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Queenstown is my favorite place in New Zealand because it truly has so much to offer. The city itself is full of life and fun things to do, but Queenstown is also famously known for its jaw-droppingly beautiful landscape and proximity to unique day trips that get you out there to explore it.
One of the top must-do activities out of Queenstown is visiting Walter Peak High Country Farm via the TSS Earnslaw steamship! You might think, “is visiting a farm and going on an old boat worth it?” And I’m here to tell you how uniquely amazing this experience is!
Full of history, yummy food, a scenic cruise, and the great outdoors, this is an iconic Queenstown activity. I’ve actually done this cruise three times since living in Queenstown and even taken my family with me!
I’ll walk you through the two cruise options and give my honest opinion on why I think taking a lunch or dinner cruise on the 100-year-old TSS Earnslaw is one of the best tours you can take out of Queenstown!
Don’t have time to read the full article? The TSS Earnslaw is a historic ship that takes you on a short trip across Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown. You have the choice of the lunch tour which is better for families and includes more time watching farm demonstrations or the dinner cruise which is a bit more upscale and offers sunset views!
What is Walter Peak High Country Farm?
Walter Peak High Country Farm is a true piece of New Zealand heritage. If you’ve been exploring the bustling city life of Queenstown, visiting the Walter Peak High Country Farm will be a great way to get outside and experience the rural beauty of Lake Wakatipu.
This farm is located at the base of Walter Peak, a 1,800-meter (5,906-foot) mountain, and has been home to Merino sheep for hundreds of years. Sheep farming is one of the most important industries in New Zealand, you’ve probably heard of Merino wool and know it to be strong, breathable, and great for long-term travel attire!
Walter Peak Station (as it was first called) was established in 1850 and has been an important piece of Queenstown’s history since.
This land was once inhabited by Maori people, who used the protection of Walter Peak and Lake Wakatipu Bay as they traveled through on hunting expeditions. Years passed and the land traded hands with a few European settlers until the Mackenzie Family purchased the land in the 1880s. They are famously known for establishing many modern principles of high-country farming and were wildly successful on this land. Over their 80-year tenure, they developed this area into the largest and most famous farm reaching 170,000 acres with 40,000 sheep.
Walter Peak High Country Farm is still a functional farm and is also a truly unique tourist attraction. Yes – you can visit the running farm and it’s actually a fun day trip from Queenstown! While you can technically drive from Queenstown, it will take over five hours to get there. Instead, you can catch the TSS Earnslaw ship across and get there in 45 minutes – much simpler!
At the farm, you will get the chance to tour the facility and see hundreds (if not thousands) of sheep, as well as Scottish highlands cattle, goats, and deer! There are historic buildings, as well as a bakery for afternoon tea and freshly baked goodies. But the real highlight is the sheepdog demonstration where you can see the sheep being herded. It’s entertaining for any age and especially for children.
You might not think visiting a sheep farm sounds like a super fun activity, but it surprisingly is!
What is the TSS Earnslaw?
The TSS Earnslaw is a historic steamship that is an integral part of New Zealand history. The ship was commissioned by New Zealand Railways and took its maiden voyage in October 1912 – the same year as the Titanic, although this ship has faired much better.
The purpose of this steamship was to service and connect the isolated farming communities around Lake Wakatipu. Lake Wakatipu is quite large, stretching 80 kilometers (49 miles) so back in 1912 when there weren’t cars and well-built roads readily available, this boat was an essential link between Queenstown and the farming communities surrounding it.
The boat was the largest of its time (48 meters/157 feet) and transported passengers, supplies, mail, and cattle. It essentially boosted trade and the economy of Queenstown as a whole, which in turn enhanced the quality of life for those farming communities.
Eventually, the infrastructure was built up around the lake, so the TSS Earnslaw was nearly out of commission by 1968. It was then bought by RealNZ to be restored to its former glory and used for tourism! Today, it looks and operates almost exactly as it did over 100 years ago when she first set sail.
The TSS Earnslaw is iconically beautiful, as it is the only coal-fired steamship in the Southern Hemisphere. The ship has been featured in movies, such as Indiana Jones and King Kong, and was even the inspiration for the composer Ron Goodwin. He was inspired to compose a piece to reflect the rhythm of the steamship engine.
So what seems like a cool-looking old boat holds a ton of historical and cultural significance! Taking a voyage of your own is definitely one of the unique New Zealand activities to experience when you’re visiting Queenstown.
What is the TSS Earnslaw Lunch/Dinner at Walter Peak High Country Farm?
Because Walter Peak High Country Farm is a functional farm, the only way to visit it is through a tour. And the best way to reach Walter Peak from Queenstown is by boat, so the two activities have been combined together to make a fun afternoon/evening experience for you!
TSS Earnslaw and BBQ Buffet Lunch
This first option lets you experience both the TSS Earnslaw and Walter Peak High Country Farm for a fun and relaxing afternoon lunch tour! You’ll board the vintage steamship in Queenstown and take a scenic ferry ride across Lake Wakatipu.
Being on the boat is really fun, as it’s been fully restored to look how it did when it first started taking this journey in 1912. They serve coffee and drinks on the ship, and there is even a museum on board!
There’s a lot to see on the 45-minute ferry ride, but that’s only the beginning. You will arrive on the other side of Lake Wakatipu just in time for a delicious barbeque lunch at Colonel’s Homestead Restaurant! Trust me when I say the food is fantastic and the views are just as good. The restaurant is in a historic building that’s been renovated and overlooks the lake. The menu changes seasonally, so it’s fresh and unique any time you visit.
After lunch and dessert, you get to explore the farm, including a tour and some time to wander on your own. You will have the chance to see a sheep shearing demonstration in which I was surprised by how much wool is on each sheep – it has to be heavy! There is also a sheepdog herding demonstration, which is fun to see the herding dogs doing their natural thing. Kids absolutely love watching this, and honestly, I really enjoyed it too!
The tour ends with another 45-minute ferry ride back to Queenstown to end the tour. This afternoon tour has departure times at 11 a.m., 12 p.m., and 1 p.m. and will last 3.5 hours. It’s just enough time to enjoy the ferry ride and spend some time on the farm, although it’s so beautiful I really could have stayed longer!
This tour includes your lunch, the boat ride, and the farm tour – you won’t have to pay anything extra unless you want to purchase an alcoholic beverage or coffee on the boat or at the farm. This makes for a fun and unique afternoon activity! You can reserve this lunch tour for $175 NZD per adult and $89 NZD per child.
Dinner at Walter Peak High Country Farm and Cruise from Queenstown
This dinner tour is very similar to the lunch option, except it serves dinner and is a bit longer! You will depart from the Wharf dock on the TSS Earnslaw and cruise across Lake Wakatipu for 45 minutes. You can explore the boat, take in the scenery, and even grab a beer on board to make the boat ride even more enjoyable!
Once you reach the farm, you’ll start out at the Colonel’s Homestead Restaurant for one of the best meals you’ll have while in Queenstown! All of the ingredients are fresh, I mean you’re dining at a farm, how much fresher can you get!? You can expect locally caught fish and grass-fed beef grilled to perfection right there on the spot. The sides and desserts are seasonal, so they are also fresh and delicious!
This is a buffet meal, but it’s honestly the best buffet I’ve ever had. It was more of a gourmet dining experience and definitely surpassed my expectations!
You’ll then mosey over to the farm side for the sheep shearing and sheep herding demonstrations. If you have some time, I highly recommend checking out the lakeside gardens. These are gorgeous and lush gardens that overlook the lake and mountains around, it’s an incredible view.
The tour will end with a ride on the TSS Earnslaw back to Queenstown. If you’re visiting in the summer, be sure to schedule the tour that will end at sunset for some amazing views as you sail across the lake!
This 4-hour tour includes the round-trip cruise, the farm show, and dinner for $189 NZD per adult and $95 NZD per child. Alcoholic beverages are available for purchase on the boat and at the farm. The tour departs at 4 pm, 5 pm, 6 pm, and 7 pm so you can select the best option for you!
I highly recommend booking this dinner tour in advance, as it is truly an amazing experience, especially if you’re riding the historic steamship back at sunset!
Why I Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
How long is the TSS Earnslaw Lunch/Dinner to Walter Peak?
The boat ride on the TSS Earnslaw is 45 minutes each way, and you’ll need some time on the farm to explore, have lunch, and enjoy your time there. So the tours will last about 3.5 to 4 hours. This gives you enough time to explore the farm area, relax while you have a meal, and take in the beautiful scenery. I thought this was just enough time for the whole experience.
I also appreciate that it only takes up half your day, so you can add another activity to your morning as there is so much to do in Queenstown!
Related Read: Since both tours are later in the day, make sure to check out my recommendations for the best places for brunch and breakfast in Queenstown before you go!
What is the food like at Walter Peak High Country Farm?
The food is actually so good! When I hear “buffet” I usually assume the food will be mediocre, but not with this tour! The Colonel’s Homestead Restaurant prides itself on using quality food, such as organic vegetables and grass-fed beef. I mean it is a farm, so you can expect the food to be farm-fresh!
There are a ton of options as you go through the buffet and the food never runs out. You will have to take a few laps around the buffet to see all the options! There is an array of appetizers, cheeses, meats, sides, and desserts. The highlight though, is the meat! They are also keen on using seasonal ingredients, so even if you take this tour a few times, the menu is always changing.
Is the live demonstration entertaining?
I was actually surprised at how entertaining the live demonstrations were. This farm has been hosting tours for many years now, so they have developed it into an entertaining act that was funny and informative. Plus, it’s not every day you get to see sheep shearing or cattle being herded by a sheepdog, so it was truly unique!
The lunchtime tour includes a tour of the farm, in which you can see more animals and even get to interact with them. This one is better suited for children, as they really enjoy seeing the animals. The dinner tour is more of a luxury dining experience, with some entertainment at the end!
Related Read: For more family fun, I have a full list of all the free and cheap things to do in Queenstown with kids!
TSS Earnslaw Lunch vs. Dinner?
The lunch tour is great if you’re looking for a unique outing where you can learn more about New Zealand’s large farming industry, as well as experience the history of the TSS Earnslaw. This is a more active tour, great for a day of exploration. I also recommend the lunch tour if you’re traveling with children! On this tour, the boat and the farm steal the show, and the tasty lunch is an added bonus.
However, if you’re more in the mood for a unique dinner out and less concerned with the history side of things, the dinner tour will be your best bet. You will still get the pleasure of riding the TSS Earnslaw and seeing the incredible landscape where Walter Peak High Country Farm sits, but the tour won’t be as focused on the farm itself. Instead, it highlights the incredible dining experience and pairs it with a unique piece of entertainment to go along with the ambiance of the evening.
Regardless of what option you choose, it will be a lovely afternoon/evening on the water and at the farm!
Are there vegetarian options available?
Yes, vegetarian options are available! I would leave a note when you book the tour requesting this option, but there are a lot of vegetarian options available in the buffets. As I mentioned earlier, this buffet is massive so you’ll have plenty of yummy dishes to try. And because they use fresh vegetables only available seasonally, you’ll be getting some unique tastes as well!
Is the TSS Earnslaw Lunch or Dinner at Walter Peak worth it?
Plus, taking a ride on the TSS Earnslaw is a must while in Queenstown, when else will you get to be part of such a unique piece of history? Lake Wakatipu is simply stunning and the best way to experience it is on the water. I found visiting the farm and seeing their live demonstrations to be another authentic New Zealand experience that is great for any traveler or local alike!
Other Must-Do Activities While in Queenstown
Once you’re docked back in Queenstown, there are plenty of other activities that will keep you busy. Honestly, there are so many things to do in Queenstown, that it’ll be hard to choose which ones to do! Below are some of my favorites:
- See Milford Sound – This day trip to Milford South with a picnic lunch will give you the ultimate ability to explore the beauty of Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park. Not only will your guide stop at several impressive viewpoints on the way from Queenstown but there is also a cruise in Milford Sound included.
- Watch a sunset – As the day draws to a close in Queenstown, make sure to head to the shores of Lake Wakatipu to watch a sunset. It’s one of the best viewpoints to watch the sun sink behind the Southern Alps. I like watching from Queenstown Beach or Perky’s Floating Bar where you get a view of the lake and delicious food and drinks too!
- Go canyoning – Climb and jump off waterfalls, rappel, swim, and trek as part of this Queenstown Canyoning Adventure with a qualified guide. This thrilling full-day activity is perfect for those who love adventure and exploration! As long as you aren’t afraid of heights and have a basic swimming ability you won’t need any other skills.
- Lord of the Rings Tour – The famous Lord of the Rings movies were made in New Zealand and this Queenstown Lakes LOTR Tour is fun whether you’re a big fan or just want to see some of the filming locations. The tour is in a 4×4 vehicle that can cross rivers and rugged terrain to get those views that you can’t get anywhere else. Of course, if you want to see some of the most iconic spots from the movies, you’ll need a tour from Queenstown to Glenorchy – aka the home of Isengard Lookout, Lothlorien Forest, and Ithilien Camp.
- Wine tasting – This Central Otago Wine Tour and Tasting is my personal favorite wine tour in Queenstown! It is one of the best values for money as for $239 NZD your tour bus will stop at 4 different boutique wineries in the Otago region that include a wide range of wine samples and a provided gourmet lunch platter. As you hop between wineries you’ll gaze out the window at spectacular views.
Where to Stay in Queenstown
Finding the right place to stay in Queenstown can be hard. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of awesome choices but things book up fast! For that reason, I highly suggest booking your accommodation well in advance.
Honestly, during peak times, any of the best hotels in Queenstown will be fully booked several weeks in advance…you have been warned!
To get you started, here are a few places I personally love and that would make an awesome place to stay in Queenstown.
Absoloot Hostel Queenstown – $
The first is for budget travelers and that’s Absoloot Hostel Queenstown. This small hostel has dorm rooms and budget privates and it’s really clean and comfortable. The location is in the heart of Queenstown – the window from the kitchen looks out over Lake Wakatipu! It is easily one of the top cheap hostels in Queenstown and can be booked on Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.
La Quinta Queenstown – $$
If you have a little more money to spend, then you should seriously consider La Quinta Queenstown. It’s a beautiful hotel in a quiet but close location and the views are amazing (although you won’t find me recommending a place without great views!) The rooms are all studio or one-bedroom apartments, which is really handy if you want to cook or even just have breakfast in your room. You can check availability and book online here.
Kamana Lakehouse – $$$
For a luxurious stay, you can’t pass on Kamana Lakehouse. This hotel is located just on the outskirts of town, far enough that it’s peaceful but close enough to walk to take a short drive into the center of town. Many of the rooms boast lake views, and some even have outdoor baths! The trick will be snagging this for your dates (it’s a popular place!) You can check availability and book online here.
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
- JUCY – JUCY is one of our favorite rental companies in New Zealand! They have a huge inventory and offer regular cars, small campervans, larger campervans, and even motorhomes! The prices are also super competitive and their multiple offices around NZ make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. You can check availability, prices, and book with JUCY online here.
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
There you have it, a full breakdown of what you can expect from a lunch or dinner cruise aboard the TSS Earnslaw. Whichever option you go with, I think it’s totally worth it! This historic ship is a fun and scenic outing to one of the best restaurants around Queenstown and a really neat trip to a working farm. I don’t think it will be long until I go again – maybe I’ll even see you there!
After making my home in Queenstown, I have so much to share about this city and all of New Zealand! Make sure to have a look at my other blogs. If you have any questions about the TSS Earnslaw cruise or anything else Queenstown-related, just drop me a comment below!