It is situated on Lake Wakatipu which was created by glacial activity. It is roughly Z shaped surrounded by high alpine peaks and ranges – The Remarkables Ranges, Cecil Peak, Walter Peak etc. Queenstown has a population of about 13,000 people and it is one of the major tourist areas of NZ and the third largest city of Otago province. The first white person to see Lake Wakatipu was Nathaneal Chalmers in 1853. He was led here by local Maori people who caught eels and fish in the lake. Maoris probably visited this area on trips to the west coast to collect greenstone for their carvings. In 1848 the Crown purchased the land from the local Maori people. William Rees was the first white man to settle in this region which he did in 1860 when he established his high country sheep station. It was a truly isolated area but the discovery of gold on the nearby Shotover River in 1862 created an influx of white people to the region and Rees converted his woolshed into a hotel!( Other gold finds in western Otago included those at Cromwell and Clyde.) Without the gold rush Queenstown would have been a long time developing. A few historical buildings remain from the gold rush era namely the William’s Cottage, the original Courthouse and the Anglican Church. Nearby Arrowtown is another gold rush township of this part of the Southern Alps. Queenstown was officially declared in 1863 and named Queenstown in honour of Queen Victoria and after Queenstown in Ireland. (Queenstown in County Cork is now known as Cobh.)
Heritage Listed buildings in this snow and water skiing, bungy jumping tourist city.
•Courthouse (45 Ballarat St) and Library (44 Stanley St.) The Courthouse was completed in 1876 and the Library in 1877 and both were designed by Invercargill architect F Burnell. The buildings are at right angles to each other and made of local schist stone. They are shaded by giant Wellingtonia Pine Trees – Sequoia giganteum of California. The Courthouse is still operational. In the 1960s the local Council intended to demolish the library but listened to the public outcry about that and retained it. Both buildings have half rounded windows in the Romanesque style.
•Lake County Council Chambers, 50 Ballarat Street, built 1880 in Romanesque style of local schist. Sold by the council in 1999. The local council was formed in 1876. Now run as Speights Ale House. Architect was F Burnell who built many of the fine structures in central Invercargill in the 1870s and 1880s.
•Forresters Lodge, also 50 Ballarat Street. Classical style with triangular pediment and 2 windows and central door. Only a façade these days. Appears to date from the 1880s. Part of Speights Ale House complex.
• The Ballarat Street stone bridge. It was built across Horne Creek in 1882 as a single arch bridge in local schist.
•St Peter’s Anglican Church, 2 Church Street. This fine Anglican Church with a square tower and witches hat spire was built of local stone in 1932. The stone came from the edges of Lake Wakatipu. The original wooden church in Gothic style was erected in 1863. Its erection was assisted with support from William Rees who had the original sheep station of the Queenstown district. When this 1932 church was built the old 1863 wooden church was donated to the town of Omakau in Central Otago where it is still in use. The wooden Anglican Church hall and Parish office was built in 1905. Associated with the Anglican precinct is the former Vicarage adjacent to the church which was built in the 19th century with a gable and small bay window. Bay windows were very popular in the 1880s.
•Hullert, 68 Ballarat St. It is a steep walk to Hullert. This is one of the few grand houses of the 19th century left in Queenstown. Hullert was built in 1889 for Horatio Firth who was Receiver of Gold Revenue and Mining Registrar for Queenstown in the 1880s. Firth was a public servant but a family inheritance gave him money to acquire land overlooking Lake Wakatipu and to have an architect design Hullert for him in 1888. Firth was imprisoned for embezzlement in 1901 and his wife ran the house as a boarding house until she departed for Wellington in 1909. After the departure of Firth the house was renamed to Tutuila and had various owners and uses including girls’ school, maternity hospital, holiday rental, backpackers and bed and breakfast. The house was restored in the 1980s and is made of New Zealand Red Beech with bay windows, verandas and marble fireplaces inside. Hullert is up the hill but the views are fantastic and worth the street climb.
•St Joseph’s Catholic church, 41 Melbourne St. A Catholic Church was first built in Queenstown in 1863 near the Anglican Church in Church Street. A presbytery was built in 1877 in Melbourne St and converted to a convent in 1882 as the Covent School opened in 1883. The church and land was sold in Church Street in 1883 and services were held at the Catholic School until this grand stone church was erected in 1898.The architect of this modest church was Francis Petre the Dunedin architect who also designed Dunedin’s Catholic Cathedral, Wellington’s Catholic Cathedral, the grand Catholic Cathedral in Christchurch which is now facing demolition, and that wonderful Catholic Basilica in Oamaru.
•William’s cottage, 21 Marine Parade. This was not William Rees cottage but the cottage of an early settler who purchased this land in 1866. John Williams built the cottage about that time. It is believed to be the oldest house/structure in Queenstown. Williams ran a boat service across Lake Wakatipu. He transported gold under escort to the train at Kingston for the NZ government. Williams died in the cottage in 1881. It became vacant in the 1980s and was purchased by the NZ Historic Places Trust. It is run as a small museum.
•Masonic Lodge building, 13 Marine Parade. This simple structure now known as Lake Lodge of Ophir was built in 1863 the year gold was discovered. It is probably the oldest stone building in Queenstown. William Rees is believed to have donated the land to the Masons for this building. Its name comes from the Bible as Ophir was the region of gold. (Remember one of the first gold finds in NSW in 1852 was near Bathurst at a place which was named Ophir.)
•Coronation Bath House, 28 Marine Parade. The wooden bath house appears to date from around 1900 at a time when few houses had washing or bathing facilities.It is now a café, tapas bar and restaurant.
Paddle Steamer Earnslaw.
The Earnslaw is one of the last coal fired steam powered paddle steamers operating in the world today. It was built in naval foundry workshops in Dunedin for the Otago Railways at a cost of more than £20,000 in 1912. The railways wanted a service across Lake Wakatipu to connect with their train services from Kingston. The ship was named after Mt Earnslaw a 2,889 metre high peak at the end of Lake Wakatipu. The 52 metre long steel framed ship was disassembled and railed from Dunedin to Kingston which is the end of the railway line. It was then re-assembled at Kingston and sailed up Lake Wakatipu to Queenstown creating a NZ Railways service from Invercargill and thus the rest of the South Island through to Queenstown. The PS Earnslaw and her sister ships transported passengers, wool and supplies to Queenstown and to sheep stations around Lake Wakatipu. The service was scrapped in 1968 and the Earnslaw was saved from salvage by a travel company leasing it as a tourist attraction. She was later purchased by the company and renovated in the 1980s. The polished wood on the boat is NZ kauri. The Earnslaw has carried Queen Elizabeth and she has been used in several movies. Today the Earnslaw has a single route across Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown to Walter Peak High Country Farm.
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