Skipper’s Canyon was the site for what I believe was the third major gold rush in New Zealand in the early 1860’s (just after the New Zealand wars). At its peak, about 3000 people lived and mined in the canyon. The road in took about 25 years to build (by hand) and is now a single lane dirt track that goes about 22 kilometers into the canyon.
The scenery was beautiful. But, even more interesting is that the family that lives in the canyon run a small museum that includes items that they have retrieved from the canyon over the years. Our tour was lead by the 4th generation daughter. We got to see family photographs, hear the family stories, see the relics of the mining operations, get a lesson in how they mined the riverbed, and even got to have tea.
The sun even came out after three days of grey and rain.
I asked Ms Winky (yep, that is her real name) about living in such isolation. She said that in this day it was not really a problem. They do stock up but with helicopters there really was no problem when the road washed out (they have their own helicopter pad). She talked about how last winter they were only isolated for six weeks when the road washed out. We did pass several areas that were starting to wash out and two sink holes in the road and it is still early in the winter.
The road is one of the few in New Zealand where if you take a rental car on to the road, it voids your insurance. Vehicles are warned that they need to have chains and four-wheel drives to travel the road. The road is made mostly of finely ground rock from the glaciers so that when it gets wet it becomes really deep and slick mud.
Two stories to demonstrate to point. One, the blacksmiths used to create special horse shoes with a bard across the bottom of the shoe and bend the tips of horseshoe down to create grips for the horses for the ice. Two, a farmer in the canyon used to hire out his oxen to help pull the wagons up a steep grade on the road. One time, some travelers explored the top part of the hill and discovered that the farmer had diverted water to make the road wet and slippery so that he could charge people for the use of his oxen team. He was tried and found innocent. He was found several days later, floating down the river. Frontier justice.
There was a hotel in the canyon. The hotel owner used to advertise for barmaids in Dunedin. He would pay their way to the hotel to work. The average length of employment for the barmaids was about three days before they were married to a miner who had struck it rich and leaving. So, being industrious, the hotel/bar owner advertised for ugly bar maids. Hoping to at least keep one. The only change? The average length of employment went from three days to six days.
Ever since I went partially
down Skipper’s Canyon in 2006, I wanted to see the rest of it. So, I finally go to experience it. Cross that item off.