he International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
1968 NZ Railfans Reunion, Part 2

Wilson Lythgoe has been circulating friends with some steam pictures taken some time back and with his permission and encouragement they are reproduced on these pages and will be added to from time to time. Click here for the index.

Click here for 1968 NZ Railfans Reunion, Part 1.

Day 2: Saturday 13th April 1968.

The plan was to travel on the steamer 'Earnslaw' from Queenstown down to Kingston. There we'd join the Reunion train that was coming up from Invercargill along the Kingston Branch. Things didn't quite go according to plan though......

Although there was a lot of high cloud around it was still reasonably pleasant at Walter Peak Sheep Station where the Earnslaw waited while the travellers wandered around taking photographs.

The Earnslaw had been a Railways Department ship all its life: launched in 1912, weighing 330 tons, with two coal fired locomotive type boilers it was now sixty six years old and still serving the lakeside communities around Lake Wakatipu. Three days a week it steamed from Queenstown to the head of the lake carrying travellers and working goods traffic as required. Twice a week it went south to Kingston, for its connection with the railway, working goods traffic only. Despite the ever increasing road network along the lake a number of run holders were still entirely dependent on the Earnslaw as their sole means of communication with the outside world.

Some time during the morning we were told the railway between Invercargill and Kingston was closed due to flooding and that there were at least two washouts along the line: one south and the other north of Lumsden. Our train would be unable to reach Kingston but could make it as far as Lumsden by using the Main Trunk to Gore and then the Waimea Plains Branch. 
At Kingston a fleet of railway buses were waiting on the wharf to meet the Earnslaw and take the travellers on to Lumsden. The weather had closed in again and the mountainous backdrop that should have been in this shot is nowhere to be seen.....in fact it's quite hard to distinguish where the water ends and cloud begins.

The train had already reached Lumsden by the time the buses arrived but rain was now pouring down. Today's locomotive was North British built Ab731. It entered service in 1922 and was withdrawn from stock in March 1969.

Once away from Lumsden the weather brightened up slightly and a photo run was held passing through Balfour......

.....and then another shortly after at Riversdale.

The third photo run was held in what looks to be pretty cold and blustery conditions.

Close to Gore the Mataura River had burst its banks and there was extensive flooding.

It hadn't been the most successful of days......cold, wet and washouts.....things could only get better for the next two days of the reunion couldn't they?

For a number of years the Railways had been concerned about mounting losses on the Steamer service and the Southland branch lines. First to go was the steamer service......on New Years Day 1969 the Earnslaw passed into private hands. An eventful year followed before the present operator took over and today the steamer earns its living running short tourist excursions on the lake. In researching information for this article I found the owners website http://www.tssearnslaw.co.nz/tss-earnslaw/ which reminded me that the Earnslaw is 100 years old this year. The site gives a great history of the steamer service on Lake Wakatipu and offers a number of centenary events being held in October. An all day cruise to the head of the lake and back costs $250: in 1970 it was $3.....how prices have changed!

Taken from the Centenary website:
'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 one in the southern hemisphere, a cruise aboard the TSS Earnslaw is truly a unique experience.'

Apart from a short section leaving Lumsden the Waimea Plains Branch closed in 1971. The line to Kingston remained in use until 1979 and in 1982 the final 14 kilometres between Fairlight and Kingston became home to the Kingston Flyer Vintage Steam Train. The Flyer seems to have had a chequered career since its inception but is presently operating twice daily using Ab788 & 795.

Rob Dickinson

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