Thursday, 29 October 2009

Just Spectacular

We are often asked 'how do you describe the tour that you offer?' We usually inform the enquirer about our features of the tour, like a very comfortable 4WD minibus, the forward-facing seats and that our visitors can walk short distance on the mountain road. Of course, we talk about our morning tea with the home-made cheese on crackers and the refreshments. But what it really comes down to is the grandeur of the canyon itself - and this is very hard to describe... It is sometimes easier to simply use a picture.

I wish I could use my feelings to describe the images we see in Skippers: I just love the mountains surrounding Queenstown and the Canyon in Spring. They are still lightly covered in snow and form seemingly a connection to the snow-white clouds that hang over them. The sun shines onto the mountains and highlights all the little gorges that mark them.

After a few days of dryness, the Shotover River amazes us by his turquoise color which literally lightens up the river bed in which it has been flowing for so many years now. One can only imagine how it must have been for the goldminers to stand in this icy water, searching for their luck...

Spring in Skippers feels as if the canyon just waited for us to awake again and to marvel at it. All bushes and trees slowly come back to life and add their green touch to the stone-grey underlying color of the canyon. Skippers Canyon in Spring is just spectacular and paying a visit to it is most certainly one of the things to do in Queenstown.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Traffic on this Mountain Road

During this year's Labour Weekend, we had a club of jet boat lovers and kayakers in the Canyon. It was very well organized as they had information placed right at the beginning of the canyon, informing us that they were in there. We meet each other several times, but it was no problem at all. We let each other pass and go their own way - Skippers is there for everyone to enjoy.

Skippers Road is a one-way road. Passing maneuvers have to be executed exactly. The road code tells us that we have 'to give way to uphill traffic'. This basically means that everyone who is travelling uphill has the right to go first. Worst case scenario, this means that a vehicle driver has to reverse for several meters in order to reach a passing bay.

My team is in the canyon nearly every day - some of us have been travelling into the canyon for several years now. We know this road in and out and passing maneuvers add only to the moderate thrill during our tours.

A couple of days ago, we happened to pass a vehicle at a spot, where they had to give way for us. Our customers loved this as they felt everyone would go out of their way to please them. They loved it. It was at this spot and our visitors enjoyed the scenery while waiting for the van to free the road.

Shotover River in its natural color

I found an article of a young one, living in Queenstown in February 1902. He sent an article to the editor, Dot. The description is one of a child and very cute. Read what he had to say about the traffic on this unique mountain road:

Dear Dot, — I promised in my last letter to tell you about the road from Queenstown to Skippers. Well, suppose we are driving, from the time you leave Queenstown there is not much to see but hills till you get on the Skippers road, only there is a place on a hill where you can see Gladstone Head and two others the names of which I don't know. You can see them quite plain. When you get out to the junction of the roads you start and go up a hill which is over three miles long, and steep at that. You get a lovely view going up. When you reach the top, which is called the saddle, you have a hill to go down about the same distance as that you came up, only you can spin down. There are rocks high above and rocks straight down below you, and in some places there is just room for the trap, so if you see another trap coming ahead you have to get to a good place to pass, and wait there till it comes. Sometimes if they meet a waggon or dray they have to take the horses out and pull their waggon back to a place wide enough to pass. When you get near the bottom of the hill there is a hotel, the first house met with since you got on to the road. It looks a very wild place about here. There are mountains all round, and you can see the Shotover River from just below the hotel. There are a lot of sluicing claims around this part of the river, but you can't see any of them from the road. The road is pretty well all up and down hill the whole time. At Deep Creek a dredge is being built, and there are a lot of tents around there. There are a few women in the tents, too. At Maori Point there was a hotel, but it was burnt down some time ago. After you pass that there is a fair-sized hill to go up and another long one to go down, then you are at the largest bridge and the highest above the river of any in Otago. You are then at Skippers Point, but there are very few houses — only one hotel and one store, so it is not a very large city. There are a lot of claims around, and up further there are gold mines. Now, I think I have told you about all I know of the place. The road from Queenstown up is about 20 miles, so it is a good day's journey there and back.— Yours truly, Non

[It is indeed a wild country, Non, and I fancy your heart must have been in your mouth many a time while you were winding your way up that circuitous pass or spinning down the other side.— DOT.]

Here is the original

Friday, 23 October 2009

Skippers and Conservation

Skippers Canyon basically begins at Skippers Saddle, the highest point in the canyon. The narrow and winding road leads all visitors to Skippers or Skippers Point as it was used to be called at the turn of the last century.

Skippers is managed by the Department of Conservation. The team restores the historic buildings and manages access to the site. In order to have access to Skippers, every commercial operator has to hold a valid concession. Those access rights are granted to a limited number of operators.

The Department of Conservation requires reports of every customer which we take into Skippers. We - Queenstown Heritage Tours - regularly report every guest we hosted. On the basis of those reports, we pay a levy to the Department of Conservation. Those funds support the Department by funding their work at the site.

Skippers is part of the Department's Mr. Aurum Recreation Reserve. Read here what the Department writes about this area. The road to Skippers is a Public Road and accessible preferably only by 4WD vehicle driven by experienced drivers. Rental cars are generally not allowed in the canyon.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

"Stunning" and "Breathtaking" get a New Meaning

Yesterday, I had a very lovely conversation with 2 of our guests who joined the Unforgettable Skippers Canyon Tour. Yvonne and Noel gave me their permission to write about what they said to me.

The two are currently travelling through New Zealand on a Coach Tour organized by Grand Pacific Tours. The enjoyed their day in Skippers very much. Noel said, that he was very impressed by the stunning scenery and the grandeur of the Canyon.

They spent the day before in Milford Sound. Even though Milford is very spectacular and impressive, it is very well known and visitors to Milford usually know exactly what to expect. This is not a bad thing at all, but Noel confessed that he was missing the "A and O" effect in Milford.

"In Skippers Canyon though, we had this A and O nearly at every corner we turned" explained Noel with amazement. Yvonne mentioned that the words 'stunning' and 'breathtaking' got a new meaning now.

One other point Noel mentioned, was the comfort of the minibus. Especially the implemented loudspeakers enable all passengers to hear our commentary loud and clear. We seat up to 9 passengers in every minibus. "There is something intimate to your minibuses, as we only have a couple of other people around us. We can talk to each other and ask the Driver questions. Through the loudspeakers, everyone can hear the answer. I guess, even as a safety feature, those loudspeakers are very important as no direction given by the Driver can be missed" explained Noel.

As the owner of Queenstown Heritage Tours, I am very pleased about those comments. Yvonne mentioned that there was one part where we could improve. She did not have enough time at Skippers Point to fully indulge in morning tea (all biscuits were gone by the time she left the Museum). As a special thank for joining our tour and allowing me to publish their feedback, we presented Yvonne with some more biscuits before she and Noel left Queenstown together with their group.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Live Sheep Mustering in Skippers

Today, we were lucky again: once in a while, we can observe how sheep are mustered, right there in Skippers Canyon. Our small customer group was amazed by how the 15 Working Dogs organized this huge flock of sheep - we assume there were about 1'000 sheep all together. 3 shepherds directed the dogs to where some of the sheep tried to escape while they controlled the rest of the flock.

We came across them at Charlestown, the former little village in Skippers Canyon. Usually, we see the sheep only from a distance from where they seem to observe us visitors and wonder what we do in 'their' canyon.

Look who's here...

A little bit of History: Life at Skippers

Skippers is said to be named after Malcolm “Skipper” Duncan, an Irishman. He had spent many years at sea and is credited with discovering gold at the junction of the Skippers Creek and the Shotover River late in 1862. in the early months of the gold rush there were probably several thousand miners in the upper Shotover area, but with the discovery of gold in other areas, particularly the West Coast, the population declined to a few hundred by the late 1860s. Skippers became a service center for this dispersed mining population.

Skippers was never a mining town in the popular sense. There never was a main street lined with hotels and stores and populated by drunken miners on a spree.The Skippers settlement was dispersed across limited flat ground available on Burke’s and Aspinall’s Terraces. The school, cemetery, Bourdeau’s store and the Mt Aurum Homestead were located on Burke’s Terrace and the Otago Hotel (which was the only hotel), the Skippers Hall and the Library were located on Aspinall’s Terrace.There were a few miners cottages in the immediate Skippers area but most of the population was located close to the various mining claims dispersed along the banks of the Shotover and Skippers Creek.

The earliest miners lived in simple canvas tents along the banks of the Shotover.Many lost their lives in the first winter of the gold rush (1863), when the river rose several meters overnight after heavy rain and the flood waters swept away the miner’s camps. Once the height of the gold rushes had passed ad mining became a more settled activity the miners built more permanent dwellings, sometimes of stone but more often of wood and corrugated iron. These were often simple two room cottages which would be added to as family numbers grew. The grandest house at Skippers was the two story house of John Aspinall, which was located on Aspinall’s Terrace.

Skippers was always an isolated location. Until the 1880s all the supplies were carried in on horse back along pack tracks. One pack track reached Skippers from Queenstown via Ben Lomond, Moonlight Creek and Stony Terrace.The other, more popular, pack track followed the line of the Coronet Peak road and then went down Long Gully on the eastern side.The track is still visible from the Skippers road on the other side of the gully.From Long Gully the track passed along the valley well above the existing road until it came down to Maori Point.Winter weather made travel along the pack tracks very difficult.During the first winter of the gold rush, 1863, many miners suffered severely from scurvy because of a lack of fresh food. The road was constructed during the 1880s and remains in use today.

Because of the isolation the Skippers residents had to provide much of their own food.Many kept goats as a source of milk. Cows could only be kept in flatter areas. Large vegetable gardens were a feature of most cottages. During the winter root vegetables had to be stored in covered pits in the ground, lined with tussock to prevent the vegetables freezing and rotting.By the late 19 century there was also plenty of fruit available from the fruit trees planted by early miners. Strawberries and raspberries can still be found around the Otago Hotel site.

Mutton was a major part of the diet. It was often salted to preserve it during the heat of summer, and in the winter it would be hung under a tree where it would freeze naturally. Rabbits were eaten and also supplied the children who trapped them with pocket money from the sale of their skins.

Clothes, if they weren’t home made, were bought from catalogs from stores in Dunedin.Footwear might be bought in Queenstown. But a trip to Queenstown took two days so often shoes were ordered by the size only and the lucky recipient often ended up with shoes that weren’t a good fit. Traveling hawkers would visit Skippers to sell various small clothing items such as handkerchiefs and underwear as well as cheap jewellery, perfume and trinkets.These men were known as Syrians but they probably came originally from Lebanon.One other itinerant visitor was the organ grinder and his monkey.

Despite being the center for a surrounding population of several hundred there was never a church at Skippers. The hall was used for services by visiting Anglican and Presbyterian clergy as well as the salvation Army. The services for the Roman Catholic community were held in private homes. Visiting ministers would arrive by horse and buggy and stay in a local’s house overnight.

In this isolated community social events were very important. The big annual event was the New Years Day picnic held in the grounds of the school. People from the whole area would attend.There were sports events during the day and then in the evening a dance was held in the hall.Important local events, such as the opening of a new gold mine, became occasions for celebration. The opening of the current bridge across the Shotover River in 1901 was a major social event. In common with the rest of New Zealand the Skippers residents were patriotic members of the British Empire, and British victories in the Boer War were celebrated with a concert in the hall.

There was a friendly rivalry with the neighboring mining community at Bullendale.The Skippers / Bullendale cricket match was a popular event. The game was played on Londonderry Terrace and was followed by dinner at the Otago Hotel.The hotel was the focal point of community life.When the coronation of King George V in 1910 was celebrated, the street in front of the hotel was the scene of foot races and wrestling matches.These were followed by a dinner in the hotel and fireworks.

As time passed the hotel also became the scene for farewell dinners for miners leaving the district.In 1919 the hotel closed as the remaining population was not large enough to support it. The few remaining miners slowly left during the 1920s and 1930s, until by the 1940s the only permanent occupants of Skippers were the owners of the Mt Aurum Station.

One group of miners lived on the fringes of the Skippers community. They were the Chinese miners who had come to New Zealand from villages in the area around Canton. Many had left wives and families to make money on the gold fields with the aim of buying land back in China. They often lived in isolated locations in small huts built of stone next to their claims. They lived very simply, growing their own vegetables and buying their rice and other supplies from the Chinese store run by Wong Gong between Skippers and Maori Point. Now the only reminder at Skippers of the presence of the Chinese is the solitary grave of Hoy Yow in the Skippers Cemetery.

This information was brought to us (Queenstown Heritage Tours) by a customer who joined our Unforgettable Skippers Canyon Tour. Some information can as well be found in the Skippers Schoolhouse.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

It is not only our Love Affair

It was last March 2009. It was a beautiful Thursday, the 12th day of the Month, where a group of our other very valuable customer Scenic Tours joined us to visit breathtaking Skippers Canyon. It was a small group enjoying the area of this exclusive, heritage-steep canyon all by their own. We had a great time, letting the history sink in while sipping a glass of Queenstown local wine and nibbling away some home-made cheese served on crackers.

It was a nearly perfect day for the customers. But not entirely perfect enough... 2 passengers wanted to join our Unforgettable Skippers Canyon Tour again on the next day. They claimed they enjoyed it so much that they would like to experience this once-in-a-lifetime moment again - right then. We took them into the canyon on the very next day and offered them a 'frequent visitor' discount - that was of course out of question.

Some weeks before, we hosted an elderly Lady with her husband. She came back and mentioned to her Tour Guide (who organized Skippers Canyon Tour for her) that she was deeply impressed by what she had just experienced that she wanted to make a note in her Travel Diary. She sat in front of her booklet for a moment but could not find the proper words to describe what she experienced.
Even though, it is a bit difficult to understand another person's feelings, but I strongly believe that we can not receive any better recommendation that this of our customers. THANK YOU!

Our entire team could hardly believe that visitors to our stunning area would love it so much that they literally can't get enough. Our drivers regularly tell us that performing tours for us together with the customers is not only 'work' for them, but also a genuine pleasure.

Sometimes I can only imagine how it was for my team to enjoy Skippers with our customer. Like in Spring, when snow is still lying around and the group has their snow ball fight - in the middle of nowhere .I see a sparkle in my team's eyes and I can only imagine how our customers must have enjoyed the experience and how unique and special this half day must have been for them. I take great pleasure from seeing this reaction and I am very thrilled by the fact that my team does in fact indulge in sharing our beautiful and breathtaking, history-related Skippers Canyon with everyone who joins us.

I can truly and honestly say that according to our experience, Skippers Canyon is not only OUR Love Affair.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

From Brisbane to Skippers

One of our closest business relationship is with Grand Pacific Tours. Many of their customers join our Unforgettable Skippers Canyon Tour. They almost always comment on our tours as follows:
  • "It's a great trip - everyone should do it"
  • "what a fantastic scenery"
  • "the pictures you publish on your website don't do this remarkable area justice - particularly in Autumn, the canyon is just stunning"
Maori Point in Autumn

One of the best comments though reached us just a couple of days ago. A group of Grand Pacific was on their way home to Australia. they met an other group of Grand Pacific Travelers and so the started to talk to each other; what is there to expect, what should be done and what so on. The returning group told the others that they should not miss Skippers Canyon. That's why they come to visit Skippers.

Overview over Skippers Bridge

We try hard to publish the best descriptions and the most beautiful pictures available of the canyon. Nevertheless, we believe that such comments told from one customer to the other are the best publicity we can get. We would like to thank all of you who are out there talking positively about our tour into Skippers Canyon!

Having said that, have a look at the following short trailer, sponsored by Grand Pacific and featured in Australia a couple of months ago. This movie will give you an impression about what to expect while travelling with Grand Pacific and joining our Unforgettable Skippers Canyon Tour:

Some other comments that reach us are about the excellent Brochure Grand Pacific is publishing every year about their Optional Tours. Some customers use this brochure to plan ahead and make their decision at home to join one or the other tour. Have a look at the latest copy (September 2009).

The pictures in this article were taken by our customers and kindly sent to us. We are happy to share them with us.
Shotover River in Skippers Canyon

Thursday, 8 October 2009

A little bit of History: Gold at Skippers

By courtesy of Mr. Peter Hutchison who joined our Skippers Canyon tour at the beginning of this year, I would like to publish this historic background about gold at Skippers. Mr. Hutchison covers with his description a part of the commentary we provide on our tours.

The gold at Skippers has its origins in quartz veins or reefs in the schist bedrock of the area.  Over millions of years the bedrock was eroded and the gold in the quartz was released into the streams and rivers as alluvial (water borne) gold.  The thousands of miners who flocked to the Shotover valley in late 1862 and early 1863 were drawn by this alluvial gold, which was rumoured to be present in almost fabulous amounts.  In the early weeks of the rush some lucky miners did make their fortunes.  The discoverers of Maori Point, Raniera Erihana and Hakaraia, two Taranaki Maori, panned 300 ounces of gold in an afternoon.  (in 2001 this was worth about NZ$200,000.)
At first the miners worked the river beaches using shovels, gold pans, cradles and sluice boxes.  A cradle was a wooden box on rockers.  Gold bearing gravel was shoveled onto a perforated iron plate at the top and water was poured as the cradle was rocked back and forth.  Fine gravel and gold fell through the holes and then passed over a sloping board that had been covered with cloth and horizontal wooden bars.  The cloth and bars trapped the heavier gold while the lighter sand was washed away.  A sluice box worked in a similar way but was laid into a channel cut into the ground, with a constant flow of water passing through it.  Gold bearing gravel could then be shoveled into it or washed into it by water cannons or sluicing monitors.

The early miners also realized that a fortune in gold lay under the river itself.  Huge efforts were made to “turn the river”.  This required wing dams to be constructed.  These were built out from one side of the river and then down the middle of the riverbed, confining the river to half its bed and allowing the other half to be mined.  But the sudden floods in the river often destroyed the dams and the riverbed filled up with more and more gravel as the river terraces began to be sluiced.  The most spectacular attempt to mine the riverbed occurred in the 1930s when the river was channeled into a metal fluming at Maori Point.  This last attempt was a financial failure, with only 1,000 ounces of gold being recovered in 5 years.

The riverbed was also worked by dredging.  A dredge was basically a chain of buckets powered by steam or electricity and mounted on a floating pontoon.  The bucket chain was lowered into the river bottom and the buckets raised the gravel onto the dredge, where it was passed through a screen and gold saving tables.  The first electricity powered dredge in the world, the Sandhills dredge, operated on the Shotover upstream of Skippers during the 1890s.  It was not a financial success either.  The final attempt at dredging the Shotover near Skippers was made during the 1920s when an Australian company built a suction dredge at Maori Point.  This was also a financial failure and the rusting remains of the dredge are still visible on the river bank near Maori Point.

The alluvial gold was not confined to the existing riverbed and adjacent beaches.  Over thousands of years gold had also been laid down in the ancient beds of the Shotover and its tributaries.  These former river beds are now visible as the high flat terraces above the existing riverbed.  The miners first worked these terraces by tunneling into them, looking for the elusive leads of gold that ran through the gravels.  When iron pipes became available and water races had been dug to bring water to the site, the terraces were worked by hydraulic sluicing.  Water cannon or sluicing monitors played high pressure jets of water against the high gravel faces of the terraces, breaking them down and washing the gravel through sluice boxes.  It is hydraulic sluicing which is responsible for the massive areas of washed out terraces which are visible from the Skippers road.

Water cannons still visible in Skippers Canyon

Frommer's Guide and Comments on TripAdvisor about Queenstown Heritage Tours

Yesterday we had a lovely couple joining our Skippers Canyon Tour in the afternoon. They live in San Diego and learned about us through the Frommer's Guide.
Frommer's describes our tour as one of the best. I would like though to make a few comments on the description. We offer limited seats only for our Canyon & Wine Tour. For our unforgettable Skippers Canyon tour as well as for the Skippers Canyon Photography Tour there are no limits to 4 or 6 seats as described.
In regards to pricing, please have a look at above links.
In addition, we do not pass AJ Hackett Bungy Centre but we pass the old Pipeline Bridge which used to operate as a Bungy Bridge. This operation stopped several years ago.
Otherwise, the description of the picnic is spot on. We offer home-made cheese with some refreshments right in the Canyon next to the old Schoolhouse in Skippers.
The customers who joined us yesterday, were on our Skippers Canyon Vista Tour. During this tour, we do not offer a picnic but spend more time in the canyon to enable our customers to take those lovely pictures.

On TripAdvisor, you can find nice comments about our Skippers Canyon Tour.We regularly receive verbal comments like this. I will do my best to publish more feedback by encouraging more customers to actually write their comments to us.

This means: watch this space!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Another Day in Paradise

Today is another mildly warm day in Queenstown. Spring is here and in some parts in Skippers Canyon, Spring is on its way. The mountains are still covered in snow. Mount Aurum looks just stunning with the sun glistening on its snow-covered top.

Spring in Skippers Canyon

This pictures was taken 2 days ago. Queenstown was fully covered in clouds but the weather was picture-perfect in Skippers Canyon.

About Us

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Queenstown, Otago, New Zealand
I receive so many comments from our customers and wish to share them with you. All comments are verbally given to me or my team.