Monday, 22 May 2017

The Lady of the Lake- TSS Earnslaw


The family decided a trip on Lake Wakatipu was in order to show our visitors from Australia some of the beautiful scenery surrounding us. It was a pity the weather wasn't a little more conducive to standing on the decks admiring the view instead of being tucked up inside cocooned by the warmth generated from the boilers of the steamship TSS Earnslaw.

This actually didn't worry me too much. I found it far too warm to stay inside for long anyway and had most of the various decks to myself as I moved about taking photos and watching the world go by. 

We waited patiently at the wharf for the Earnslaw to arrive back from her previous tour...

...which gave me a ample opportunity to shoot her as she did a big loop in close to the Queenstown lakefront.  

...before filling my lens up as she swept in beside us.

Click on the photo to enlarge if you'd like to read about the history of the 'Lady of the Lake', a 1912 Edwardian vintage twin screw steamer.

We board and find ourselves a family table inside where we can leave our gear and at least a couple of people each time we go walkabout. All available seats are soon taken, everyday's a busy one in Queenstown. Do you think this lady actually understands what's written on her cap?

A couple of jet boats were heading off for a rip-roaring ride down the Kawarau River and a smaller cruise boat was also leaving the wharf as we pulled out...

...along with this speedy little guy from Hydro Attack. Queenstown is the only place in the world where you experience a thrilling, adrenaline filled ride inside a 6 metre long semi-submersible shark (tin can) travelling at 80kph, twisting and turning across the lake before diving and then exploding out of the water in a great burst of spray. It'll only set you back $149 for this once in lifetime experience (and a sore back)!

We leave Queenstown behind...

...heading for Walter Peak Station across the lake where we'll collect people who have been exploring the station earlier in the day. Some on board will also be disembarking to do one of the several farm or bike tours around the farm and/or stay on for a BBQ dinner. We'll stay onboard, we're just doing the round trip.

Cecil Peak is the prominent peak on the left, Walter Peak is further back along the range.
 As you can see I have the rest of the ship nearly to myself; there's a museum room in the bow and a gangplank walkway through the engine room where you can also watch the crew stoke the fires. Coal is hand shovelled at the rate of one tonne per hour at full speed!

Here's the stats on the engine room (remember to click to enlarge)...

 Approaching the historic Walter Peak Station. Walter Peak became a high country sheep station in 1879. Scottish immigrant Hugh Mackenzie and his wife Anastasia had six sons and two daughters and lived in Scholan house (still behind the current homestead).

The original Colonel’s Homestead was built in 1908 for one of the sons who became a Colonel in World War 1 and was the last McKenzie to remain at Walter Peak; finally selling out in 1960 when his only son showed no interest in farming. The homestead was first used to host visitors for morning and afternoon tea in 1969 when a launch arrived twice daily from Queenstown. 

In 1977 the homestead was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt with a similar exterior but the interior was designed on a much larger scale, with a variety of rooms suitable for entertaining. 

In the late 1960’s 'Real Journeys' tour company bought the TSS Earnslaw and in 1999 the company took over Walter Peak High Country Station. 

Walter Peak Station is now an iconic destination for visitors from all over the world, and going by the length of the queue to re-board the ship when we arrived, it's a very popular attraction at that.

And, we have just joined another couple of travel dots by cruising across the lake. David and I are very familiar with this scene of people queuing to get back on board. We visited Walter Peak Station by road from Mavora Lakes, back in 2014- a very long road with some breath-taking scenery. The Earnslaw was preparing to leave just after we arrived. Once the queue of people had been checked back on, one of the crew called out to us quite sternly and told us to hurry up and board as it was the last sailing of the day and we'd be left behind. He didn't quite believe us when we called back that we'd driven here. You can read that blog here.

The ship ties up at the wharf and while we wait for everyone to board I take a photo of the ship's pilot house and funnel with Walter Peak high up behind. Who should be surveying the scene below from one of the best advantage points? Ruby our granddaughter, there are no flies on her.

It doesn't take long for passengers to disembark and board and we're off again, heading back to Queenstown.

We pass close to the Queenstown-Glenorchy Road and the exclusive settlements that overlook the lake south of Queenstown. This is Ben Lomond Range with Bob's Peak on the left (which is actually that pointy point and not the hill in town with the cable car that everyone refers to as Bob's Peak). Moke Lake, where we've stayed at the DOC camp, is just behind Bob's Peak.

Ahead of us are the hotels and city centre with many properties layered up the steep side of Queenstown Hill behind...

...and looking every bit like the alpine resort town it is.

We offload as the next lot of visitors queue to board the Earnslaw....

...and next door, the river jet boats.

The kids do their comedy duo act as I try to take photos...

...and we wander back along the waterfront...

...and buy an early dinner at Erick's Fish & Chips, which we take back down to the waterfront to eat (and freeze). 

Poor Ruby loses half of her's to some cheeky duck!  

Thursday, 18 May 2017

A Remarkable View

Catch-up; we're still parked up in Winton with the family. We've been here a little longer than expected (4 weeks today) and winter has finally caught up with us with a very cold Antarctic blast blowing through the deep south this afternoon. I'm looking forward to seeing some snow soon, either here on the ground or when we eventually hit the road again. In the meantime thank God for diesel heaters and the family's power point; the electric blankets are heaven on a cold night. 

We've visited Queenstown at least a dozen times during the last few years and have managed to explore much of the surrounding countryside. But there's one road that we hadn't driven up; it's either been closed, the cloud has been too low, chains were required or we've just been too busy exploring elsewhere.

The Kawarau River outlet leaves Lake Wakatipu at Frankton with Peninsula Hill behind
While we were waiting for the family to arrive the next day we decided to finally check out The Remarkables Road, a 14km ski field access road that zig-zags its way up the side of the dramatic mountain range that forms a stunning backdrop to Queenstown.

Before we get to the access road though, we have to fight our way through the permanent traffic jam that passes by the airport and a shopping centre in Frankton. Next we join the queue to cross the single lane bridge over the Kawarau River, an inconvenience that will be a thing of the past by late next year.

State Highway 6 is the main route south from the centre of the South Island and it's always a bottleneck here at the bridge and especially during the ski season with skiers moving between town and the ski field. We'll see if it makes any difference to the traffic jams around Frankton in due course. I fear not as more and more planes bring in more and more tourists.

Anyway, back to the road. The views, as you climb, are absolutely stunning and it's hard not to stop at every corner to take them in. This is only a couple of kilometres up the road- you can see it weaving through the centre of the photo below- we're looking south down the Kingston arm of the S shaped Lake Wakatipu, with the Remarkables on the left and Cecil Peak across the water on the right, Bayonet Peaks are to the left of Cecil Peak and the exclusive development of Jacks Point is front and centre (click on the photos to enlarge).

The next stop is overlooking the Shotover River delta where it joins the Kawarau River directly below us and out of sight. The Lower Shotover Bridge on the main highway can be see centre right, with Morven Hill centre and some of Coronet Peak at the back right. The Wastewater Plant's settling ponds are also at the centre.

If you don't know Queenstown and were wondering what the perfectly formed terraces were in the above photo, they are reclaimed land at the end of the airport runway. That's the Frankton Arm of Lake Wakatipu, with Queenstown proper hidden in the shadows down the right hand side of the arm.

We climb higher and stop again, this time looking to the right with Lake Hayes taking centre stage. The Kawarau River flows out of sight to the right and off towards the Kawarau Gorge. And at the far back centre of the basin and again partly in the shade, is Arrowtown. Part of the Crown Range is on the right.

Here's a pano of the Wakatipu Basin with the road we're following below us. Can you see the cyclist coming into view- phew, now that would be hard work! Excuse the sun flare, I'm looking straight into the sun.

I wonder if you spotted the plane in the photo, two above? Just above the top bend in the river? It's a Jetstar plane and this will be the same company & time slot that brings David's daughter in from Auckland tomorrow. He had the not so bright idea of sending me to take a photo of it arriving tomorrow afternoon, now I tell him we'll use this one and pretend it was her plane! 

And look at those houses in the Lake Hayes Estate. They remind me of the song 'Little Boxes'-

Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes all the same

Checking out Queenstown airport from above is very popular with sightseers and plane spotters alike because you're able to drive up the surrounding mountain roads and watch planes come in below you. The other viewpoint is near the top of the Crown Range, there the planes fly over the top of the range and then drop down in front of you and fly along the river corridor to the runway.

Here's the Lake Hayes Estate again, it's no wonder the main highway is so busy, there are roundabouts on the highway and the entrance roads lead off out of sight. The houses can't be seen as they sit lower down on the river terraces.

It's hard to imagine that it takes 14kms to reach the ski field which sits at 1280 metres above sea level. There are far too many switchbacks to count, and care must be taken, as much of the road has sheer drop-offs without railing. It's just as well 11kms of the road are sealed because once we hit the gravel, the road is diabolical, it's one continuous strip of deep corrugations and many potholes. David is not a happy chap.

But we've come so far so we must carry on (although David doesn't think so), and by the time we reach the carpark, we've had enough of bouncing about and don't feel like exploring any further....which means I can't bring you a stunning photo of the new Base Building!

We head back down, weaving all over the road and at varying speeds, as David tries to miss the potholes and ride over the top of the corrugations. If anyone saw us I'm sure they'd think the driver was drunk! We pull onto a newly flattened mound near the road and on the edge of a huge drop-off, it's seems too small to be a carpark, perhaps it'll be an area to fit chains although it seems a little high for that and they'll definitely need to put a barrier around the outside.

Across the valley in amongst the trees is Arrow Junction and nearby is the zig-zags of the Crown Range Road which crosses the range and passes through the Cardrona Valley to Wanaka, an hour away. 

The switchbacks take you up and across farmland on the Crown Range Plateau. here you can see the road cutting across the plateau and then start to climb through the range. The other lookout to watch planes from, is on that flat area just before the road heads inland. 

From the edge of our lookout I can see the road weaving down below us. To give it some perspective I waited until a car came into view, can you see it? Across at the back of the Basin, the sun is now shining on the autumnal coloured trees on the slopes behind Arrowtown.

Further on and Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown are ahead of us now, with Walter Peak across the lake, centre left. We have one more stop, there's a knoll ahead of us (and people standing on it) which has another great lookout over the airport. 

I leave David scanning for planes...

And join a couple of family groups on the knoll who are also checking out the planes and views below... 

It's not long before another plane heads in, this time one from Air New Zealand.

In between planes I take more photos of the views, this one is looking south again, towards the Kingston end of the lake. It's a lot higher this time, you can see the beginning of the road switching back and forward as it climbs the lower slopes. 

We watch a plane departing...

...and I take one last photo, a zoomed in shot of Lake Hayes before we head back to Arthurs Point and home...

 ...back through a traffic jammed Queenstown. Where else in the world could you see the surreal sight of paragliders floating down from above while you're fighting rush hour traffic through a busy city centre?