Skippers Canyon is a historic and scenic gorge, some 22 kilometres in length, that is located several kilometres north of Queenstown. Today accessed from Queenstown via the same road that leads to Coronet Peak skifield, Skippers Canyon houses the Shotover River, one of New Zealand's richest gold-bearing rivers which was named by William Gilbert Rees. Rees, his wife Frances and brother-in-law Nicholas von Tunzelmann were the first European settlers in and near where Queenstown is now located. Once a busy goldmining area, Skippers Canyon was accessed by Skippers Road, which is today one of New Zealand's better known scenic roads.
The main New Zealand road where rental car insurance is not honoured if driven on, Skippers Road is mostly one-way, narrow and steep with sheer drops of several hundred metres. Apart from its goldmining history, Skippers Canyon was also the site where electricity was first generated at a place called Bullendale, a small former goldmining settlement some 4 hours walk from the farthest end of Skippers Road.
The start of the gold rush:
In November 1862, Thomas Arthur and Harry Redfern discovered in the area of today's Arthurs Point about 4 ounces of gold within 3 hours. Arthur and Redfern made no secret of their gold discoveries. With such richness in sight, it was no wonder that the area was soon swarmed by miners trying to find their luck. This was the beginning of one the largest rushes that occurred in Otago.
The canyon and Skippers Point were named after 'Skipper' Malcolm Duncan, who discovered gold in the canyon in 1862.Born in Northern Ireland, Duncan served for a number of years on American ships, hence the nickname 'Skipper'.Duncan took part in the gold rush and discovered gold at Skippers Creek, which soon became known as Skippers Point or simply 'Skippers'.
Skippers Road :
By the time, the gold rush was basically over, some future-oriented people of the Queenstown district saw potential in the use of Skippers Road as a tourist attraction. Petitions supporting the plan that cars could be used to travel on Skippers Road as well as petitions to ban them were signed. The community was split in two groups as a result.The court ruled that Skippers Road could be used by cars, but drivers were obliged to give plenty of warning of their travel plans by applying for a permit.Even time limits of usage were defined. A fine of ten dollars was the penalty if those regulations were disregarded.
Today, Skippers Road is very much a tourist attraction. It is protected by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust since 15 December 2006 under the register number 7684.