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15 facts you didn't know about the TSS Earnslaw

Date: 2 September 2020

Ask any Queenstown local and they'll tell you that the TSS in TSS Earnslaw stands for Twin Screw Steamer or that it was launched in 1912, the same year as the doomed RMS Titanic. There are so many interesting and quirky facts that even our locals may not know about this 109-year-old steamship - here are just a few...

The TSS Earnslaw cruises across Lake Wakatipu with Remarkables in the background
  • The TSS Earnslaw was named after Mt Earnslaw, located at the northern end of Lake Whakatipu in Aspiring National Park.
  • In 1912 the boat was constructed by J. McGregor and Co in Dunedin. The company won the government tender to construct
    the vessel for £20,850 and the boat was run as part of the New Zealand Railways network.
  • Although her maiden voyage on Lake Whakatipu was on 24th February 1912, the Lady of the Lake celebrates her birthday on the 18th of October as that is the day of her first official voyage with paying passengers. 
  • In days gone by, the TSS Earnslaw worked primarily as a cargo ship, with space for 1,500 sheep and 30 cattle on her decks.
  • The Earnslaw carried the Duke of York in 1927 and the Duke of Gloucester in 1935.
  • In March 1990, the Earnslaw carried Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip.
  • Other royalty to travel onboard have been the King and Queen of Belgium, the Prince of Thailand and the Emperor and Empress of Japan.
  • The TSS Earnslaw made a brief cameo appearance in the movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) as an Amazon Riverboat.
  • The TSS Earnslaw uses 1 tonne of coal every hour.
  • Parts of the TSS Earnslaw were used as the basis for the SS Venture, the steamship in the movie King Kong.
  • Former president Bill Clinton travelled on board the TSS Earnslaw in 1999.
  • The TSS Earnslaw travels 1.5 times the circumference of the earth each year. Not bad for a 109-year-old steamship!
  • Famous composer Ron Goodwin composed a piece of music inspired by the rhythm of the TSS Earnslaw’s engines. It was first performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
  • The TSS Earnslaw inspired the illustrated children’s storybook Pot the dragon by Brian High. 
  • In 1998, under the Queenstown-Lakes District Plan, the TSS Earnslaw was listed as Category One Heritage, the first vessel in New Zealand to be protected by a district plan.

Today, the TSS Earnslaw serves as a wonderful reminder of a bygone steam age and a connection to Queenstown’s pioneering past. As one of only a handful of coal-fired steamships in operation around the world and the only Twin Screw Steamer in the Southern Hemisphere, a cruise aboard the TSS Earnslaw is a truly unique experience.