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New Zealand is well known for sheep farming, and in fact, the country famously has more sheep than people! So a sheep farm tour is really a must when you visit Queenstown, and in my opinion, it doesn’t get much better than the Walter Peak High Country Farm Tour.
Walter Peak High Country Farm is a Merino sheep farm on the edge of Lake Wakatipu that has been here since the mid-1800s. You travel here via a vintage steamship, so it makes a great lake cruise from Queenstown. Plus when you arrive, there are live demonstrations that teach you all about life on a working South Island farm. It’s one of the really fun experiences on the South Island and I’ve been three times now because I keep taking friends who come to visit!
You must visit the farm on a tour and there are two different experiences available, so I’ve written this blog to help you decide which one is best for you. I’ll also cover all of the other details to know before you book. So let’s get right into the baaaa-sics (ha!) you need to know about booking a Walter Peak tour!
1. About Walter Peak High Country Farm
Walter Peak High Country Farm is a working Merino sheep farm located at the base of Walter Peak. This 1,800-meter (5,906-foot) tall mountain is on the western shores of Lake Wakatipu. You might also hear the farm referred to as Walter Peak Station as that was one of its original names. There are no trains here though, a sheep “station” just refers to a really large sheep farm!
Merino sheep are known for their high-quality wool, which is strong, breathable, and warm. These sheep are mostly found on the South Island because they fare better in drier weather. And as you would expect, their coats are insanely thick!
Walter Peak Station was first established back in the late 1850s. William Rees and Nicholas Von Tunzelmann were the first European explorers to discover Lake Wakatipu, and legend has it that they flipped a coin to decide who got which side of the lake.
Rees lucked out and got the Queenstown side. He found himself in the middle of the gold rush, made a considerable amount of money, and is regarded as the founder of Queenstown.
Meanwhile, Von Tunzelmann got the western side of the lake and began farming sheep at the base of Walter Peak. However, he didn’t have much luck and struggled with a myriad of issues including snowstorms, loss of stock, and financial troubles. Eventually, he gave up – and I can’t say I blame him!
A few others tried their hand at farming here, but no one had any real success until the 1880s when the Mackenzie family took over Walter Peak Station. They really knew what they were doing and used innovative farming methods to transform the inhospitable land into a booming sheep farm.
The Mackenzies ran Walter Peak Station successfully for more than 80 years. At its peak, it had over 50 full-time employees and 40,000 sheep.
Under the Mackenzies, several permanent homes were established on the farm, including the Colonel’s Homestead, which is now an excellent restaurant with a big focus on seasonal produce.
Today, Walter Peak High Country Farm is still a working farm but it’s also one of the really popular Queenstown tourist attractions. Visitors are ferried over on a vintage steamer that dates back to 1912. Yep, that’s right, it’s as old as the Titanic, although this vessel has obviously fared considerably better.
2. Where is Walter Peak High Country Farm?
Walter Peak High Country Farm is located on the western side of Lake Wakatipu. The best way to get there is on a 45-minute ferry ride from Queenstown. Technically you could drive, but it would take you five hours to drive around the lake – and let’s be honest, a boat is one of the more relaxing Queenstown activities and just more fun!
When you book a tour of Walter Peak High Country Farm, the ferry ride will be included so you don’t need to worry about booking tickets separately. Plus, you’ll ride on a vintage steamer that’s over 100 years old, which is pretty cool! In fact, the TSS Earnslaw’s maiden voyage was in 1912, the same year as the Titanic.
There’s a mini museum on board where you can learn more about the ship’s history, and there’s an onboard pianist playing tunes to keep everyone entertained. You can also visit the engine room to see the same steam engines that have kept the ship running for more than a century.
Plus, the views from the water are beautiful. Honestly, the journey to Walter Peak Station is a pretty cool day trip from Queenstown in itself.
Related Read: Another way to see Lake Wakatipu is hiking Bob’s Cove Track! It’s across from Walter Peak, so it’s a great activity to do while you’re in the area.
3. Can you visit Walter Peak High Country Farm without a tour?
No, you can’t. It’s a working farm so visitors have to visit as part of a tour to ensure that no one interferes with operations, and to make sure that everybody stays safe. I don’t think that this is a bad thing, because you learn so much more on a tour than you would just wandering around alone.
On the tours from Queenstown, you get guided around the visitor areas to learn more about the ins and outs of Merino wool farming, and there are live demonstrations. You can watch farming dogs herding sheep and you get to see sheep shearing, too. I always find these demos really fun to watch!
4. What are the best tours that visit Walter Peak High Country Farm?
There are two tours that visit Walter Peak High Country Farm, and they’re both operated by the same company, RealNZ. My experience with RealNZ has been super positive, and they have a solid all-around reputation. Both farm tours are great, but they offer different experiences so it just depends on what you’re looking for. I’ll break them both down for you!
TSS Earnslaw and Walter Peak Farm Experience with Afternoon Tea
I always really enjoy this part of the tour because the lake is so beautiful, and you can move around the ship freely. There’s a mini museum on board and you can go and check out the engine room, and there’s also a bar serving coffee and drinks.
It’s about a 45-minute ride across the lake, and then once you arrive at the farm you’ll get your afternoon tea (or morning tea if you select the early tour). This consists of lots of yummy cakes and scones, which are all freshly baked. You’ve also got time to check out the lakeside gardens, which are really pretty and have super scenic views of the lake and mountains.
Then, your tour will begin and you get to explore the farm and meet lots of animals. Although Walter Peak High Country Farm is primarily a sheep farm, there are also Scottish Highland cattle, goats, and deer here! You can pet and even feed them on your way around, which is great for all ages but especially fun for kids.
You also get to watch a sheepdog demonstration and see the sheep being herded. It’s pretty amazing to watch! There’s also a sheep shearing demonstration during which you learn all about the techniques involved and how the shearers ensure the sheep’s welfare as they’re being shaved.
This tour costs $130 NZD per adult or $55 NZD for under 15s. The price includes your boat ride, afternoon tea, and a guided tour of the farmstead. The only thing you have to pay extra for is drinks on the ferry ride over, which is optional. I think that this tour is absolutely perfect for families because it’s entertaining for all ages and kids will love meeting all of the farm animals. You can check all the available dates and easily book this tour online here!
Dinner at Walter Peak High Country Farm and Cruise
This Walter Peak Farm dinner tour starts in the evening and you get to have dinner at the Colonel’s Homestead restaurant. The TSS Earnshaw sets out at 5 pm and you’ll enjoy a 45-minute cruise as you approach Walter Peak High Country Farm. There’s a mini museum and bar on board, so you definitely won’t get bored and the views are amazing.
To be honest, the cruise is a big part of what makes visiting Walter Peak High Country Farm so special! In fact, I loved this experience so much that I added it to my 3-day Queenstown itinerary (which highlights only the best activities in town).
Once you arrive, you have dinner at the Colonel’s Homestead, which is right on the lake’s edge. It’s a buffet dinner but it’s definitely not your typical buffet; it’s more of a gourmet dining experience. You get grass-fed beef, wild-caught local fish, and lots of other fresh, seasonal dishes. The homemade desserts at the end were especially yummy. It was actually way better than I was expecting!
Then, after dinner, you watch sheep herding and sheep shearing demonstrations before heading back across Lake Wakatipu. If you visit during the summer months, you’ll be cruising across the lake at sunset which makes the experience even better! Sunset cruises are one of the most romantic things to do in Queenstown if you ask me.
The dinner tour costs $189 NZD per person and doesn’t include drinks, but they are available to purchase both on the TSS Earnshaw and at the Colonel’s Homestead. Or you can wait until you get back and head to one of the bars in Queenstown for a fun night out!
5. Do you need to book your tour in advance?
Yes, you do. The Walter Peak High Country Farm tours often book up around a week in advance, although during the peak of summer, they can fill up even faster, so bear this in mind.
Personally, I use Viator to book most of my experiences in and around Queenstown. They’ve got a generous policy that allows you to be really flexible. You can change or cancel your booking for free up to 24 hours in advance, so I recommend booking your tour well ahead of time and then just changing it later if necessary.
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!
6. What is the farm experience/demonstration like?
On the day tour, you get to walk around the farm and meet the animals. You even get to pet some of them! So for that reason, I think that this experience is more suited to kids. You also get to see sheepdogs at work herding sheep and a sheep shearing demonstration.
On the dinner tour, you still get to see the sheep herding and shearing demonstrations but you don’t get a guided tour of the farm to meet the animals. This is more of a unique dinner experience than a typical farm tour, although the live demonstrations do still give you an insight into sheep farming.
I’d say do the day tour if you want to meet the animals, and the dinner tour if you’re after a unique (and delicious) dining experience.
7. Is the Walter Peak High Country Farm wheelchair friendly?
For the most part. The TSS Earnslaw boat has a ramp onto the main level where you’ll find the cafe and have viewing access to the historic steam engine.
Once you get off of the boat, there’s a wide gravel path to the farm which can be difficult for wheelchair users to maneuver. It’s best to either have someone to help you, or to use a freewheel attachment which helps wheelchairs maneuver across gravel, grass, and other uneven terrains. After that, the farm demonstrations, restaurant, and gardens are all fully accessible.
8. Is the Walter Peak High Country Farm tour suitable for kids?
Yes! I would say that the afternoon tea tour is the best option for kids because they get to meet lots of farm animals and it doesn’t run late.
The dinner tour runs pretty late so it may not be as suitable for young kids with an early bedtime, and although there are still live farm demos they don’t get to meet the animals.
The evening tour tends to attract an older crowd while the afternoon tour is super family-friendly and is perfect for people traveling with kids. If you can only make the dinner tour, kids will still enjoy it but overall the day tour would be the better choice.
Related Read: For more family fun, check out my full list of the free and cheap things to do with kids in Queenstown!
9. Can you get seasick on the TSS Earnslaw cruise?
It’s very unlikely. Lake Wakatipu is really calm and the TSS Earnslaw is a super stable vessel, so it’s a smooth ride. I guess technically, you can get seasick anywhere but the chances are very slim for this particular journey!
10. Is the Walter Peak High Country Farm tour worth it?
Yes, it definitely deserves a spot on your Queenstown itinerary. I love the experience and I always have so much fun. I’ve taken lots of friends on it when they’ve come to visit me in Queenstown (hence why I’ve been on it three times now!).
It’s a relaxing tour and the views are absolutely beautiful. Plus, who doesn’t love meeting cute farm animals and seeing sheepdogs in action? This is a super wholesome experience that’s fun for everyone. You could enjoy it whether you’re 8 or 80!
I also think that the tours are really great value for money. Obviously, Walter Peak High Country Farm is popular with tourists but locals (myself included) enjoy this experience too because it’s such a nice day out.
Must-Do Activities While in Queenstown
While in Queenstown there are plenty of other activities that will keep you busy. Honestly, there are so many it’ll be hard to choose which ones to do! Below are some of my favorites.
- Central Otago Wine Tour and Tasting – This is my personal favorite wine tour in Queenstown! It is one of the best values for money, for $224 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.
- Queenstown Lakes Lord of the Rings Tour – This tour is fun for both major LOTR fans and those who have some level of interest in seeing and learning about the filming locations. You will be guided around in a 4×4 vehicle that is equipped to cross rivers and rugged terrain. There are 8 different stops over 9 hours, so it’s a long day but it will be filled with lots of breathtaking views and you’ll learn a ton from your guide.
- Queenstown Canyoning Adventure – Climb and jump off waterfalls, rappel, swim, and trek your way down a part of a Queenstown canyon 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.
- Day Trip to Milford Sound With Picnic Lunch – This tour 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. This small-group tour goes for $249 NZD a person and I think it’s a really great value for a more personalized experience.
- Extreme Jet Boating – Looking for a thrill? Jet Boating is one of New Zealand’s most unique activities. On the tour out of Queenstown, you’ll be able to zoom up the Shotover River through narrow canyons at high speeds and make 360-degree spins. Trust, me it’s epic!
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 help you plan ahead, here are a few places I personally love and that would make an awesome place to stay in Queenstown.
Kamana Lakehouse – $$$
For a luxurious stay, I highly recommend Kamana Lakehouse. This hotel is located just on the outskirts of town. Although it’s super peaceful, it’s just a 5-minute drive into the center of town. The place overlooks both the lake and the mountains, and the onsite restaurant uses local, seasonal ingredients to create the freshest meals. To top it off, many of the rooms boast lake views, and some even have outdoor baths!
The trick will be snagging this for your dates (it’s a popular place!). Rooms start around the $400 NZD mark, and you can check availability and book online here.
La Quinta Queenstown – $$
If you’re looking for a mid-range hotel, then you should seriously consider La Quinta Queenstown. This beautiful hotel is right by the airport but still very quiet. Plus, 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.
Prices start at $200 NZD and you can book online here.
Absoloot Hostel Queenstown – $
My top choice for budget travelers is the Absoloot Hostel Queenstown. This small hostel has dorm rooms and budget private rooms, 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!
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’s what most budget travelers use 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…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.
- 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. My top choice for a motorhome company is Star RV because they have beautiful motorhomes at affordable prices. You can check prices and availability for Star RV motorhomes online here. Alternatively, you can use Motorhome Republic to search all motorhomes in NZ. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.
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!
Heading to Walter Peak High Country Farm is such a fun day trip from Queenstown! I consider it a must-do it’s even one of the top activities on my 5-day Queenstown itinerary! I hope all these details helped you pick which tour to Walter Peak you want to take. I’m sure I’ll be back soon for my fourth time to Walter Peak – maybe I’ll even see you there!
For more inspiration for visiting Queenstown, make sure to browse around my other Queenstown blogs. As a local, I have tons of ideas and tips to share on exploring this city and the surrounding area. Here are a few other blogs you may find helpful: