The TSS Earnslaw, Queenstown’s iconic vintage steamship turned 100 years old a few days ago.
TSS. Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu cirica 1955
This image is available for purchase at www.oldphotos.co.nz.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, New Zealand Railways awarded 21,000 pounds to John McGregor and Co shipbuilders of Dunedin to build a steamship for Lake Wakatipu. The Earnslaw was named after Mount Earnslaw, a 2889 metre peak at the head of Lake Wakatipu. She was to be 48 metres long, the biggest boat on the lake. Transporting the Earnslaw was no easy task. When construction was finally completed she was dismantled. All the quarter inch steel hull plates were numbered for reconstruction much like a jig-saw puzzle. Then the parts were loaded on to a goods train and transported across the South Island from Dunedin to Kingston at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu.
She then became a valuable vessel for the New Zealand Railways and was known as the “Lady of the Lake”.
The Earnslaw worked with her sister ships, the paddle steamers Antrim and Mountaineer and the steamer Ben Lomond, transporting sheep, cattle and passengers to the surrounding high country stations.
In 1968, the Earnslaw was very nearly scrapped but she was fortunately rescued. She was purchased by Fiordland Travel (now Real Journeys).
She was taken out of service for a huge makeover in 1984. Her 12 metre high funnel was painted bright red, with the hull a snow white, and her kauri timber decks glassed in.
During her long years on the lake, the most serious accidents to occur were two groundings on the shingle shores of the lake.
In March 1990, the Earnslaw carried Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. Other royalty to travel on board have been the King and Queen of Belgium and the Prince of Thailand.