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TSS Earnslaw heritage steam boat on lake in Queenstown New Zealand

The South Island’s Historical Icons

21 Sep 2021 Travel Tips
Words and images courtesy of Grand Pacific Tours.

The sheer beauty and diversity of the landscape, combined with its rich Maori culture and incredible wildlife, makes the South Island of New Zealand a magnet for travellers. 

One minute you can be travelling through lush farmland, and the next through spectacular mountain ranges. Scenic rivers, lakes, mountains and fiords are often where the South Island claims its fame, however, the island is also packed with heritage sights and historic places that will wow everyone from history buffs to curious travellers.

Many South Island visitors begin by experiencing the changing cityscape of Christchurch, one of the world’s most unique destinations. The city combines urban regeneration and innovation with heritage, culture and exhilarating activity. 

Head south along the coast to discover Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula. Dunedin is regarded as the ‘Edinburgh of the South’ with its Scottish influence and is home to some amazing architecture, including the Dunedin Railway Station and Larnach Castle which dates back to 1871. 

Lanarch Castle Dunedin

Turn inland towards the southern heart of the South Island and you’ll arrive in Queenstown, basking on the banks of the stunning Lake Wakatipu. There are many ways to explore the lake, but by far the most iconic is a relaxed cruise onboard the historic TSS Earnslaw, an integral part of Queenstown’s pioneering history and the true ‘Lady of the Lake’. 

The TSS Earnslaw is the only remaining commercial passenger-carrying coal-fired steamship in the southern hemisphere, making her one of the most unique experiences in the world. 

The Edwardian vintage twin screw steamer was commissioned by New Zealand Railways to service the communities around Lake Wakatipu. Her maiden voyage was on 18 October 1912 - the same year as the ill-fated Titanic - and she provided an essential link between isolated farming communities and the outside world. At 48-metres long, she was the biggest boat on the lake and carried passengers, sheep, cattle, mail and supplies. 

Nearly decommissioned in 1968, the vessel was bought by a family-run tourism company and lovingly restored to near original condition. She’s now featured as one of Queenstown’s main attractions, taking travellers on a leisurely 90-minute cruise across the picturesque Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak High Country Station. 

Once onboard, explore the over one hundred years of history, including a visit to the engine room to see the giant steam engines at work. View the collection of historical photos in the mini museum, check out the bridge and enjoy a singalong by the pianist with your iconic song book.

Tss Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown

From Queenstown, it’s just a hop, skip and jump to the west coast and picturesque Milford Sound. The breathtaking fiords and dramatic mountain peaks you’ll find here were carved by glaciers during the ice ages and are among contenders for the Eighth Wonder of the World.

New Zealand’s South Island is a truly unique place with captivating natural and historical attractions. If you want to experience it all, there’s no better way in our mind than with a Grand Pacific Tours South Island coach holiday. Get in touch with your local agent to book your South Island adventure.


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