunning scenery. The whole tour lasts around 2.5-3 hours.

We are picked up from the center of town in a 4-wheel drive by our guide Willie. Willie has grown up in the area and during the 1 hour journey to the jet boat he shares his wealth of knowledge with us about the land, the people and the history.

In 1862, Thomas Arthur found the first gold at Arthurs Point on the Shotover River. 2 months later, 4000 gold miners had flocked to the area seeking their fortunes. The Shotover is one of the richest gold bearing rivers in the world and it was mined up until 1992.

At Skippers Road we make a quick stop so that Willie can put chains on the wheels.

Not a bad place to stop.

Uninterrupted views out over Queenstown.

Incredible.

There is plenty of snow to play in but I am regretting my footwear choice. Even with 2 pairs of socks, my canvas shoes let in all the cold.

I’m a snow rookie. But it doesn’t stop the child in me from reaching out and grabbing a handful of snow. I have never felt fresh snow before. I am so astonished at how powdery and soft it is, I insist that Daniel has to also pick some up.

Our 4 wheel drive adventure takes us past snow lined roads with winter bare trees. We weave our way along a narrow windy road with very steep drops. There are moments where my stomach churns. I find myself shifting my weight in my seat – as if I can counterbalance us rolling off the road should a wheel slip off the edge. Astonishingly, the speed limit here is 100kmh, although I am sure anything about 30kmh is asking for trouble.

We pass through Hell’s gate, a pathway through large rock that was made by hand drilling and explosives. Hand drilling! I can’t even imagine how painstakingly challenging that must have been. The rock face at Hell’s Gate is gorgeous though, covered in all its icy stalactites.

We arrive at the Upper Shotover River and get prepared for our jet boat ride. We are provided with life jackets, beanies and gloves. Kitted out and ready to go, we get into the boat. I am pleased to discover that the handrail in the boat is heated.

It’s pretty cold down here in the valley.

It’s even colder once we get moving, I mean teeth chattering cold! I am shrunk down into my scarf as far as I can go to stop my face from going numb. A word of advise, if you don’t wear glasses, make sure you bring sunglasses to wear. The combination of the cold and speed makes it virtually impossible to keep your eyes open without some form of protection!

We speed up the river through narrow canyons and beautiful scenery. Reaching speeds of 80kmh, the ride is thrilling. We approach many cliffs at great speed, you think you are going to collide and then the boat makes a quick turn. The jet boat twists and maneuvers so swiftly.

We even do a few 360’s.

Back on land, we start the journey home with a couple more scenic stops along the way.

It’s been a great afternoon.

A magical winter wonderland

24th July 2020

The day Daniel and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary.

It hasn’t been an easy 10 years, but we have stuck at it, continually learning about each other and growing as a couple. I have to say, I am pretty proud of us and it was really important to me that we celebrated this milestone.

To say that I love travel planning is an understatement. The research, the planning, the dreaming, it’s my happy place. I can spend HOURS absorbed in travel books, blogs and vlogs without even realising how much time has actually passed.

So it’s fair to say, that even long before Covid-19 raised it’s ugly head, I was well into the planning stages for our 10 year celebration trip. I had briefly looked into some overseas options but was quick to rule them out. Daniel is not a tropical island person, I really dislike long haul flights (aka fear of flying) and the East Coast of Australia just didn’t really appeal for this trip.

So I decided, since we were not going to be going anywhere warm, we may as well embrace the winter.

Its time for another adventure.

We leave the Wellington rain and grey behind. Above the clouds there is only sunshine. Our journey begins with the most scenic flight I have ever been on. Truly, it is spectacular. I have never taken so many photos from an aeroplane window before. I realise on the flight that this is the first time I have flown further south than Christchurch.

Our destination? You guessed it, Queenstown.

A pretty alpine town in the heart of Otago, built on the shores of lake Wakatipu and surrounded by The Remarkables mountain range. I have been here once before; in 2010 when we did a day trip on our Fireblade. I am looking forward to having time to explore Queenstown properly.

It’s a cool 3 degrees when we arrive, but honestly, it doesn’t feel that cold. It’s a very different cold to what we get in Wellington. You just layer up and you’re good to go.

No chilled, annoying wind.

We are staying at Nugget Point Hotel. It’s a little bit out of town but views make it worth it. Our room looks out over the Shotover river, a sight I could never get bored with.

The hotel has an unexpected and pretty cool spa room. Think modern Roman baths – mosaics and statues surround the plunge pool and hot tub. There is even a sauna and marble bath.

I quite often would make a trip here in the evenings to warm up after a day out exploring.

We wake up on the first morning to snow.

Oh my soul.

What an incredible experience. In a flash I am dressed and outside; delighting in the small, delicate flakes silently floating down. There is a beautiful silence that occurs when snow falls. Time stands still while a peacefulness settles on the land. The only sound is the noise of the pebbles beneath my shoes as I dance around in childlike excitement.

I had been dreaming of a magical winter wonderland and Queenstown, you have exceeded my expectations.

New Zealand, through the eyes of my Grandmother – Part 2

Continuing on from last week, if you haven’t read it yet, you can check out last week’s post here.

Tell me about some memorable holidays you have had in New Zealand

3 sons and 4 grandchildren later….

In 1989 your Granddad and I packed up the car and headed away on a trip around the South Island.

It was a trip that took us down The West Coast and back up The East Coast, visiting many beautiful New Zealand places; Picton, The Buller Gorge, Greymouth, The Glaciers at Franz and Fox, Punakaiki and Hokitika.

We stopped in Okarito to look for white herons but only found wasps!

Lake Matheson, a Mirror Lake, near Fox Glacier on the West Coast

We then headed onto Queenstown. There we took a ride on the gondola and had a meal at the top with million dollar views. We also took a cruise on The Earnslaw (which is notorious for its black smoke) to Walter Peak Station. We did a trip out to Arrowtown and Glenorchy and even did a day trip by bus to Milford Sound.

I have always thought this photo was so funny.  Taken on the Earnslaw, which is notorious for its black smoke.  It looks like Granddad has the smoke is coming out of his ears!

We then made our way back up the country travelling through Lake Tekapo and Fairlie with a side trip to Akaroa. We stayed a couple of nights in Christchurch. The night before we left there was quite a big storm. It turned very cold and we woke the next morning to see the Southern Alps covered in snow. 

A sight to behold! 

We headed back to Picton, spending a night in Kaikoura on the way. The Kaikoura Ranges were also covered in snow – a perfect finish to our South Island Odyssey.

I remembered thinking back to the trip we had done to Canada the year before when we went to Banff and I thought Queenstown and surroundings were much prettier.

In 2010 we did another trip around the South Island. This time on a group trip. It included a trip to Doubtful Sounds which was lovely – crossing Lake Manapouri then over a pass to the Sound – in the rain! When we got onto the boat though, the sun came out. We got right out to the Tasman in beautiful calm weather. On the way back they beached the boat on the shore, turned the engines off and told us not to talk.  Nothing to hear but the lapping of the water on the shore. 

Magical! 

That’s what they call the Sound of Silence. 

On the way back to Te Anau we stopped at the Manapouri Power Station and got on a bus that took us 2 kilometres under ground.  I HATED it and couldn’t wait to get back up into daylight. It was so dark and damp and surrounded by solid rock. The power station was impressive but I couldn’t imagine how people (some girls doing clerical work as well) could bear to spend their days under ground.  I remember my mum did a trip there in the 70’s and she loved it! 

Not for me. 

From Queenstown we went to Cromwell and the Clyde Dam and then crossed the Maniototo Plain. It’s unusual, scrubby, rocky country. The wind was so strong our poor lady driver had trouble keeping the little bus on the road and she had sore arms for days. 

One of the best things about that trip was we got very friendly with the couple running it and kept in touch with them for quite a long time after. 

You have now lived in Aotearoa for over 70 years. Is there anywhere you haven’t been that you would love to see?

I have just been listening to a chap being interviewed about Great Barrier Island. It sounds like somewhere really different and I would like to see it, though I guess I never will.  A half hour flight or a 4 1/2 hour ferry trip from Auckland. It’s a semi tropical place with a very laid back life style. 

Maybe you could do the trip on my behalf?

Do you have any travel tips or advise for kiwi’s or foreigners who are wanting to explore ‘The Long White Cloud?”

The best way to see the West Coast is in the rain! It makes the scenery mystical!

Next week I will begin my Queenstown Series. My husband and I have just recently returned from a 6 day trip in this stunning place where we celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary.