Skippers Canyon Road

Skippers Canyon Road: narrow and only for experienced drivers

Tucked away on the south-west of New Zealand's South Island, Skippers Canyon Road is today one of New Zealand's better known scenic roads and unbelievably scary as it’s totally narrow and different to maneuver your car. It’s a road so dangerous that your rental car insurance won’t be honored if you drive on it.

Can you drive Skippers Canyon?

This unpaved road, carved by hand by miners over 140 years ago, is made from a very narrow cut in the middle of a sheer cliff face. The road is 17.4 km (10,81 miles) long through Skippers Canyon running from the paved Coronet Peak Road to Skippers Campground. The track traverses the face of the canyon high above the powerful Shotover River.

Is Skippers Canyon Road one way?

Drive with care as this is a narrow, winding, and exhilaratingly treacherous pathway with dangerous drop offs of several hundred metres. The road is mostly one-way with no turn around for 6 km.

Is Skippers Canyon Road dangerous?

The route is dangerous. Not recommended to newbies. In most places the road is too narrow for vehicles to pass each other, there are no guardrails, and the drop-offs leave absolutely no room for error. Should you encounter a car driving the other way, one of you will have to back up gingerly until you can find enough room to pass. Good luck figuring out which of you that will be. You descend into a deep canyon, viewing the amazing back country, and rocky outcrops where the road was sculptured by the pains taking labour of the Chinese. Its narrow width, impressive stone walls and rock cuttings will survive to remind us of the skill and tenacity of the road builders to forge a road through such daunting country. There are many warning signs along the road, remembering that vehicle damage is possible, rental cars may not be insured, winding road, narrow road, gravel road, recommended speed 15 km/h on the next 20 km, danger of sliding, rock fall, steep drops, animals on the road, no safety barriers… 

Is Skippers Canyon Road open?

Caravans and trailers are not suitable on this road. In winter snow can close the road. It’s one of only two roads in the country where rental car insurance is not honoured if driven on. No insurance covers rental cars on this road, and if you have ever met oncoming traffic on this unsealed, narrow and twisting road with a vertical drop on one and a vertical rock wall on the other side, you understand why. As this road is closed to rental cars, access is basically by 4 wheel drive vehicles.

When was Skippers Canyon road built?

The road has a long story. It was built during the gold rush, when a perilous track was the only access to the town of Skippers and the Upper Shotoverdiggings. Constructed between 1883 and 1890, it was considered to be an engineering miracle as the road is literally carved out of solid schist rock and it doesn’t look much different today than when it was first created. The miners who built the road in the late 1800s didn’t think much about luxury, though — it’s unpaved and very narrow. The road was cut by hand into steep cliffs by early prospectors in their quest for gold. The discovery of gold in the Skippers Canyon in 1862 and in the Arrow river brought a huge influx of miners into the area. The road was built to improve access to the upper Shotover River for miners, particularly for those seeking to install large machinery. It also provided a better means of access for those living in the canyon than the existing packtrack (1863). Mining's heyday was over by the time the road was completed but it continued to be used by farmers and tourists and those mining operations that lingered on in the twentieth century. The road was carved and blasted right out of the solid rock by Chinese laborers. It took 22 years to carve out an access road using only black gunpowder and hand drills. The local rock is so soft that under the traffic it quickly turns into dust in dry weather and to greasy mud in wet. Under these conditions it is no surprise to learn that initially motor vehicles were banned from driving on Skippers Road at the beginning of the 1900s.

Is Skippers Canyon road popular with tourists?

The road is a tourist magnet the last years. Tourist traffic has been a significant user of the road since it was constructed and, 116 years since it opened, it can be considered one of the most enduring tourist attractions in New Zealand history. Many tourists visit just to experience the road, a remarkable testimony to its attractions. Today tourism is the road's biggest user, with many people coming to see the road or use it as a means of access to bungy jumping operations or white water rafting. Skippers Road is an iconic New Zealand road of outstanding heritage significance. It has been the iconic location for some movies. It's actually one of the best kept secrets that the canyon featured in the first of the Lord of the Rings movies. And some scenes from Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible 6 were filmed here. One of the most famous sections of this road is Skippers Bridge. At 96 m long and 90 m high, Skippers suspension bridge over the Shotover River near Queenstown in Central Otago is one of the most spectacular bridges in the world.
More pics: http://www.flickr.com/photos/psundstrom/5496766394/ 

 

 

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