Skippers canyon (viewed from a helicopter)
Image: Sharleen Briden | DOC

Introduction

Skippers is part of Mount Aurum Recreation Reserve and saw much of Wakatipu’s 1860s gold fever. It offers dramatic views and opportunities to walk, tramp, camp, paint, kayak, mountain bike, picnic and raft.

Highlights

  • The reserve was established in 1985 from Mount Aurum Station and annually attracts tens of thousands of visitors wanting to explore the 9,100 ha reserve, despite the challenges of getting there.
  • The reserve begins after crossing the historic Skippers suspension bridge. Opened in 1901 it’s the most spectacular of its kind in New Zealand. On the terrace above is a virtual ghost town, the remnants of Skippers Township, once the largest gold settlement on the Shotover River.
  • Mount Aurum Reserve offers dramatic views and opportunities to walk, tramp, camp, paint, kayak, mountain bike, picnic and raft - you can even bring your dog. 
  • Spend the night in the historic Dynamo Hut on the dramatic site of the first industrial use of electricity in New Zealand - see Bullendale hydro mine.
  • Skippers Canyon was a location for the Ford of Bruinen - see Lord of the Rings film locations.

Place overview

Activities

  • Camping
  • Hunting
  • Walking and tramping

In this section

Find things to do and places to stay Skippers area

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Historic sightseeing

Bullendale gold mine high above Skippers canyon may seem a surprising site for the birthplace of industrial hydroelectricity in New Zealand.

Four wheel driving

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    About this place

    Nature and conservation

    Berries of mountain wineberry.
    Berries of mountain wineberry

    The existing vegetation is very different from the original patchy cover of mountain beech/tawai and shrub land, thanks to deliberate and accidental fires, grazing, gold mining and settlement.

    Above 900 m, snow tussock is predominant. Sub alpine shrubs include dracophyllum, hebes and olearia. The shady gullies shelter mountain beech/tawhairauriki, broadleaf/kapuku, coprosma/karamū, mountain wineberry and bush lawyer/tataramoa.

    Berry bearing plants and herbs played a part in early settlers’ attempts at supplementing their meagre diets.

    Introduced wilding trees – like European larch and Douglas fir – have spread rapidly and threatened the slower growing natives. DOC is controlling wildings around here to halt their spread and minimise their impact on the landscape and ecology .

    Harrier hawk/kahu, falcon/karearea, kea, rifleman/titipounamu, tomtit/miromiro and bellbird/korimako can be found in the gully forests and among the low scrub land. Pipits/pihoihoi can be seen in the alpine grasslands. 

    Rabbit, hare, stoat, possum and goats were all introduced by early settlers, and have drastically affected native vegetation and bird life. DOC controls goats in this area and encourages recreational hunting – for which a permit is required, from a DOC office.

    History and culture

    Skippers Bridge, Central Otago. Image: Neil Simpson.
    Skippers Bridge, Central Otago

    The 1862 gold rush lured thousands of miners to Skippers Canyon, closely followed by packers, blacksmiths, butchers and bankers. At its peak, the settlement boasted a post office, hall, hotel, stores and a school. When the school closed in 1927 it became a woolshed, and later left derelict for some 20 years. In 1992 it was restored by DOC.

    The easy gold out of what was then known as ’the richest river in the world’ was quickly won. Miners then formed companies to work river bank and terrace claims together. Water races and sluicing scars can still be seen where pipes and canvas hoses were used to work the alluvial terraces in the 1870s. After that, as the gold dwindled, so too did the population; from around 700 in the 1860s down to just 92 in 1901.

    Sheep farming on Mount Aurum Station began before the gold rush, in 1860. The terrain and climate made it difficult and unprofitable, and the run changed hands many times. The last change was in1985 when the station became a recreation reserve. Since then the Mount Aurum Station homestead has been restored by DOC with input from volunteers.

    Getting there

    McNicols Battery, Skippers. Image: Mark Hanger.
    McNicols Battery, Skippers

    Skippers is 25 minutes from Queenstown. Access is by the narrow and winding 13 km Skippers Road, that only experienced drivers should attempt to drive.

    Aerial view of Skippers Bridge, Wakatipu. Image: Theresa Cavanagh.
    Aerial view of Skippers Bridge,
    Wakatipu

    From Queenstown, travel along Gorge Road to Arthur’s Point and take the turn-off to Coronet Peak ski field. Off that road, turn left onto the unsealed road signposted to Skippers. From Skippers Saddle, continue on the narrow and winding 13 km Gorge Road to Skippers Bridge and Mount Aurum Recreation Reserve. This is a one-and-a-half- to two-hour drive.

    Only experienced drivers should attempt this journey. Because of its challenges, and precipitous drop-offs, this is not a road on which to learn gravel-driving techniques.

    The road is administered by the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

    Know before you go

    This area is a historic reserve. All the material on this site is protected by law and the removal of any object is illegal. Offenders will be prosecuted. Artefacts on this site have been security marked, though this is not visible to the naked eye.

    Don’t remove or dig for any artefacts or garden plants around the restored historic Mount Aurum Homestead and Skippers Point School, leave them for future generations to enjoy.

    To protect the historic mining remains 4WD vehicles, motorbikes and mountain bikes must keep to formed roads. The damage already done by off-road vehicles to the holding dams, earthworks and sluicings on Londonderry Terrace is obvious.

    Fires are not allowed – the risks of losing this landscape are too high. Use a camp stove for cooking.

    Contacts

    Whakatipu-wai-Māori / Queenstown Visitor Centre
    Phone:   +64 3 442 7935
    Address:   50 Stanley Street
    Queenstown
    9300
    Email:   queenstownvc@doc.govt.nz
    Full office details
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