Real Journeys, a tourism company in New Zealand, offers a variety of tours and activities throughout New Zealand. They offer a 20% discount on the cheapest activity (called the 20$ Multi Saver) if you book more than 1 activity at the same time. We booked the Milford Sound Cruise and the BBQ lunch at Colonel’s Homestead on Walter’s Peak Farm.
Walter’s Peak Farm is located in Walter’s Peak. Both Cecil’s Peak and Walter’s Peak were named by William Gilbert Rees, the first European settler in of Queenstown, after his son, Cecil Walter Rees. Walter’s Peak is the smaller peak of the 2 geographical landmarks. The homestead and the garden was built later by the Mackenzie family, who also introduced innovative-for-the-time farming methods. The gardens were made in the 1870’s and Colonel’s Homestead was built in the 1908 for the then-owner’s son’s wedding and reconstructed after a fire damaged it in 1977. Walter’s Peak Farm covers 155 hectares. and in 2014, Real Journeys bought the land and started a conservation project to clear invasive, non-native vegetation and turning it into a tourism attraction by creating a restaurant out of the old homestead, and having sheep shearing demonstrations.
Walter’s Peak is 11km across Lake Wakatipu, from Queenstown. in the 1800’s this was a five to seven hour trip by row boat. Now, this location is only accessible by chartered transport (in their words: “This delightful venue is easily accessed from Queenstown the vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw, a charter vessel, helicopter or fixed-wing scenic flight“) and unfortunately, Real Journeys seems to have a monopoly on the transport of visitors and over the entire homestead on Walter’s Peak. This means if you want to try out the restaurant, you have to go through Real Journeys. We went on the steamboat, TSS Earnslaw.
TSS Earnslaw Steamship:
Smaller than a ship but bigger than a boat, the TSS Earnlsaw steam-water-vessel’s only true marketable point is that it still runs on steam, ie coal. Originally commissioned by the government in 1912, this boat was used as a cargo ship to transport all sorts of necessities between properties in the south island. During it’s working life, it carried 1,500 sheep and 30 cattle. Many farmlands were set up in ‘vacant’ land, scattered among the islands of the south island, and the only way to access them was by boat. As road transport improved, the use for the cargo ship declined. in 1969 Real Journeys took the boat and turned it into a tourism program.
The engine room is in the center of the boat and is accessible to passengers if you want to go see. It is loud and hot, as expected.
The rest of the ship has seating indoors and outside.
There are toilets on the ship with baby change facilities.
There is also a mini museum at the back of the boat that describes the history of the boat, which you can just see the entrance of in the photo below.
There are free pamphlets for those who are interested in the history of the place, and a mini model of the engine.
Views of the lake during the boat ride:
While you can buy snacks onboard, it is really not worth your money to buy them onboard because the whole reason you are on the ship in the first place is to eat the BBQ Lunch/Dinner, and you paid for that, remember?
Departures are from Steamer Wharf in Queenstown. You must arrive earler to go to the Real Journey’s office to pick up tickets then take the tickets to the wharf. They are a few hundred metres apart. The ride is not very long, the 11km trip takes about about 20 minutes or so one way. Departing from Queenstown you will be able to see the property on the ship’s left in the direction it is heading.
The Queenstown wharf:
Note: As you get onto the boat, the staff take photos of you with the boat in the background, which you can later buy on board. I always feel things like this are forced and I don’t like it. You can always take photos yourself while you wait on the wharf.
What’s on offer at Walter’s Peak:
View of Lake Wakatipu and the wharf from the gravelly shore at Walter’s Peak:
The homestead consists of a house that has been converted to a restaurant and the interior restored to it’s period style. It is located on a ‘rural’ property that has a sheep shearing shed and a garden.
Wharf at the homestead:
The restored interior of the dining hall:
There is also outdoor dining but I did not see anyone use it at the lunch.
The food and dining experience:
When you arrive at Walter’s Peak; after leaving the boat, you are divided into groups depending on the package you bought (some start with a farm tour first, other dine first). The accessible area is small, diners head to the restaurant a few metres away on the left and the tour-first people head to the right. I was in the dine first group. I booked a table for 7 so there was a table reserved for us, otherwise you can sit where you like.
Guests are called a few tables at a time to get food from the buffets. There are a variety of meats, smoked chicken, beef, sausages, hot barbecued meats, cold meats, salads, corn, bread, dips, fruit and desserts, and water, wine is not included. The buffet sections are located throughout the accessible building (some places are off limits). The ‘see the chef cook live’ and the barbecue component is where there is a section at the front of the building where the chefs roast/cook the meat on a barbecue plate for you and you can collect it from them. Otherwise this was not the a barbecue lunch I imagined, and definitely not the live cooking demonstrations I imagined from the description on their website, but overall the experience wasn’t exactly bad.
This location is touted to have “timeless ambience”, a “magical” and “unforgettable experience” with “fine dining at its best” that “gives you a glimpse of life in the high country”. While I agree with the last one, as the restaurant/house itself has been restored, I cannot think it would be worthwhile to book the entire venue exclusively for a private event, unless it was for filming, at least from my lunch experience (perhaps the dinner, especially a private dinner, would be different but I do not exactly want to go back to see it, when there are so many other easily accessible fine dining restaurants in New Zealand).
When we finished our meal, the rest of the time was spent wandering around the small garden, as the sheep shearing demonstration was hot, crowded and of no interest to me.
Your ticket price includes a cruise, a bbq, and a tour of the farm.
In actual fact:
-Unless you are a big fan of steam boats, the cruise is really a ride on the TSS Earnslaw steamboat (ie your transport to and from Queenstown Steamer Wharf)
-the food is probably what you came for and is a buffet of prepared food while the BBQ is just some meats grilled and cooked in a glass window island kitchen
-And the farm tour consists of the sheep shearing demonstration and free time to spend in the garden if you do not want to see the sheep shearing demonstration.
The ship is not wheelchair accessible although a pram can get on and fit. Colonel Homestead is not too hard to manage with a pram, the area is sloped but flat, but there are some shallow stairs to the restaurant.
The actual property is large (155 ha), but you don’t get to see much of it. Coming from Sydney and having seen many sheep shearing and wood chopping demonstrations, the sheep shearing was of no interest to me, so I wandered around the garden instead.
Also, and I feel this is important, even though the description says the trip is 3 and a half hours, the meal time is only about 1.5 hours, so the groups can swap and the other group can come dine. I can certainly see some of the points made by reviewers on tripadvisor saying that they feel herded into a dining hall and rushed through their meal. There is a good variety of food, true, but there is very little time if you wanted to browse through the food selections, line up for your specially cooked hot-off-the barbecue meats, go for desserts AND still go for seconds. To be honest I felt a little rushed, I didn’t have time for seconds, and many things were not replenished as they need to reset for the next group. I can also understand the disappointment of some visitor’s as the ‘farm tour’ was really just a trip to the next-door sheep shearing shed. There is also a small gift shop on site, however there was nothing of interest to me. This means, for some, at the most boring level, this is essentially an expensive, low-to-medium excitement, rushed buffet meal at a restored, commercialized farm house on a slightly remote location accessed by a commercialized re-purposed cargo boat, without the honest hospitality you would get from a real farmer on a true working farm in the real countryside.
The garden is small and while it is definitely not a botanical garden, it is still pretty, and thankfully it was accessible/enjoyable because it was sunny. This activity runs all year round, so I’d hate to think what would happen if you came on a rainy day and didn’t want to go to the sheep shearing shed. Although it is a ‘farm’, the places that visitors are allowed to access are not on the actual farm pastures, since the front of the property is the old residential area of the owners. This means it is paved with gravel grounds. There is also a rope swing hung in the tree on the gravel shore that has a great view of the lake. The garden is carefully maintained with grass and is a comfortable and beautiful little place to spend a sunny afternoon/kill some time waiting for the boat to return to pick up the visitors and send them back to Queenstown.
Cost: We went on January 23, 2016. At that time the cost per adult was $99 NZD and $22 per child. Currently (July 2017) it is now $105 per adult and $45 per child (4 to 14 years old). Personally I think the price was a little on the expensive side when we went, but now the more-than-doubled child price and the increase in the adult price in only 18 months is quite steep.
Overall the experience was not bad as such, but probably a little over-touted and expensive for what it was, especially compared to the dinner at Stratosfare in Queenstown with the gondola/cable care ride to the top included (which I will write about soon) which was $82 per adult (and currently only raised $85 NZD). It was not something I’d pay to do again (probably not even something I’d do if I was being paid), despite the interesting history of the place. I would only have liked more opportunities to photograph the lake, and with some proper photographic equipment.
If you stay here longer, you might be able to go strolling along the lake which would be good if the weather is good. A photo provided by management on Tripadvisor depicts people biking around the area which looks enticing but I have not found such an activity on offer.
Read my review on TripAdvisor here.
Next stop: Dinner at Stratosfare Restaurant in Queenstown. Subscribe so you get notified!
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