Friday, January 3, 2014

#731 Skipper's, Queenstown, New Zealand

View from the entrance to Skipper's Road from the Coronet
Peak Road looking back towards Arthur's Point, the back of
Queenstown Hill, Queenstown itself tucked into the valley,
and Lake Wakatipu with Cecil Peak behind.
Just out of Queenstown (#998) is an old miner's town, now a ghost town. It is also one of my favorite drives in the country. We have always had a 4WD, so it was the place we always took our guests. Now, most people go in on some kind of tour (cycling, jetboating, bungy jumping, etc!).

Skipper's is famous for its peaked brown landscape with tussock growing over the hills (this is very typical of Central Otago). While some parts of the region are slowly being taken over by introduced pine trees, I don't agree with NGO Wilding Pines' method of spraying them which looks worse than the trees and leaks poisonous sprays into rivers.

As Dangerous Roads says, the 16.5km 1880s road built to replace a small track during the gold rush days "is so narrow that if two vehicles have to pass each other, one vehicle might have to reverse for anything up to 3 kilometres of winding narrow road to get to a place wide enough to pass. It’s one of only two roads in the country 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." Soon after you cross the pass from the Coronet Peak Road, you come to the aptly named Hell's Gates, for example.
The canyon itself was carved glaciers over 25,000 years ago and further refined by the Shotover River. Significant numbers of settlers first came to the area in the late 1860s after Thomas Arthur and Harry Redfurn found 4 ounces of gold in 3 hours near the appropriately named modern spot of Arthur's Point. Near the subsequently named Maori Point, 300 ounces was discovered on one beach in a day after two Maori miners (Dan Ellison/Raniera Erihana and Hakaria Maeroa) tried to cross (almost losing their dog in the process). This area later became a boom town called Charlestown.
I once heard that the Shotover River had more gold mined from it than any other river in the world, and all the tourist websites in Queenstown love to say that it is the 'richest gold-bearing river in the world' except one which says it is the second richest, and another says that it's only the richest for its size, and another gives this fame to the connected Kawarau River, but I can't find any data online to back up this claim and wikipedia says since the quantity of gold was never accurately measured its impossible. It is true, however, that due to the erosion on the hills surrounding Skipper's and the alluvial nature of the river itself, significant amounts of gold could be obtained from panning, which is usually only used for prospecting.

Irishman "Skipper" Malcolm Duncan (who worked on American ships to earn his name) first discovered gold at Skipper's Creek, later to be Skipper's Point or simply 'Skipper's' and it was here and at Mt. Aurum Station that the most buildings remain. Working the claims until the 1900s, their water races, holding dams, sluicings and tailings are still visible today. Aside from this, the main sites to see are the Mt. Aurum Homestead, the Skipper's school and the cemetery.
It took around 20 years of horse-tracks and lost horses before demand for the road was sufficient. It was built over seven years by 4 contractors. Initially, motor cars were prevented from using it, and later, restricted permits had to be obtained in order to drive on it. It was made a New Zealand Historical Site in 2006. The Skipper's suspension bridge (2.2m wide, 96m long, 90m high) was not built until 1898, long after the main gold rush was finished. It replaced another suspension bridge built closer to the water.
Further up the Skipper's road was Bullendale, site of the first electricity used in New Zealand.

Skipper's School was renovated in 1992.
Inside the school house.
The schoolhouse before renovation
Skipper's Bridge before the trees grew!
Skipper's School house in its heyday.
Welcome Home Inn, Skipper's is no longer standing, but its chimney is!
The Otago Hotel in Aspinall's Terrace, half way up the Skipper's Road.
The restored Mt. Aurum Homestead.

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