Boat's maiden voyage takes cake

It was a special day for a group of sightseers last Tuesday.

The Spirit of Queenstown set off on its first public passenger voyage around Lake Wakatipu.

Its route took it past Mt Nicholas Station, where it is hoped by the end of the year high country walks, 4WD musterer safari trips and woolshed experiences will be ready to add to the Queenstown district's tourism market.

The multimillion-dollar catamaran set off with a group of Queenstown Hill residents on board, one of whom was celebrating a birthday.

Brian Hancock's neighbours had organised the occasion for his 60+18 birthday (he refused to leave his 60s) and shortly after departure from O'Regans Wharf the boat's skipper, Turgut Ortabas made an announcement asking everyone on board to come up to the top deck.

A birthday cake was then carried up and after song broke out, everyone was rewarded with cake.

For Aucklander Bruce Fergusson, the maiden voyage was a ''must do'', even if his return flight left only half an hour after the boat was due to arrive back in Queenstown.

Mr Fergusson was the first passenger on board for the trip, just as he had planned.

He regularly made Queenstown his holiday destination but ''this is the best trip, because of the boat''.

Mr Ortabas was also delighting in driving a ''brand new'' boat.

Mr Ortabas transferred from Milford Sound to work on the Spirit of Queenstown and said a bonus was not having to hose the boat down after each day, as he was required to do in Milford Sound's salt water.

The 55-tonne, 26m catamaran was purpose-built in Australia for Southern Discoveries and sailed from Eden, NSW, to Bluff, before travelling on an oversized truck to Kingston, where it was lowered into Lake Wakatipu.

Southern Discoveries operates four vessels in Milford Sound, operates Scenic Cruises, the Encounter Nature Cruise and Discover More Cruise, owns and operates Harrisons Cove Kayaking, the Blue Duck Cafe and Bar in Milford, four information centres, coach service Go Milford, operates the Queenstown Lake Cruise and owns 50% of jet boat operator KJet.