Walter Peak High Country Farm
Probably one of the best day trips from Queenstown has to be a journey on the TSS Earnslaw over to Walter Peak High Country Farm for a farm and mustering show, an exquisite BBQ lunch or dinner, stunning scenery and a very special view back over Lake Wakatipu. This will be for many visitors to Queenstown, the quintessential kiwi experience!
A Brief History of Walter Peak High Country Farm
Nicholas von Tunzelmann
The Wakatipu Basin was initially settled by two pioneer friends William Rees and Nicholas von Tunzelmann in the early 1860’s. Legend has it that upon arrival, they flipped a coin to decide who would settle on which side of the lake. Reese settled on what is now Queenstown while Von Tunzelmann procured ‘Run Number 350’ , 50,000 acres to the west of Lake Wakatipu. Here he established one of the first high country stations next to what was to become the Von River, across the shore from Queenstown, and naming it Fernhill. Alongside his brother John and brother-in-law Gilbert Picket, they imported sheep from Australia, and created a permanent two-storey stone family homestead. In 1865 he married Gertrude Gilbert, sister of Frances Rees (married to pioneering friend William Rees) and had two sons and three daughters.
From here their stories deviate and after many challenges and a good dowse of bad luck. Harsh weather conditions lead to the mass loss of sheep, the outbreak of scab and an infestation of rabbits, caused the von Tunzelmann’s to abandon the land and try their ‘luck’ elsewhere.
After 5 years in Australia, trying to carve out a life as a fruit farmer, he returned when he heard his 100-acre ‘Walter Peak’ section might be lost. von Tunzelmann returned to Beach Bay, a 200 acre holding at Walter Peak, where he and his family were able to live a modest lifestyle until his death in Frankton Hospital on 31 July 1900. His wife stayed on at the farm until her death in 1918. The Von River, Von Valley, Von Hill and Mount Nicholas, are all named after him.
And so enters the next phase in Walter Peaks interesting history. Born in Scotland, MacKenzie immigrated to NZ in 1874 and worked alongside his brother on Coronet Peak Station in the late 1870’s. Given the harsh environment and high altitude, the brothers decided to try their luck lower down in the valley and purchased 300 acres at Beach Bay, Walter Peak. After dissolving their partnership in 1882, Mackenzie was granted 10,000 acres at Walter Peak by the Waste Lands Board, previously abandoned by the von Tunzelmann’s due to the horrendous rabbit infestation.
After years of back breaking hard work, and much help from his children (6 sons and 2 daughters), Hugh Mackenzie managed to clean up and re energise the land - building homes, yards, sheds and stock fences. In 1904 under a family syndicate, he bought the Mount Nicholas and Fernhill runs, calling it all Walter Peak, a total of 178,000 acres of Crown land plus freehold areas. A sound business head and solid work ethics made this a successful venture and many of todays high farming principles were developed and shared by the Mackenzie family. During their tenership, they hired over 50 staff and ran over 40,000 sheep, achieving award winning Marino wool and dominating the London Wool Sales during the 1930’s. 16 years after his death, in 1949, the Mt Nicholas and Fernhill runs were sold by the family. The remainder of Walter Peak was sold in 1959.
The original homestead block of Walter Peak Station is now known as Walter Peak High Country Farm. The stunning Colonel’s Homestead with its beautiful white buildings and red roofs are a visual and historical delight. Nestled amongst rose gardens on the shore of the Wakatipu, the original structure was built in 1908 as a wedding present for Hugh’s son, Colonel Peter Mackenzie but following a tragic accidental fire in 1977 it was lovingly restored to the epic home and event venue it is today.
In 1991, Fiordland Travel (later rebranded to Real Journeys) secured the leasing rights to Walter Peak Station. Having already bought the Lady of the Lake – the coal fired steam ship The TSS Earnslaw in 1982, and with a successful history of delivering day excursions on her decks, the company set its sights on creating one of Queenstown's most loved and most memorable day trips – The Walter Peak High Country Farm Excursion.
Today Real Journeys offer a number of spectacular day trips on the Earnslaw over to Walter Peak. They centre around exploring and experiencing a typical day on a high country station and eating a typically scrumptious kiwi BBQ with a gourmet twist.
The cruise over is best described as peaceful, scenic and immensely interesting! You’ll have an opportunity to learn about the inner workings of a steamship or enjoy the onboard entertainment. Once you arrive its all ‘Kiwi’ from there on in. Kiwi blokes wearing gumboots, checkered shirts, leather hats and leaning on stockman’s sticks surrounded by farm dogs! There is sheep shearing and animal petting, mustering and horse riding. We recommend booking the BBQ. It's an absolute delight to eat fresh NZ meat cooked to perfection on flaming BBQ’s amongst one of the most stunning locations on this planet.
Your current options are:
Walter Peak Gourmet BBQ Lunch: Combine a TSS Earnslaw lake cruise and farm demo with a delicious BBQ lunch at Colonel’s Homestead Restaurant
Walter Peak Gourmet BBQ Dinner: Dinner with a difference – A vintage steamship lake Cruise, gourmet BBQ Dinner at the Colonel’s Homestead Restaurant and a farm Demo
Walter Peak Farm Tour: Experience NZ’s high Country Farming life with sheep shearing, mustering and much more
Walter Peak Horse Treks: Guided Horse Trekking tours from the majestic shores of the Wakatipu
Walter Peak Independent Cycling: Embark on this self guided cycling adventure which will get you above and beyond Queenstown amidst spectacular back country