Friday, 7 October 2011

Skippers Canyon Travel Journal of 1909

The following is an excerpt of the Otago Witness, dated 27 January 1909.
A man, Willow Brooe, summarized his experience in and around Queenstown.

".....The course followed by the steamer [from Kingston to Queenstown] is within a stone's throw of the jutting rocks of the western shore, which, surmounted with fuchsia, rata, and olearia, make an effective foreground to the huge peaks which tower overhead. All the way up the lake you steam with the ranges on each side of you until passing Colin's Bay. The steamer rounds Mount. Cecil and you have your first glimpse of Ben Lomond and a most picturesque view of the Remarkables. In a little while the steamer rounds the beacon and there directly ahead nestled in peaceful quietness, as though in repose, is Queenstown.

As the steamer approaches the wharf it is seen that there is quite a crowd to meet the boat and on landing visitors have to go through a regular ordeal, in that they have to pass through long lines of waiting people and be severely criticized in the process. It is a regular habit of the people to meet the boat and line up in this way......

That night, before turning in we [Willow and a new friend] resolved on driving to Skippers the next day. So next morning we were up early and having made up a party of seven we made an early start in a waggonette with four horses for Skippers. How can I describe Skippers - that wild, rough, and rugged road? Though I might try ever so hard I could not do justice in my description of the ruggedness and grandeur of the many magnificent scenes to be met with on this road. At one point of the road our driver called our attention to the exact model of the head of a man on the hillside.
Head Sculpture in Stone

There it was: eyebrows, nose, mouth and chin, as complete as if sculptured by human hands, and yet on such a massive scale as to show that it was not the outcome of human industry.

Hells Gate in the front
The load we travelled was steep, and heavy on the horses, so when going over a particularly steep piece we all got out and walked by a short cut over the hills so as to ease the horses. Presently the waggonette caught up with us and we got aboard again. As we proceeded the driver pointed out to us the many items of interest. We passed through, the Cathedral, a huge cutting in the rock that greatly resembles a Cathedral, and then through the Abbey, where you can easily imagine yourself entering the courtyard of an old abbey. Another place through which we drove with the great rocks frowning over us called Hell's Gate. The Lighthouse, also the Mushroom Rock and the Toothpicks, all most appropriately named according to their shape, were pointed out to us.
Lighthouse Rock

And then we came to a place where, on the other side of a ravine round which we were passing, could be seen a castle with battlements and turrets strong and powerful-looking and while we were wondering what a castle was doing in that lonely spot our driver broke the charm by informing us that it was the Castle Rock we were looking at that it was not the handiwork of man, but of nature.

Castle Rock
At last we arrived at the little Welcome Home Hotel where we ordered dinner to be ready for our return. Away again, and now we strike the most rugged part of the road. On one side of us the mountains rise steep as a wall, and now and again the swingletrees touch the rocks as we turn the corners. On the other aide, far down below us, between two and three hundred feet, the Shotover River muddily discoloured with sluicing, flows on its way.

Driver over Skippers Bridge in 2011
In some parts of the road there is very little to spare between the wheels of the waggonette and a precipice as steep as a house-side. It is a drive which anybody troubled with "nerves" should never attempt. One member of our party dare not look over, so frightened was she. All along the river we passed sluicing claims, and at one place we saw four wild goats.  .... At last we arrived at Skippers Bridge and drove across it. And then pulled up. The bridge is 300 ft above the river. It is a suspension bridge and is 300 ft from span to span.
We were amusing ourselves by dropping stones into the river when someone suggested we should time a stone from the bridge to the water. I accordingly pulled out my watch and was astonished to find that it took about five seconds for a stone to reach the water in a straight drop.

Enjoy the view, but please don't drop a stone...
The horses having been turned homewards we boarded the waggonette, and away we went for Queenstown.

Welcome Home Hotel back then
Arrived at the Welcome Home Hotel we had dinner about half-past 1 and having rested the horses for some little tune, we again started for Queenstown, which place we reached about 6 30 p.m. after a very fine day's outing.

But there was one thing I forgot to mention about this trip and that was dust. It was from 18in to 2ft deep all the road and you can just imagine what a dusty-looking crowd we were. We could not have been worse had we been employed in a flour mill...."

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