For 111 years, Queenstown’s famous Earnslaw steamship’s ferried farm animals and more latterly only tourists/locals, but next March she’ll be the springboard for a swimming race.

From a point in Frankton Arm, swimmers will literally walk the plank — diving off the 1.5m deck or the 3m-high top deck — for a 4km swim into Queenstown Bay.

It’ll be a novel race in the The Whakatipu Legend open swim event which is now in its fourth year.

‘‘Each year we aim to evolve the event, adding new distances, changing courses, and we have joked about using the TSS Earnslaw,’’ co-organiser Richie Lambert says.

‘‘This time we approached RealNZ about chartering the historic steamer, and to our surprise they were totally on board.

‘‘She’s an iconic part of Queenstown and Lake Whakatipu, and we wanted to be able to showcase her for something completely different.’’

Up to 200 swimmers will be able to compete in this event, with the Earnslaw setting sail before sunrise.

Lambert says they’ve tested both decks.

‘‘The 1.5m option is more sedate while the higher one is more exciting — it’s a good idea to hold on to your goggles.’’

For those who don’t want to walk the plank or swim for 4km in chilly water, the Legend — on March 23 — also has 1km and 2km events starting and finishing in Queenstown Bay.

In another novelty, organisers are spacing out the races so intermediate and faster swimmers can have a go at all three events as a ‘combo challenge’.

For more information, or to enter, visit

[email protected]

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