There are some roads that you might not want to drive on and Skipper Canyon Road is one of them. Skippers is part of Mount Aurum Recreation Reserve and is a beautiful and scenic area. We could have driven this road, but it is one lane, dirt, and along a cliff. For 22km! There is even a sign at the beginning explaining that your rental car insurance will not cover any damage you may incur on this road. Yikes!
Took them 20 years to build this road and it leads to the area where they were finding gold. Skippers Canyon was formed by Glaciers approximately 25,000 years ago as loose gravel rock and gold ground their way down the valley. In this glacial process, ton after ton of precious gold was deposited throughout the canyon and eventually down into the river. Some people have found some nuggets as recently as the past few years so you never know if you will get lucky unless you start to pan in the river. The bank of New Zealand had a branch located way up in these mountains near where they were sluicing for gold as there was a lot of activity. It is now gone.
I was very glad that neither of us was driving as it was a lot less stressful. Blair, our photography guide for the trip, knew exactly where he could pull over to let the buses (yes, buses!) pass, which is good as the drop off this ledge-like road is about 100 meters. In some areas, you are actually going through a carved-out rock. They were able to create these drive-throughs by drilling holes and filling them with water. After the ice formed in the winter, the spring warm-up made it easy to pry the rocks apart. Ingenious.
The drive was beautiful, cutting through a colorful golden canyon with a bright green river below, and you can see why it is rated as one of the best tourist destinations. There are large areas of dead trees and Blair explained how the pine trees are from America and multiply by seed like crazy. They come in with helicopters and kill huge areas of the trees and let them die in place. They leave them where they are and they replenish the soil. The mountains are naturally covered in grasses, and they try very hard to keep and return the mountains to that state.
Our first stop was at the bottom of the canyon to Shotover River where the white water river rafting starts and the jet boat rides begin. The rafters go downriver and the jet boats up the river. For an exorbitant amount of money, you can sit in one of these boats and go reeeeally fast upriver. Then turn around and go reeeally fast back to where you started. Not sure what the cool part is but our guide, Blair, said that it was practically a national pastime. The canyon gets shallow and narrow in some parts, and to go fast through them is fun. Ok.
Blair was a wealth of information about the area. He talked about how as kids they used to come up into the canyon to practice shooting the possums. They were easy to shoot and you can sell their fur at a good price. Evidently, the fur comes off easily and you can sell it by the kilo. Without any natural predators, they have multiplied to numbers in the millions, making them a national hunting pastime.
We drove over Skippers Bridge and wound our way through a forest that led to the remnants of Skippers Township, once the largest gold settlement on the Shotover River. Remaining in this small town were the schoolhouse and a few outbuildings. You can camp here and there are many trails surrounding the town that goes through the canyon. In sharp contrast to old-time mining, Skippers Canyon was a location for the Ford of Bruinen in the lord of the Rings.
Since we are still in Otago Wine Country, we need to stop at one more winery. Brennan winery is where we find ourselves for the last wine stop in this area. Not our favorite so we actually left without a bottle!