Wednesday, 25 November 2009

I'm glad, I made the tour into Skippers Canyon, Queenstown

This expression is by far the one we hear the most: I'm so glad, I came to Skippers. We hear it from people of all walks of life: the mature travelers, the younger travelers, women and men and of all nationalities.

Some of our visitors are though a bit scared of the narrow road and the adventure it brings with it. Traffic is a true adventure. Don't get me wrong, it is not as you would drive on a Highway, but crossing another vehicle can add adrenaline to your system if you are an inexperienced driver.

Funny enough, even those visitors who are a bit scared, answer after the tour to our question, whether they liked the tour 'No, I loved it... I loved it to be scared a bit. Thanks for getting me in and out of the canyon in a safe way'.

It's our pleasure!


One very interesting comment that I would like to share with you is the following: we had a father of 2 joining us with his wife. After the tour, the father said to his Driver/Guide that his mother joint us some months ago. As she returned home and showed off with the pictures of the canyon, she told him, that if he would not go into Skippers, she would never ever talk to him again!

What a harsh comment you might say. It was of course meant as encouragement. He did take up her advise and mentioned that the tour and everything he and his family experienced was truly remarkable and well worth the time and money.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Request for one of our Drivers: a personal touch

The other day, I received a call from a couple visiting us from the US. They said that they would like to come with us into Skippers and that our tour was highly recommended by some of their friends.

Those friends visited us about 3 years ago. They were very impressed by the scenery and by our Driver/Guide. So the couple asked for the same Driver/Guide as they wanted to experience exactly the same as their friends had.

I have to say, my team is very loyal to the company and I am very fortunate to have a stable team supporting me and providing our customers with wonderful experiences every day.

As is was, I could confirm the tour for the couple and I could organize the same Driver/Guide for them. He is one of our more experienced team members. He sometimes shares his teenager memories and starts his story with something like this: 'I still remember when the MacNicol family used to farm in Skippers...' - we are indeed a very young country.

It is just extra-ordinary for us to share our knowledge and our passion with our visitors.

By the way: the couple enjoyed the tour very much; as much as their friends had and they promised to recommend us further.

THANK YOU!

Monday, 23 November 2009

Tourism in Skippers Then and Today or how Tourism Evolved

The following is a copy of the description of Skippers Road History, published by the New Zealand Places Trust.

The discovery of gold in Central Otago, at Gabriel's Gully on 23 May 1861, was the catalyst for New Zealand's first gold rush. Alert to the potential of the region, prospectors arrived by the thousands from within New Zealand and further afield, while many existing settlers turned their hand to prospecting.

By mid-1863, the population in the Shotover was officially estimated at 4116 , and the pressure for formed access was overwhelming. A public meeting was called in May 1863 to push for the construction of a road. The Lake Wakatip Mail's Shotover correspondent reported the following week that the provincial government had erected guide posts to mark the various trails to the gorge for the coming winter. Life for the packers who worked the trails was dangerous, and the maximum working life for a packer's horse on the trail was 3 months. The building of Skippers Road began.

Despite the fact the population declined over the following decade, pressure for a better road increased. One factor influencing this was gold extraction. Methods had changed from modest, low-level operations to large-scale enterprises dominated by big machinery. The pressure for a road was prompted in part by this response to advances in technology, but it was also prompted by the size of the machinery required to undertake this kind of work, e.g. pipes for sluicing or parts for stamper batteries, which were difficult, or in some cases impossible, to move on the pack track. In addition to this, the permanent population was increasingly envisaging a life without a road and did not like the prospect. Dissatisfaction grew, until action was taken in 1882 to move things along.


The road was not finished but it was already a boon. The Lake Wakatip Mail wrote that the 'wonderfully good road which now saves the necessity for a trip over the Zigzag, renders the journey to Skippers one of comparative ease to anyone who can ride - in fact we hear of two or three conveyances being built so that persons will be able to drive up to the reefs shortly.'


In its partially completed state, the road had already been used. The miners, farmers, residents and suppliers had to make do with the pack track where the road was not formed. The completion of the road simply allowed vehicles to travel, all things being equal, without stopping or having to break down goods. The journey still took a long time (perhaps an average of five or six hours), even in a horse and cart, but it quickly became the lifeblood of the Skippers community.

The nature of the road and its traditional users had a big influence on its management by the council. It was not until 1896 that bicycles were allowed on the road. Just 10 years later, motor vehicles were banned, but it should be noted that this by-law also included other local roads, including the Frankton, Dan O'Connell, Arrowtown to Macetown, and Arrowtown to the Crown Terrace roads. The ban was prompted by concerns that vehicles would frighten horses. It was partially lifted in 1918, when vehicles were allowed between 7pm and 8am. In the interim, the first, illegal car journey on the road took place in 1912. All restrictions were removed in 1926, although it remained a courtesy to phone ahead if you were traveling by motor vehicle. This long period of restriction indicated as much as anything the primacy of the pedestrian and the horse (and cart) over other forms of transport for the first few decades of the road's history.

The completion of the road also allowed the curious and adventurous to enjoy the scenery and experience the thrills of the road. Tourism became an opportunity to for some to make money out of the road and is today the most significant user of the road.


Of significance to the road was the type of classification it attracted. In 1928, five years after the Main Highways Board (MHB) was established, it was classed as a 'main highway' in the New Zealand Gazette. In 1930 it was classified a 3rd class highway, which meant that fewer than 100 vehicles per day traveled on the road and that motor lorries had to be under six tons to use it. In 1934 Skippers (along with the road to Branches Station) was reclassified as 'Class 5', which meant that only vehicles under three tons or multi-axeled vehicles of four and a half tons or less could use the road.

Tourism has been a long-standing feature of the road's history, from even before the completion of the Skippers Canyon Bridge in 1901. It is a remarkable measure of the fame the road had acquired even before its completion. Early tourist operators offered day return trips from Queenstown, leaving at 8am and returning at 6pm. This commonly took the form of a ride in a coach drawn by four or five horses. It would take on average five hours to get to Mt Aurum Station, where the horses would be changed for the return journey. There were sometimes up to eight coaches a day on the road. The horse-drawn excursions lasted for some years. Knudson quotes the Official Southland Guide describing Skippers as a tourist attraction in 1925:

SKIPPERS. Lake County. Is a wild and romantic mining district, about twenty miles from Queenstown, from which place the trip to Skippers is considered the premier excursion for tourists, daily trips being made, leaving at 8am and returning at 6pm, the mode of conveyance being by coach, each comfortably accommodating ten passengers, all box seats, thus ensuring an interrupted view. (Motors are prohibited on this road between 8am and 6pn under bylaw of the Lake County Council.) The return fare, including morning tea and luncheon, is 19 shillings. Post Office and Telephone. Population, 21.

Just who these tourist operators were is not known. It is known that Julian Bourdeau also took tourists, along with goods, up to Skippers in a wagon pulled by two horses.

This state of affairs continued until 1926, when restrictions on daytime use of motor vehicles ended. Gradually, horses were replaced by vehicles. The source of the early tourists is not known, although this was at a time when the number of tourists visiting New Zealand was only about 5000 annually, so they were more likely to be holidaying New Zealanders.

As it is today, the road was one of the attractions in an area famed for its beauty and dramatic scenery. However, the exact extent of tourist use of the road is difficult to quantify. Information gathered in September 1937 estimated that 6.4 cars per day used the road, with numbers rising to 15 per day in the holidays, which suggests that visitors were making the road a destination. The Mount Cook and Southern Lakes Tourist Co. was running services between Queenstown and Skippers, although this was also a passenger service.

The tourists continued to come. In 1970 the first foray into adventure tourism signalled the beginning of a new phase in the river's history. The Shotover Jet began operation that year, although initially there was no direct impact on the road as a result. However, the range of activities on offer to tourists to the Queenstown region grew quickly and in the 1980s whitewater rafting and bungy jumping brought far more people on to the road.

Skippers Canyon is the site of two bungy jumping operations. One, A.J. Hackett Bungy, off the Skippers Bridge, opened in 1989, is now confined to special events and corporate conferences. The even higher rebuilt Skippers pipeline (over 100 metres above the river) operates during summer.

More impetus to Skippers tourism came with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, shot in New Zealand and released from 2001-2003. Some of the scenes were shot in the Skippers Canyon area and the consequent interest saw purpose-designed tours established by companies quick to take advantage of the opportunity.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Historic Place - Skippers Road

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust has Skippers Road registered since 15 December 2006. The Trust protects the heritage of the road. They describe this remarkable piece of engineering as follows:

Skippers Road is one of the most outstanding of New Zealand's surviving nineteenth century roads.

Built in four stages from 1883 to 1890, and only a single lane wide, its construction had to overcome major physical obstacles before it could be completed. The most spectacular of these (Pinchers Bluff) required the removal of large amounts of rock to create a road platform. The road and the country it travels through are both spectacular and scenic. The road is most significant too as, in all likelihood, the only nineteenth century road that has remained in continuous use without major upgrading.

The road was built to improve access to the upper Shotover River for miners, particularly for those seeking to install large machinery. It also provided a better means of access for those living in the canyon than the existing packtrack (1863). Mining's heyday was over by the time the road was completed but it continued to be used by farmers and tourists and those mining operations that lingered on in the twentieth century.

Although much of the road remains as it did in the nineteenth century, the topography, harsh climate, widening, and regular maintenance have led to the loss of some significant features, including some of its stone walls, famous features intended to prevent vehicles from toppling off the road. Today tourism is the road's biggest user, with many people coming to see the road or use it as a means of access to bungy jumping operations or white water rafting. Skippers Road is an iconic New Zealand road of outstanding heritage significance.

The Trust has the majority of Skippers Road protected under its register:
The registration of Skippers Road starts at Skippers Saddle, a short distance from the intersection of Skippers Road and Coronet Peak Road. The road winds down Long Gully as far as the flat, former site of the Long Gully hotels and from there down to the Bells Bridge - the lowest point in the section to the Shotover River. From there the road sidles up Bell Hill and then continues along for several kilometers as far as the landmarks of Pinchers Bluff and the Devils Elbow. From there the road descends to river level and crosses Deep Creek. It then rises and continues along several kilometers to the flat area at Maori Point and from there through the Maori Point Saddle to Blue Slip. Just beyond there is the intersection with the Branches Road, a side road to the Branches Station. The road to Skippers continues on a short distance, past the Bridal Veil Falls, and on to the Skippers Suspension Bridge. Beyond the bridge the road climbs the ridge to the terrace above. A short distance to the west is Mt Aurum Station homestead and to the immediate east is Skippers, including the cemetery, the nominal end of the registration.

After crossing Skippers Suspension Bridge, you will reach the area of the Department of Conservation. Please read my other post about Conservation in Skippers.

If you would like to visit this outstanding road, join us on our unforgettable Skippers Canyon tour. We - Queenstown Heritage Tours - are looking forward to sharing this remarkable area with you.

Friday, 20 November 2009

The Truth about Sandflies

I will tell you something 'not so nice' about New Zealand but something you definitely have to know.
Imagine this scene: you travel with your family around New Zealand. You find a beautiful spot to make a break. You stop next to a river, the sun is shining and there is no wind at all. PERFECT - you think. 'Here we are going to have a little picnic'.

But then: you place yourself comfortably and start to get relaxed and all the sudden, you are under attack! There are tiny little creatures, flying around, black in color and they are here to suck your blood. Sandflies...

Their name is not a good choice, if you ask me; they should be called 'Tyrant-Flies' or something like it. I don't like them at all...
They usually go for your feet or your arms and fingers. They love the spots just at the end of your pants or right there where your ring stops to protect your skin from exposure. They adore to leave their little red spots behind which start to itch after a while. What ever you do: DON'T - under NO circumstances - start to SCRATCH. You will not be able to stop!
The worst part is that the actual sting of the nasty biests really hurts while the feed off you. It feels like someone would use a little needle to pierce your skin - just awful!

But: there is help. You can use a New Zealand insect repellent to hold them off. I observed that local repellents are more efficient for the Sandflies compared to the ones you bring from home. You can buy insect repellents in every Pharmacy. And hey, they work :-)


On occations, those little Sandflies are in Skippers, too. They usually come out and 'torture' us when the air is still moist from rain and as said, if there is no wind. They are carried away with the wind and therefore are not able to land on you. But as soon as the wind is gone, you will not be able to protect yourself without the repellent. On our Skippers Canyon Tours, we usually cary those repellents with us.

History though tells us that the little Sandflies have been living in New Zealand since ... forever. We can find remarks about them in Captain Cook's adventure books, as he re-discovered New Zealand in 1769. Abel Tasman discovered our beautiful country in 1642 for the first time.

At the end of the day, I believe you will still very much enjoy your stay in Skippers and New Zealand, despite of the Sandflies. They are at least not poisonous. The itching of the stings will disappear after a few days, but your memory of the experience will last.

Enjoy!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Our Commitment for Branches School Camp

Every year, Wakatipu Highschool takes all students of year 11 to the Branches in Skippers Canyon. They stay there for 2 weeks, camping and learning about the area. Amongst other things, the students do kayak, go for hikes, learn how to cross a river and most of all, they learn how to work together in a team.

This camp costs about NZD250.-- per student. Some of the parents can not afford to pay this fee.

We are committed to collect money for the Branches Camp. Our goal is to collect enough money for at least 1 student. We run this fundraiser in November 2009 as the camp takes place in December, just before the big summer holidays and the end of the school year.

The fundraiser works like this, that we donate $2.-- for every merchandise sold on our tours. We sell caps and glasses. Interestingly enough, many of our customers donate a gold-coin just like this - and some buy the merchandise and add an extra coin to the pot.

We thank everyone who supported us raising funds for the Branches School Camp in Skippers.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Morning Tea in Skippers

During our unforgettable Skippers Canyon tour, we treat our customers not only to a unique and wonderful scenery, but also to a morning tea.


Fancy this: you sit all alone (together with your partner, of course) in Skippers Canyon. No one else is there. You have Skippers Point all for yourself. You sit on those little chairs and enjoy the scenery. You are served with some home-made cheese on crackers and sweet biscuits. If you feel like it, have a glass of Queenstown local wine or sip your tea or coffee.


The tranquility of the canyon is most enjoyable during an afternoon tour. Seats on our morning tours are usually more taken. This does however not spoil the natural beauty of the canyon and the groups who are traveling together enjoy this spot in Queenstown's backcountry very much.

As you can see, we serve our coffee and tea out of a porcelain mug. Some of our customers ask us if they could buy the mug as it makes the perfect souvenir. We are currently working on a solution for this.

Our sweet biscuits are severed on a tray which is covered by a doiley. It is quite interesting how many of our customers observe this fact and comment on it. They like it.

In general, everyone enjoys the morning or afternoon tea very much. The picnic is served next to Skippers Schoolhouse which is now restored as a little museum. The schoolhouse is managed by the Department of Conservation. Our guest are usually intrigued by the pictures and explanations featured in the old house.

Our picnic break has another big advantage - at least for us. We ask our customers to come and see their Driver/Guide and pay for the tour. We always do it this way and in fact everyone likes to pay then, as the alternative would be to walk back to Queenstown - this is of course only a joke... But payment is done after the picnic. Some of our customers comment that they find this solution quite nice as half of the tour has already been performed with payment.

The big question is always: 'how do you make the cheese?' This is a secret... I reveal this much though: take some Edam or Tasty Cheese, put some Cream Cheese into the grated hard cheese and mix it. That's it.

If you want to taste my version of the cheese - please feel free to join our tours. We are looking forward to sharing it with you.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Best Time to Travel

It is quite astonishing how many visitors come to Queenstown during our Summer months - December through to February. Please don't misunderstand, Queenstown is beautiful in Summer: nice and warm, not too hot, but still very spectacular. But what about the other seasons, Spring and Autumn? If you ask me, those 2 seasons are even more awesome.

Winter is incredible, too. The mountains covered in all this beautiful snow and swarms of people come here to celebrate the Queenstown Winter Festival. I still believe Spring and Autumn are special - most of our customers who can compare the seasons as they traveled at least twice to Queenstown (and in particular visited Skippers Canyon several times) confirm my believe.

In Spring, everything seems to wake up again, which is so nice to experience. See my other Blog entry.
In Autumn, the colors in the canyon are beyond description - just out of this world.


Visitors, who joined our tour into Skippers Canyon often say that Autumn is simply breathtaking. The colors as shown in the pictures above are real. The orange comes from the Larch Trees (which should not be there, as it is not a native tree). Then add the blue color of the Shotover River and a little bit of sunshine - and there you have it: the most unique outdoor cafe.

In Spring and Autumn, we usually have smaller groups of visitors travelling with us. Which means that we have a bit more time to enjoy this very scenic and historical attraction in the back country of Queenstown.

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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.