Lake cruise boats docked at Queenstown wharf
Things to do

5 spectacular lake cruises in Queenstown

Guide by Jo Williams

Last Updated 25 January 2024

What are the best lake cruises in Queenstown? In this guide we look at the different Lake Wakatipu cruises leaving from Queenstown's wharf, and break down the differences in price, inclusions, and experiences.

At over 80 km in length, Lake Wakatipu is New Zealand’s longest lake, reaching down to 380 metres deep. It’s so big that local legend tells of a great giant, lying quietly asleep within the lake’s murky depths.

The lake is central to town life and locals congregate along the water's edge both night and day. It’s an absolute must of any visit to Queenstown - so make sure to head out on a scenic cruise to get to know this stunning lake a little better.

TSS Earnslaw  - Historic Steamship Cruise

The TSS Earnslaw Vintage coal-fired Steamship on Lake Wakitipu

The TSS Earnslaw Vintage coal-fired Steamship on Lake Wakatipu

Operated by RealNZ, this old steamer has been going for over a century. Since it first set sail in 1912, the vintage vessel has been transporting goods and later visitors around the breathtaking Lake Wakatipu.

Getting its name from the ‘Twin Screw Steamer’ propulsion system, the TSS Earnslaw is an important relic of the Edwardian era - it’s the last remaining coal-fired passenger steamer south of the equator.

The ship is an attraction in itself, after being painstakingly restored to its original condition with wrap-around sightseeing decks, a mini-museum, and an inside restaurant and bar (complete with pianist). You can even watch the steamboat workers as they shovel ‘black gold’ in the engine room - it’s certainly not the most eco-friendly cruise in Queenstown.

This top Queenstown cruise departs from Steamer Wharf, in the town centre, taking passengers on a coal-powered journey around Lake Wakatipu. Choose from multiple departures each day (depending on the season). Trips run all year round, with the exception of a maintenance week in winter.

Top tip - the ship can get a little crowded in peak season, so it might be better to book an alternative day cruise in Queenstown.

How much is it to go on the Earnslaw in Queenstown?

The TSS Earnslaw costs $80 for the standard cruise, which you can book online here. The cruise lasts for around 1 hour 30 minutes, and returns to the start point.

Additional info:

  • TSS Earnslaw is wheelchair and stroller accessible.

  • There are a maximum of 150 travellers allowed on board.

The Walter Peak Gourmet BBQ and farm tour

Another great option to make the most of your day is the Walter Peak lunch or dinner BBQ excursion. After a 45 minute journey on the TSS Earnslaw, you will be treated to a gourmet barbecue buffet at the Colonel’s lakeside homestead.

With Central Otago specialties including roasted meats and seafood, homemade desserts, and an all New Zealand cheeseboard, you won’t leave hungry on this tour.

The farm is a lovely place to wander around with beautiful plants, resident sheep, deer, cattle and alpaca. There’s also an included sheep shearing demonstration or sheepdog show to add to the true Kiwi farm experience.

The Million-dollar Lake Cruise

People on the Million-Dollar Cruise in Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

The Million-dollar Lake Cruise is, unlike the name suggests, the most affordable Queenstown boat tour. It’s a smaller boat, so it offers some great photo opportunities and no-frills sailing fun.

The cruise is suitable for all ages, with all basic facilities on board. The journey will take you past lakeside homes, willow islands, Kawarau Dam, and all of the amazing scenery in and around Queenstown.

On sunny days you can get unobstructed views from the upper sundeck, or in cooler weather, stay warm inside the heated cabin. There’s also an onboard honesty bar for drinks (bottled water is included).

The Million-dollar Cruise operates regular morning and afternoon departures, 365 days a year. You can find them down by the jetty in Queenstown’s centre - just follow the signs.

How much does the Million-dollar Lake cruise in Queenstown cost?

The Million-dollar lake cruise costs $49 and lasts for 1 hour 30 minutes. You can pre-book online here to make sure you get a spot.

Additional info:

  • This boat is not wheelchair accessible, but strollers can be brought on board.

  • There’s a maximum of 61 travellers.

The Spirit of Queenstown Cruise

The Spirit of Adventure catamaran in Queenstown

Operated by Southern Discoveries. This modern catamaran is fast and spacious, meaning you can go a lot further in the same amount of time.

You can spread out at one of the tables in the indoor area with large viewing windows and fully-licensed bar, or head outside to the viewing deck with ample additional seating.

The Spirit of Queenstown flies down Lake Wakatipu towards Glenorchy passing Mt. Earnslaw, Bob's Cove, Cecil Peak, Mt. Nicholas, and the Remarkables mountain range along the way. Live commentary is provided but if you have any burning questions you are welcome to chat to the skipper in the open wheelhouse.

It is easy to get to as the Spirit of Queenstown dock is right in Queenstown's centre, at the Southern Discoveries office (next to St Omer Park). The catamaran departs year-round with multiple departure times everyday.

How much does the Spirit of Queenstown cost?

It costs $59 for the Spirit of Queenstown standard scenic cruise, and will last around 1 hour 30 minutes.

Additional info:

  • The Spirit of Queenstown is not wheelchair accessible, but strollers can be brought on board.

  • There’s a maximum limit of 100 travellers.

The Scenic Dinner Cruise, Queenstown

The Spirit of Queenstown also offers a scenic dinner cruise of Queenstown's lake. The locally sourced menu is prepared by an onboard chef with southern delicacies and New Zealand beef and lamb. There are also seasonally-inspired vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free alternatives.

The 2 hour dinner cruise is priced at $109, excluding drinks (for dinner, there is a lower maximum of 75 travellers).

Pacific Jemm - Luxury 5-star Private Yacht

The luxury Pacific Jemm charter boat at the wharf

Pacific Jemm, by Eichardts, offers the only premium cruising opportunity in Queenstown and Glenorchy. Book a private charter on this 5-star luxury yacht to explore Lake Wakatipu in style.

The 80-foot Falcon-S will glide around the lake, taking in any sights you may wish to request; Bob’s Cove, Walter Peak, Pig & Pigeon Islands, Glenorchy, Greenstone, Halfway Bay or Jack’s Point.

The luxury charters can cater to any occasion with gourmet onboard chefs to prepare your meals. They also host corporate events and wedding ceremonies.

How much does a private cruise on Lake Wakatipu cost?

Pacific Jemm cruises are charged at an hourly rate, allowing you to choose the length of your journey.

Private cruising starts from $1,750 per hour (2-hour minimum cruise time). Public holidays prices, as well as costs for food, beverage and activities, are available on request through their website.

They also offer set packages like the 3-hour ‘Gourmet BBQ Cruise’ for four people, from $5,750, and the 2-hour ‘Champagne Cruise for two’, from $3,300.

Additional info:

  • The maximum capacity is 8 seated, 32 standing.

Stay overnight on Lake Wakatipu

If you want to stay overnight on Lake Wakatipu, you can choose to sleep on the Pacific Jem. Its king and queen cabins can accommodate up to four adults with 2.5 bathrooms on board.

The Pacific Jemm overnight luxury accommodation option is convenient, too, you will be docked up at O’Regan’s Wharf in Queenstown Bay, a short stroll from cafes, restaurants and more.

The Luanda Experience - Private Charter Party Boat

The Luanda Experience party boat on Lake Wakatipu

If you are looking to celebrate on Lake Wakatipu, the Luanda Experience offers the best private charters for groups and parties.

The small four-level vessel can be heard far and wide, pumping its impressive sound system across the waters of Queenstown Bay.

Luanda, meaning enjoyment in Hawaiian, is what The Luanda Experience is all about. The staff and crew embody this and know how to get a party started!

Trips can be customised to each individual group with BBQ and catering options, flexible durations, and a fully licenced bar complete with drink specials. It’s best known for hen & stag nights, and birthday parties, but can be booked for any occasion.

How much does a private charter cost?

Cruise options and prices are available upon request via the Luanda website.

Additional info:

  • There is a maximum capacity of 38 people.

The vintage steamboat, the TSS Earnslaw, on the lake in Queenstown, New Zealand

So, which is the best lake cruise in Queenstown?

Ultimately, that depends on what you're looking for. The best budget cruise in Queenstown is the Million-dollar Cruise; it’s great value for money and offers all of the same sights as the larger boats.

But families and those with additional needs might prefer a larger, stable, and more comfortable Queenstown boat. The TSS Earnshaw and Spirit of Queenstown both have lots of toilets, food options, and a range of beverages on board.

Private charters are a great option for special occasions or those travelling in big groups. You can have the whole experience to yourself and enjoy the freedom of the lake.

But if it’s your first time in Queenstown, nothing beats the TSS Earnslaw. It’s an integral part of Queenstown's history, and when combined with Walter Peak High Country Farm, it’s a must-do Queenstown experience that you simply can’t get anywhere else.