The historic Skippers Point School in spectacular Skippers Canyon near Queenstown is getting a makeover this week.

The historic Skippers Point School in spectacular Skippers Canyon near Queenstown is getting a makeover this week.

DOC staff and volunteers are in the process of replacing weatherboards, painting and clearing vegetation from around the school house and associated outbuildings.

“The school house is significant for two main reasons,” said Department of Conservation (DOC) ranger Stew Hardie, who leads the restoration project. “Not only is it located in the most scenically stunning spot in the country, it’s also one of only two remaining timber buildings in Skippers Canyon dating to the gold rush era.”

The little school was opened in 1879, shortly after gold was discovered in the nearby Shotover River (then dubbed ‘the richest river in the world’). Skippers Township became the largest gold settlement on the Shotover, and in its heyday, the school had 27 pupils on its roll. But as the gold petered out, so did the resident population, and the school closed in 1927.

“When DOC first started restoration work on the school, in 1989, it was pretty rundown and derelict,” said Hardie. “It’d been used as a woolshed for many years and then stood empty for about 20 years after that. The work we’re doing now is part of ongoing maintenance.”

The school house, which is open to the public and near a DOC camping area, is now a main feature of Mt Aurum Recreation Reserve. Nearby features include Mt Aurum Homestead, Skipper’s Point Cemetery which contains 20 headstones and graves, huge tailings at Pleasant Point, and the 110-year-old Skippers suspension bridge, the most spectacular of its kind in New Zealand.

“The Reserve attracts thousands of visitors each year due to its dramatic views and many recreation opportunities such as camping, mountain biking and tramping,” said DOC Wakatipu area manager Greg Lind. “It’s a great place to have fun, but connect to our heritage at the same time. The current maintenance work will ensure that we can keep enjoying the area for years to come.”

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Background information

  • One of the richest gold-bearing beaches on the Shotover River was discovered by two North Island Māori, Raniera (Dan) Ellison and Hakaria Haeroa. Unlike other miners, they plucked up the courage to swim across the fast current to the otherwise inaccessible bank. They made it to safety but their dog was carried downstream. On coming to the dog’s aid, Ellison saw gold dust glistening in its hair. By nightfall, the two men had gathered 300 ounces of gold – worth well over $100,000 today. Māori Point became a famous name on the Shotover, and retains its name to this day.
  • The ghost town of Bullendale is a 5-minute helicopter ride from Skipper’s Point school house. Although the site is less accessible than Skipper’s Township, it’s just as significant. Not only was it the area’s only major hard rock (reef) mine, it was the first place where hydroelectricity was generated for industrial purpose. The dynamo – as well as copious other relics – can still be found on site. 

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