With the discovery of gold in Arrowtown in 1862 and subsequent Otago gold rush, commercial shipping on Lake Wakatipu became a lucrative business. Over the next 40 years several private companies operated sail and steam ships to cater to the needs of the diggers and the growing population around the lake.
The original structure of Steamer Wharf (Then named Robertson & Co wharf) was a small private jetty owned and built in 1863 by timber company Robertson and Company.
Its primary purpose was for primary goods and timber yards. An upgrade in 1868 meant the Robertson & Co wharf became the primary docking place for larger vessels.
It wasn't until the death of Robertson, that an early settler Daniel McBride acquired the timber yards and wharf along with two steamers the Antrim and Venus.
In 1885 the Lake Wakatipu Steam Shipping Company was formed which amalgamated the two main companies operating shipping on the lake.
However by 1890, the monopoly, poor service and exorbitant prices fuelled a growing discontent which resulted in the sale of Lake Wakatipu Steam Shipping Company to the government. As a result, all the wharfs and jetties came under the control of the Railway Department.
This brought on 22 years of growth in Queenstown, As Queenstown grew so did the demand for a larger, faster steamship to cater to the burgeoning tourism industry.
The wharf was rebuilt in 1912 to accomodate the newly commissioned Earnslaw. Because of its size it became the main public landing for Queenstown and the facilities around the wharf shifted from primary goods to tourist facilities. Gone were the timber yards.
The Earnslaw operated on the lake throughout the first half of the 20th Century, despite the competition of road transport to Kingston and Glenorchy.
Fiordland Travel (now RealNZ) took over the operations of the steamship in 1969. For over a century TSS Earnslaw has been plying the Lake and is now one of only a handful of coal fired steamships still in operation around the world.
With an architectural nod to its past in the form of the weatherboard boat shed profiles and the majestic warehouse-like building of Oamaru stone, Steamer Wharf has become a landmark in Queenstown.
Today, the current owners, all locals, consider it an honour to be caretakers of this iconic site and constantly endeavour to keep it fresh and vibrant and looking to the future. Meanwhile the Earnslaw continues to dock at Steamer Wharf several times a day to load coal and passengers creating a picturesque tableau for visitors against the stunning backdrop of the lake and surrounding mountains.
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88 Beach Street, Queenstown 9300