When The City Bank of Glasgow in the United Kingdom collapsed in 1878 through a combination of fraud and speculative investments in Australian and New Zealand the effects were catastrophic. One of which was a period of depression that lasted from the 1870’s till the early 1890’s which was called the ‘Long Depression’ for obvious reasons. During this time in New Zealand there was widespread hardship as working conditions in factories were exploitative, farmers went bankrupt and there was a severe lack of jobs in the rural sectors. Eventually, as overseas conditions improved and partly due to New Zealand’s move into exporting meat overseas through refrigeration, the country started to move out of the depression. One of the moves out of the depression was to replace the slow mixed trains that carried both passengers and freight on the Kingston Branch and Waimea Plains Railway lines between Kingston, Gore, Dunedin and Invercargill with a faster and more frequent service through to Kingston at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu. As the locomotive used was considered the fastest timetable train in New Zealand at the time, the service became known as ‘The Kingston Flyer’ and Kingston was where I was heading today.
Once known as St Johns until the early 1860’s, the town of Kingston lies at the southern most end of Lake Wakatipu, 47 kilometres south of Queenstown and according to the 2018 census, it has a population of 348. I arrived early in the afternoon as the darkening clouds started to spit with rain and a bracing wind rocketed off the lake. Large clouds of steam bellowed from a railway yard close to the train station as workmen were busy polishing every part of the famous train. For a moment I thought I might be in luck to see ‘The Flyer’ in action, however after inquiring a workman informed me that it was;
“simple maintenance checks as she’ll be heading out tomorrow. Just takes a while to build up all the steam needed ya see. We’ll be moving some carriages around later on tho.”
“Oh really. When would that be?”
“Probably in a few hours”
Now Kingston is a nice spot however apart from drinking lots of tea, reading a book or going for a walk, I didn’t know how on earth I’d fill two or three hours in the tiny town! Deciding that I wasn’t that interested in trains, I thanked them and spent some time wandering on the lakefront before returning to my car. On the way, I discovered the second thing Kingston is famous for (the first being the train). It was the launching place for the grand lady of the lake herself, the TSS Earnslaw.
After being built in Dunedin, The Earnslaw was transported in sections to Kingston via train where it was rebuilt before completing her maiden voyage on October 18th 1912 when she sailed from Kingston to Queenstown – still gliding Lake Wakatipu to this day.
Happy that I had seen the famous Kingston Flyer as well as the launching place for the TSS Earnslaw and having spoken to 5 of the town’s 348 residents (that’s 1.5% I’ll have you know), I pointed the car towards the Devil’s Staircase and Queenstown.