TSS Earnslaw

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TSS Earnslaw
Career (New Zealand) Civil Ensign of New Zealand.svg
Owner: Real Journeys
Builder: McGregor and Company, Dunedin
Laid down: 4 July 1911
Launched: 24 February 1912
Fate: Active in service as of 2010
General characteristics
Displacement: 330 L/T
Length: 165 ft (50 m)
Beam: 24 ft (7.3 m)
Draught: 7 ft (2.1 m)
Propulsion: Twin screw steamer, two sets of triple expansion 500 horse power jet condensing steam engines
Speed: 13 knots
Complement: 11 crew, 389 passengers
Notes: coal capacity 14 tons, boiler type and pressure=Locomotive style, 180lb per square inch.

The TSS Earnslaw is a 1912 vintage twin screw steamer plying the waters of Lake Wakatipu in New Zealand. It is one of the oldest tourist attractions in Central Otago, and the only remaining passenger-carrying coal-fired steamship in the southern hemisphere.[1]


At the beginning of the twentieth century, New Zealand Railways awarded 21,000 pounds to John McGregor and Co shipbuilders of Dunedin to build a steamship for Lake Wakatipu. The Earnslaw was named after Mount Earnslaw, a 2889 metre peak at the head of Lake Wakatipu. She was to be 48 metres long, the biggest boat on the lake. Transporting the Earnslaw was no easy task. When construction was finally completed she was dismantled. All the quarter inch steel hull plates were numbered for reconstruction much like a jig-saw puzzle. Then the boat was railed by goods train across the South Island from Dunedin to Kingston at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu.

Six months later, after being rebuilt, on 24 February 1912, the TSS Earnslaw was launched and fired up for her maiden voyage to Queenstown, with the Minister of Marine as captain.

She then became a valuable vessel for the New Zealand Railways and was known as the "Lady of the Lake".

The Earnslaw worked with her sister ships, the paddle steamers Antrim and Mountaineer and the steamer Ben Lomond, transporting sheep, cattle and passengers to the surrounding high country stations.

In 1968, the Earnslaw was very nearly scrapped but she was fortunately rescued. She was purchased by Fiordland Travel (now Real Journeys).

She was taken out of service for a huge makeover in 1984. Her 12 metre high funnel was painted bright red, with the hull a snow white, and her kauri timber decks glassed in.

During her long years on the lake, the most serious accidents to occur were two groundings on the shingle shores of the lake.

In March 1990, the Earnslaw carried Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. Other royalty to travel on board have been the King and Queen of Belgium and the Prince of Thailand.

The TSS Earnslaw made a brief cameo appearance in the movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) as an Amazon River boat.

Current status

Steaming to Kingston
Kingston Quayside
Cruising in Queenstown

As of 2010, the Earnslaw is still in routine operation carrying tourist passengers across Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown to Walter Peak High Country Farm, a tourism operation with farm tours, horse treks, heritage tours, barbecue lunches and evening dining at the historic Colone's Homestead.

The ship works fourteen hour days in the summer months and cruises for 11 months of the year, despite being over 110 years old. Visitors to the region can undertake a 1.5 hour cruise on board the TSS Earnslaw and view the workings of the steam engine and stokers (the people who shovel the coal).

Each year, the TSS Earnslaw undergoes an annual survey - typically from late May to early June - with every second year being taken out of the lake.

Each of the Earnslaw's screws is turned by a driveshaft driven by a triple-expansion steam engine. Passengers have access to a walkway in the engine room, where they can observe the operation of the engines during the cruise. The Earnslaw is the only working coal-fired steamship on the Lloyd's Register.


  1. Beech, James (2009-07-06). "'Earnslaw' back after upgrade". Otago Daily Times (Allied Press). http://www.odt.co.nz/news/queenstown-lakes/64194/039earnslaw039-back-after-upgrade. Retrieved 2009-07-06. 

External links

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