Onboard for Lady’s special day

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An invitation to join the Earnslaw’s 100th anniversary re-enactment cruise – it doesn’t get any better, even for an inveterate function-goer like myself. 

I join about 350 others, including some who’ve paid their passage, for the special Queenstown-Kingston-Queenstown cruise last Thursday. I’m also one of about 150,000 passengers the Earnslaw now carries annually, as a tourist steamship. 

The second half of this journey is the re-enact­ment, but the party starts in the first half with jollity, music and drinks. 

Wear period costume, we’re told. I try without success to borrow a fancy hat but make an effort by discarding my trade­mark knitted jerseys for a tie and a jacket. 

The women sport the finest array of hats and fascinators I’ve found outside a race meeting. 

Many of the men, like Real Journeys veteran Tony McQuilkin, dress as ship captains – it’s hard to tell them apart from the real past and present skippers on board. 

On the way to Kingston, as the last Queenstown houses recede, I imagine I’m on the boat in 1912. My cellphone brings me back to reality, beeping a message – appropriately, it’s to say there’s no coverage. 

The Earnslaw catering staff pull out all the stops to ensure no one goes hungry. 

With two more functions to go today, I unusally bypass the bar, though a mate insists I down a rum and coke.
I finish it as we berth at a miserably wet Kingston. 

Many passengers don’t disembark though a few make it to the railway station’s cafe-bar for top-ups. 

At Kingston we pick up former councillor Marygold Miller, credited with helping to save the boat when the Government threatened to sink it in the 1960s. 

On the way back I line up Olive Lady Hutchins, another ‘Lady of the Lake’, for a photo – she and her late husband Les bought the Earnslaw in 1969 when they ran Fiordland Travel, now Real Journeys. 

She’s with a daughter-in-law, grandson and great-granddaughter six-month-old Amelia Hutchins. 

I speculate that Amelia might make the 200th birthday re-enactment cruise. 

Meanwhile, the 100th anniversary trip finishes with a spectacular flotilla and crowd in Queenstown Bay. 

The old girl lists to one side as we line her to face Steamer Wharf, waving and doffing hats to the huge crowd.
 
It’s a grand moment for a grand old lady – here’s to another 100 years.