Sunday, June 28, 2009

Skippers Canyon Jet

It’s that magical time of year again when frosty flakes fall from the sky and Queenstown’s surrounding mountains become playgrounds of fun for the young-hearted. But for those of us who don’t really fancy strapping on the skis, there is one place that is definitely worth a visit: Skippers Canyon.

In 1862, thousands of prospectors were lured to the Canyon when gold was discovered and so was created the small town-ship of Skippers. 20 years of precarious digging followed. Suffering harsh winters and enough injuries to surpass a small war the population decreased with the gold findings and nowadays only several people reside there permanently. Winky Hohneck is one of five generations of family who remains there and is the owner of the Skippers Canyon Jet Company.

The trip I took started from the centre of town where a friend and I were picked up in a huge 4WD truck that would perhaps be the preferred vehicle of the Terminator. A short time later, we were chugging up towards Coronet Peak watching herds of colourful bobbled beanies racing down the mountain in the distance. Then, about half way up we took a left turn and so began our journey.

Descending into the bowels of the Canyon is not for the faint hearted. Its 22km of unfenced road is accompanied by sheer drops into stony valleys. Our small party of seven was somewhat relieved when our driver disappeared under the vehicle and fitted an almighty set of snow-chains. On we continued, our wheels clinging tightly to snowy tracks.

Barely receiving any sun, this other world retains a cold mysterious beauty where half frozen waterfalls cascade over rocks, huge icicles hang from grass and permafrost ensures this fairytale-like place stays white almost year round. When we stepped out of the vehicle to take photos, I was sure I could hear the roar of Aslan in the distance and the trotting of Mr Tumnus’s feet passing by.

So with dripping icicles in mind and with the sudden need to visit the toilet, we then found ourselves at the Skippers Canyon jet. Standing on the banks, as the icy waters gushed by, I began to regret the extra cup of tea I’d downed that morning and instead busied myself by piling on the layers of warm clothes that were provided for us.

Soon we were whizzing down the Shotover River, spinning and bumping about, our lips sticking to our teeth as we tried to laugh in the minus temperatures. Each time a spray of cold water hit my face I cursed my extra beverage and held on for dear life in every way. In spite of this, it was hard to not be awed by the stunning scenery which put me in mind of wintry scenes on old fashioned Christmas cards. For Lord of the Rings fans, it was here that Arwen (Liv Tyler) defeated the baddies on her white horse when the powerful river engulfed them.

After a short drive and a well appreciated toilet break, we then visited the old pipeline bungy bridge. With the sound of knocking knees, we watched as our guide hurled a huge rock into the water below and try to imagine following behind with springy rope attached to our ankles.

For the last part of the trip, we headed to Winky’s museum which is full of remnants that were dug up from the mining era including a skeletal foot stuck in a shoe and a rusty set of ball and chains that was used by the local police. If it were not for the -8 degree temperatures that had greeted the Canyon that morning and frozen the troughs, a bit of gold panning would have been next on the list. As it was, we were more than happy to simply hold on to our hot cups of coffee and chomp on our freshly made cookies as our guide gave us a commentary about the gold mining era.

The Skippers Canyon 4WD tour is excellent value for money and highly recommended. All guides are professional, informative and above all friendly. This trip has everything: stunning scenery, adventure, history and is suitable for both families and independent travelers. Wrap up warm for a winter trip!

For more information, check out their website on