Skippers Canyon, a short distance north of Queenstown, is nothing short of dramatic. The Shotover River winds through the canyon’s steep rock walls, topped with coarse alpine scrub, for nearly 14 miles (23 kilometers). Not the best place to go driving, it’s perfect for hiking, jet boating, white-water rafting, and other adventure activities.
Skippers Canyon was one of Central Otago’s largest gold-mining sites during the 1860s, and much of that history is still visible today in the dams, rudimentary sluices, and ruins left behind—not to mention the notorious Skippers Road that runs along the canyon walls for about 16 miles (26 kilometers). And the century-old Skippers Bridge, suspended nearly 328 feet (100 meters) above the Shotover River, runs across the canyon at the entrance to Mount Aurum Recreation Reserve.
These days remote and remarkable Skippers Canyon is an adventure tourism hot spot: jet boat through the canyon down the Shotover River, take a 4WD tour along the top of the canyon, or enjoy a helicopter flight over it all. Nature walks and mountain bike tracks draw experienced hikers and bikers, and historical huts and campsites are dotted throughout the area. Some tours to the area pair a visit to the canyon with a wine tour of nearby Gibbston Valley, while others stop at Lord of the Rings filming locations in the canyon.
Things to Know Before You Go
Skippers Canyon has a range of short walks for less experienced hikers, but don’t let your guard down—some of these tracks are not marked or maintained.
The canyon can be a challenging place to explore; make sure to wear sturdy boots and warm clothes, and if you’re camping, be sure to have plenty of supplies.
Skippers Canyon is a historic reserve, so don’t set any fires or remove any plants or artifacts from the area.
The Department of Conservation recommends that only very experienced drivers who know how to drive on gravel roads attempt to drive on Skippers Road.
How to Get There
The best and safest way to see Skippers Canyon is via a guided tour. The Department of Conservation does not recommend that travelers drive the road, which runs north from Queenstown through the canyon, unless they’re very experienced driving on gravel roads.
When to Get There
Skippers Canyon is best visited in summer, when you can camp and hike without having to deal with the cold—and your panoramic photographs won’t be ruined by rain and fog. Winters can be wet and bitterly cold, making the area muddy and even dangerous.
Why Is Skippers Road So Dangerous?
Skippers Road was built during the Central Otago Gold Rush, and many of the risks that drivers faced during the 1900s are still present today. The road is narrow but it’snot one-way, and there are no guardrails to protect you from the sheer drop on the one side.
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