Skippers Canyon Road

Video footage
Skippers Canyon ride

Skippers Canyon is one of the best rides in New Zealand, its dramatic landscape, tall mountains, deep canyon, and beautiful Shotover River make it a great place to Discover.

The road is full of history and most famous because of shiny precious metal — GOLD! Some people say that it is the richest in the world however there is no official data about how much gold was found there…

The road starts north from Queenstown going via Arthurs Point and turning towards Coronet Peak ski fields, few kilometres up and you will see a turn left to the Skippers Canyon Rd, and it goes for just over 20kms north starting at the saddle 994m over the sea level. Make sure before that you stop at the viewpoint, just as you turned left on to the gravel road, it is pretty spectacular! The Remarkables mountains present themselves here great — they were used as a background of Mordor from Lord of The Rings.

Going up the mountains you will see the official start to the road with few road signs. It is not a road for beginners, you will have to be able to handle your motorbike well! If you are scared of heights and you want to go to the pub - turn around!

It is a public road where Police come to check whether vehicles are road legal, also you may want to check whether your insurance covers it, many rentals vehicles will not be covered there.

The road has been built over 8 years, it was a very costly investment back then, lots of people died while it was being built, some say around 500 but most likely below 200.

The road was named after 'Skipper' Malcolm Duncan who first discovered gold there 1862.

They started building it in 1883 and finished in 1891, taking 8 years to complete only 20 kilometers! Before that it was a very business way to get down to sandy beaches with horses, carrying goods. Lots of people drowned there, in 1863 the river level went up by 11 meters, lots of miners died that year.

The Entrance!
Photo 2 of Skippers Canyon Road
Skippers Saddle, early spring!
Lookout Point at Remarkables

Starting at the Saddle to your right there is a mountain bike trail called Skippers Pack Track — ONLY MTB! Going down the road there is no speed limit, however don’t go crazy, there are lots of commercial operators using it, LOTR tours, off-road companies, Skippers Canyon Jet Boat buses, rafting buses and potentially Go Orange buses plus private vehicles, cyclists and other motorbikes. There will be always someone there!

The road from the beginning looks steep to the sides, there are a LOT of sharp bends, rocks are hard there but exposed to atmospheric conditions it changes to soft powder, which can be very slippery when wet, or loose when dry.

First, you will see the Hells Gate and then Heaven's gate,  going slow you will see still drill marks, hence the road was all done by hard-working men using a metal drill and hammer, making a hole which would be filled later with explosive powder to make a way. Then some rock formation as a lighthouse rock and castle rock.  There you will also see a rock which looks like the head of a gorilla!


Photo 5 of Skippers Canyon Road
Lighthouse rock
Photo 6 of Skippers Canyon Road
Skippers with snow
You may meet buses on your way!
Lighthouse rock & Castle rock

The road descends down to below 600m now. You will go pass the Welcome Home Hotel, well whatever got left — not much. There were several hotels built in Skippers Canyon, with Charlestown and Skippers Point having each had a population of 1000 people during their peak times.

Later on the road will be at its narrowest. There was around 100m chopped off the top section to create that section — the most difficult to build, now the road will go down to where you can have a look at the beach at the Skippers Canyon Jet Boat operators and Rafting launching point — they go in opposite directions.

A nice little spot to stop is Maori Point Saddle, going around the hill, then after Long Gully road splits into Branches or going down to the left to the bridge and later on to the Schoolhouse, which is nicely renovated. You can see there are a few original photos from the past, that is the place where you can also find toilets. Following that road you will go through a small bridge and one house and the road after a few minutes ends.

Author of this article: Kuba