The scenic beauty of the 22 km Skippers Canyon gorge is definitely not to be missed when visiting Queenstown area. Whether you see it up close on a speeding jet boat, take a drive along its rather precarious gorge road or decide to check out the 100 metre high Skippers Canyon Bridge the Skippers Canyon will be provide a very memorable South Island experience.
Hundreds of miners made the rugged landscape of Skippers Canyon home back in 1862 when gold was first discovered, and the Shotover River quickly made a name for itself as one of the richest rivers across New Zealand.
While the miners came on the hope they would hit the big one, others followed in supporting roles like teachers, blacksmiths, bankers, postman and general storeman resulting in several thriving pop-up towns.
Two of these little townships that sprung up along the Shotover River were Charleston and Skippers Point. Both towns experienced population explosions of over a thousand people at their peaks, but this quickly dropped away between 1864 and 1870 when the readily available gold diminished.
Gold Mining Relics
Some remnants of the old gold rush days are still visible today including water races, sluicing scars, the old school house (now a restored DOC building), cemetery, the Mount Aurum Station’s Homestead site (although the homestead itself was destroyed by fire in 2018) and the sluiced basin claimed by the iconic Skippers Sluicing Company.
Formed by early miners and their horses, the path to Skippers Canyon was treacherous. Demands for a road were answered in 1883 when Skippers Road was formed over a period of seven years. Much of the original twists and turns of the road still stand just as they were formed all those years ago.
Today the road is considered one of New Zealand’s most dangerous due to its very narrow and winding nature along with the sharp drops over the side into the Shotover River.
Crossing the Shotover River was also challenging for the miners leading to the development of the original Skippers Bridge back in 1866, just 6 metres above the water.
Flooding led to the bridge needing a replacement after just 5 years, and in 1901 a bigger, much higher bridge (Skippers Bridge as we know it today) was built, however the gold rush was all but over by this time.
8 Fast Facts About Skippers Canyon
- The Skippers Canyon area is a historic reserve, it is illegal to remove any artefacts or objects from the area, offenders will be prosecuted.
- The historic Mount Aurum Homestead was burned to the ground on New Year’s Day in 2018.
- One 3 km stretch of Skippers Road involved hand drilling and blasting solid rock 183 metres above the Shotover River.
- Skippers Road was constructed between 1883 and 1890 and is one New Zealand’s most outstanding 19th century roads.
- The Skippers swing bridge sits just under 100 metres above the Shotover River and is 96 metres long.
- Parts of Skippers Canyon were used in the filming of the Lord of the Rings movies (The Ford of Bruinen in particular).
- Skippers Road is only one lane wide and is a gravel road.
- No rental cars in New Zealand are permitted to drive on Skippers Road.
Skippers Canyon Today
A haven for thrill seekers, Skippers Canyon has become known for jet boating, rafting, canyoning and even canyon swinging. Skippers Road is the highlight of many tours throughout the area and is a protected historic site by Heritage New Zealand, while the 100 metre high Skippers Bridge is a popular among sightseers.
Skippers Canyon is just 25 minutes from Queenstown, however access to the canyon is via the very narrow, winding and dangerous Skippers Road, which is one of the few roads in New Zealand that rental car companies do not permit their cars to be driven on.
The best and safest way to explore the area is by guided tour and the good news is there are plenty of options to suit all types of traveller and budgets. Here are just a few of the best tours in Skippers Canyon.
- Skippers Canyon Jet. Take on the Jet Boat Tour or the Scenic Tour or just do both! Sit back and relax while the experienced drivers take you on a tour through Skippers Canyon – full commentary included – allow 4 hours in total.
- Nomad Safaris. Try your hand at gold panning, cross Skippers Bridge and enjoy a 4WD tour of Skippers Canyon with the team at Nomad Safaris. Allow 4 hours for the full tour and don’t forget the camera!
- Offroad 4×4 Queenstown. Book out the whole vehicle and enjoy a private tour of Skippers Canyon with the Offroad 4×4 team. Allow 4 hours for the charter, there are seven seats available in the 4×4’s.
- Alpine Adventures. Take up a notch with the Skippers Canyon Heli Hike and enjoy a scenic helicopter flight into the midst of Skippers Canyon before heading out and exploring on foot. Allow a full day for this one!
- Family Adventures. Take on the mighty Shotover River in this family friendly rafting adventure, children as young as 3 are catered for, allow around 5 hours for the entire trip.
- Queenstown Heritage Tours. See the sights of Skippers Canyon and enjoy a homemade picnic treats wth the team at Queenstown Heritage Tours. Allow 4 hours for the full experience, travel is provided in 4WD minibuses.
- Go Orange. Experience grade 3 to 5 rapids white water rafting on the Shotover River with Go Orange. The trip includes passing through the famous 170m Oxenbridge tunnel. Allow 4.5 hours for the trip, departures available at four separate times per day.
- Canyon Swing. Want to see the iconic Skippers Canyon a different way? How about hanging off the end of a wire? Take on the ‘Canyon Swing’, at an impressive 109 metres above the river the swing lets you fly through the air out over the Shotover River in a 200+ metre arc. Allow 2.5 hours for the trip, specatators are charged a small fee of $20.
- Canyon Fox. Similar to the Canyon Swing, the Canyon Fox is a giant flying fox suspended high above the Shotover River. Allow 2 hours for the round trip or do both the Swing and Fox for a discounted price. Spectators are charged a small fee of $20.
You simply can’t miss exploring the Skippers Canyon area when visiting Queenstown or Wanaka, look out for some great combo deals and make the most of Skippers Canyon in Queenstown today!