Day #95 - Steaming into Christmas!

Merry Christmas! 'Tis the season to be jolly which in our case means an amazing day filled with memory making activities. We didn't have anything planned originally for Christmas Day itself, since we figured we'd go with the flow and see what was going on locally but a few weeks ago it became apparent that if we wanted to do something special, we'd better book something. Sadly, we couldn't find anything that had any spaces. Luckily, our amazing host Jo booked us the last spaces on a very special Christmas Day cruise. So that is how we found ourselves on our fourth boat in four days! 

In the heart of Queenstown, steams the TSS Earnslaw, a grand dame of New Zealand history. Launched in 1912, this coal-fired steamer isn't just a vessel; it's a living time capsule, chugging across the glassy lake with the rhythmic beat of its engines and the nostalgic charm of a bygone era. Born in the same year as the Titanic, the Earnslaw wasn't destined for opulent luxury, but for a rugged life on the icy waters of Lake Wakatipu. Commissioned by New Zealand Railways, she became a lifeline for isolated high country communities, carrying not just passengers, but sheep, cattle, and vital supplies. These days, she brings pleasure to tourists and today, that included us! 

We boarded this majestic vessel which was to ferry across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak Farm on the opposite side of the lake to Queenstown, where we were to be treated to Christmas lunch. 

The journey across with our fellow festive passengers was a great history lesson since the ship had its own little museum explaining the ship's history with some great old photos, but more impressive was the ability to stand in the engine room as the ship steamed its way across the water. 

We docked at Walter Peak and were greeted not only by a stunning location, but a lovely glass of bubbly!
The Colonel’s Homestead Restaurant was looking stunning surrounded by stunning rose bushes and the view back across the lake was an amazing sight on a special day. The restaurant specialises in gourmet BBQ dining experiences which meant today we were treated to succulent meats cooked on their wood-fired BBQ alongside a huge selection of salads, vegetable dishes, cheeses, sides and of course, desserts. We even had crackers on the table to remind us that it was Christmas!
Needless to say, it was a beautiful lunch and we felt very lucky to be enjoying such wonderful food in such an incredible location.
We met a couple who had recently arrived in New Zealand after relocating from the Bath area. Naturally we got chatting and shared our impressions and experiences of New Zealand. Katie and Ben turned out to be great company and we chatted further on the way back across the lake on TSS Earnslaw. 
There was a piano on board and during the return voyage, a pianist played some sing-a-long songs (song books provided). It was a shame they weren't Christmas songs, but Katie and I joined in with a few that we knew, before returning below decks to chat some more. 
After we docked back in Queenstown, we headed to the town's beach. There is a tradition for those without family gather to celebrate the day with each other and go for a swim. You know James well enough by now that you know he was up for that. I stayed ashore since someone had to stay behind to take the photos (plus the water is very cold!). I did paddle a bit, up to my knees before I lost feeling in my toes.
After the swim and sunbathing, it was felt that we needed a little drink (or two) to continue the celebrations and so we wandered over to the bars and restaurants to find a table. The surprising thing for us is that Christmas really isn't a big deal here. Sure, things are a little different, but most of the shops in town were open, public Christmas decorations are minimal, festive shop displays are subtle and people mostly treat it like any other day! 

After a few hours at a bar where the (cute) bartender was also enjoying the Christmas cheer a little too much - much to our amusement, we headed back to the beach for the spectacular sunset.

This will be one Christmas that we both will remember for many years to come. It was so special and so memorable. We both feel very lucky. Happy Christmas!


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