>  Attractions   >  Walter Peak Gourmet BBQ Lunch Cruise review

Not long after we got married my husband and I stayed at a hotel overlooking Lake Wakitipu in Queenstown. We would watch the historic TSS Earnslaw steamship filled with tourists chugging up and down the lake and wonder aloud why people would pay to do something so ‘touristy’. Almost twenty years later we are about to find out. We have been blessed with perfect weather for our Walter Peak Gourmet BBQ Lunch Cruise and cannot believe how beautiful Queenstown looks.

Queenstown TSS Earnslaw cruise
TSS Earnslaw turning in front of the original hotel we stayed in

There is already already a big queue of people waiting to board the ship when we arrive 20 minutes before it is due to leave. However, a slightly chilly wind means that not everyone is keen to stand outside. Our 15 year old son’s shoes clatter on the steamship’s gangplank as he makes a beeline for the top deck at the bow of the TSS Earnslaw and he manages to get us a great spot, despite the fact we were some of the last people in the queue to get onboard the ship.

Queenstown TSS Earnslaw cruise
TSS Earnslaw docked in Queenstown

The TSS Earnslaw was built to serve remote farming communities and carried up to 1500 sheep on her wooden decks in the early 1900s when she was known as the ‘Lady of the Lake’. There is a small museum inside the the ship filled with historic photographs and memorabilia from the TSS Earnslaw’s earlier sailing days. She works up to 14 hours a day in the summer season for Real Journeys taking tourists on scenic cruises. Not bad for a ‘Lady’ who is more than 100 years old.

Queenstown TSS Earnslaw cruise
Historic photo of sheep on the TSS Earnslaw

Different languages swirl around us and the festive atmosphere of people on holiday fills the boat along with the smell of coal from the engine room. After watching the ship pull out and admiring the view we decide to go and see what is going on in the engine room which was exposed for public viewing in the 1970s by cutting a hole in the floor. Heat rises up to greet us as two burly engineers wearing soot covered overalls shovel one tonne of coal per hour into the two boilers to keep the ship moving as pistons pump and the fire burns in the heart of the ship.

Queenstown TSS Earnslaw cruise
The TSS Earnslaw departing Queenstown

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Queenstown TSS Earnslaw cruise
View pulling out of Queenstown

After about half an hour we reach the picturesque Walter Peak High Country Farm on the other side of the lake. The area’s rugged beauty must have been a bonus for William Rees who named the farm after his eldest son Walter in the late 1850s. Walter Peak High Country Farm flourished thanks to the Queenstown gold rush and 40,000 sheep once thrived on paddocks which stretched up the surrounding mountains. Their fine Merino wool once topped the London wool sales but these days the farm’s main business is tourism, although there are still plenty of sheep.

Queenstown TSS Earnslaw cruise
Enjoying the trip across the lake
Approaching Walter Peak High Country Farm
Approaching Walter Peak High Country Farm

Around 30 years ago a small proportion of the 170,000 acres was set aside to create Walter Peak High Country Farm so tourists could get a feel for what it was like to farm in New Zealand’s high country. Originally the only way to reach this farm and many others like it around the lake was by steamship and stock was transported using the same boat we travelled on. The sheep were probably better behaved than most of the tourists who rush down the gangplank in their excitement to get to the farm show. A couple of staff herd them in the right direction, just like the Earnslaw’s historic woolly cargo, and point everyone to the show area to the right of the wharf.

Queenstown TSS Earnslaw cruise
TSS Earnslaw docked at Walter Peak High Country Farm
Queenstown TSS Earnslaw cruise
Walking to the farm show

A young farmer is already on the stage and pats the sheepdog beside him as the passengers amble into the covered stadium seating and make themselves comfortable. After a sheep shearing demonstration supervised by the sheepdogs the farmer opens the paddock gate and whistles for one of the dogs who darts towards a group of distant sheep on the top of the hillside like a bullet.

The sheep move in a group and she crouches low to run with them down the hill before herding them neatly into the pen behind the farmer.  This is greeted with a round of applause which is probably the most recognition a sheepdog will ever get. The farmer explains the working dogs on the farm (and elsewhere in New Zealand) aren’t rewarded with food or treats, other than a good meal at the start and end of the day. They herd the sheep because they enjoy it. Judging by the sheepdog’s big doggie grin, he’s telling the truth.

Sheep show
Sheep shearing live on stage
TSS Earnslaw cruise show
Chatting with the audience at the end of the show

After the sheep herding demonstration the farmer declares it is time for lunch and we make our way to the historic homestead. Thanks to the hungry teen we are the first to arrive which is lucky as it means we get one of the prime seats on the front veranda. If the weather isn’t good there is plenty of seating available inside but you would be mad to sit in there on such a divine day. It’s not a bad idea to wear sunscreen if you’re doing this tour as the sun can still burn you, even if the weather is quite cool.

TSS Earnslaw cruise lunch
Approaching the restaurant
TSS Earnslaw cruise lunch
Prime veranda seating (get there early)

Cheerful staff circulate around the tables explaining that groups of tables will be invited to go up to the buffet so it doesn’t get too busy and someone will be around in a few minutes to take our drink orders. My husband and I are impressed when our waiter offers to fetch two bottles of wine so we can taste them when we can’t decide which one to order by the glass. So far our dining experience has been more like a restaurant meal at a fancy café than a tourist dining experience. When it is our turn to go inside to the buffet we discover the surprises are still coming.

Instead of the typical ‘bain maries of doom’ you see at most tourist buffets there are chefs cooking wood fired meats, gourmet salads, freshly roasted vegetables and crusty bread. Most of the produce has been sourced from the surrounding area and it is superb. We only make one trip to the buffet (apart from the teen who can’t resist a second visit) but we see many other travellers really getting their money’s worth. Who could blame them with food this good? You really don’t need dinner after doing this cruise.

TSS Earnslaw cruise lunch
Wood fired barbecue (rear) and delicious meats which kept on comin’
TSS Earnslaw cruise lunch
Salad buffet (there was also a roast vege buffet)

Dessert is a selection of cakes, ice cream, mini chocolate mousse and lollies so you can make your own creation. Our son assembles a ‘dessert plate’ and declares it ‘excellent’ with top marks for the chocolate mousse which is presented in cute mini metal milk pails. Desserts do tend to run out but it pays to be patient. More treats come out regularly but you might have to wait for your favourite to be replenished by the cheerful staff.

TSS Earnslaw cruise lunch
Lemon meringue pies and chocolate cake
TSS Earnslaw cruise lunch
Mini milk pails of chocolate mousse & more

After lunch we have time for a walk along the foreshore to take photos and burn off some of that delicious food before the cruise back to Queenstown. For the return journey, we return to the front of the ship and look up at the brilliant blue sky as sunlight steams off snow capped mountains and dances on the surface of the lake. It is breathtakingly beautiful, the ship is charming and lunch was superb. We initially wondered why people would pay to do something so ‘touristy’ but we were the ones who were foolish for not doing this trip sooner.

TSS Earnslaw cruise
TSS Earnslaw returns to pick everyone up after lunch

Disclosure: The writer paid for their cruise.

If you are looking for some things to do in Queenstown, we enjoyed sailing on the TSS Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu and scaring ourselves silly with some of Queenstown’s best adrenline activities.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.