The TSS Earnslaw represented the exciting start and consoling finish to our childhood holidays in the 1950s and 60s. Kinloch, indeed Glenorchy, had no road access in those days, so it was quite ambitious to get a family of eight from Invercargill to Kinloch for two week’s holiday.
I am the eldest of six siblings and well remember the scurry and busy few days before we set off on our annual holiday in Kinloch at the head of Lake Wakatipu. Military operations could not be better planned or executed! Clothing was readied and packed – don’t wear that, it’s for packing! Food was readied – baking, cold meat and groceries packed – no grocery store in Kinloch. Lists made and crossed off. House keys found – no-one locked their houses in Invercargill in the ‘50s except when they went on holiday.
Finally the great day came. The car was packed the night before with luggage, food, games, books, fishing gear and everything required to keep us all fed and functioning for two weeks. Since we had to get to Queenstown anyway, the car was the most efficient way to bring all of our supplies to Kinloch.
Four am…yes four o’clock in the morning. We children were picked up from our beds and placed in the car – still in our pyjamas – as quietly as possible by Mum and Dad  who no doubt hoped we’d all stay sleeping for some time!
We drove to Queenstown, where more military organisation came into play. Mum and kids were dropped off at my Aunt and Uncle’s crib where we would dress and breakfast while Dad and Uncle Reg would drive the car down to the Earnslaw jetty where it would be loaded onto the deck for transport to Kinloch.
After breakfast and play with our cousins, we were all trooped down the hill to board the Earnslaw and our holiday began in earnest. It was always exciting to see what else was on the Steamer – horses, sheep, groceries in big boxes, post bags, farm vehicles and equipment – you name it, the Earnslaw would carry it. It was always a thrill to see our car on board, made us feel part of the life of the people living around the Lake, even if only for two weeks each year.
I just know Mum and Dad would have enjoyed a rest while the Earnslaw made it’s way around the Lake, calling at the Stations to deliver the mail, groceries, equipment, stock and taking on board outward mailbags (much more interesting than a letterbox, what could be in those padlocked thick canvas bags?) wool bales and other items, stock and people. Trampers and hunters were dropped off at various points and us of course.  We children thought it was a great adventure. We loved going all around the Earnslaw looking in the nooks and crannies; watching men looking after horses on deck, peering down into the engine room – always gleaming brass and paint – watching the stoker shovelling coal into the firebox, hearing the throb of the engine. This throb was perfectly reflected by Ron Goodwin about 1978  in his composition the Earnslaw Steam Theme, which I heard at its first performance by NZSO in Invercargill, bringing back the feeling and sounds of those childhood trips.
I recall, when I was old enough, going with Mum down to the saloon in some awe ( it was a very grown up sort of place) for tea, sandwiches and a cake. For the boys, I recall them being very excited about a visit to the bridge – and were they really allowed to “steer” the Earnslaw?
I think that we children felt superior to other visitors (tourists) because this was “our” Earnslaw. We weren’t quite as local as the Station people, but for those couple of weeks in January for a number of years we did belong to the Lake and the Earnslaw and they belonged to us.
Arriving at Kinloch the unloading began, with our car often being the last thing to come off. It seemed huge and vulnerable at the same time, dangling in the air and being lowered to the jetty. We were all running around and visiting our favourite places being told “not to go mad – you are here for two weeks!” and ignoring that. Getting the key to the back half of an old house, which was our holiday home for the next two weeks, and helping unload the car and carry things into the house. Claiming “our” rooms again and eventually having tea and an early night – we had been up at four am after all.
We were here for two long weeks. Swimming, fishing – trout and after a storm hauling in many quinnet salmon, eeling, bonfires, walks in the bush, play, catching up with other holiday people – friends for two weeks every year, meeting the Earnslaw at the jetty and watching the tourists disembark and going for a trip on the open-roofed buses, Dad and the boys going up a mountain ( why not the girls? 1950s?!) enjoying the freedom, people, space and fun offered by this isolated spot.
Then at the end of it all, the military operation in reverse! The tins of baking now empty, food consumed, some shorts and shirts torn beyond repair, but still the car took some loading. Again it swung precariously up and over the jetty onto the deck of the Earnslaw. We were sad to be ending our holiday, but this was lessened by looking forward to the trip on the Earnslaw back down to Queenstown. One last adventure before the drive back to Invercargill. The last throb of the engine for another year.


Katherine Clarkson

The TSS Earnslaw is the first and only vessel in New Zealand to be classified as a Heritage One under a District plan.

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