Skippers Canyon

The Richest Gold Bearing Canyon in the World.

Skippers Canyon was formed by glacial activity approximately 25,000 years ago. During that time ice and rock ground its way down the valley depositing large quantities of gold as it went. As the glacier slowly melted it gave way to the mighty Shotover River whose source is deep in the Southern Alps. The Shotover River eroded the steep canyon walls shaping it into the dramatic landscape that we see today and washed tons of precious gold down the canyon, making it what would be known as the richest gold bearing river in the world.

In 1862 two Maori shepherds stumbled upon these riches when their sheep dog was washed downstream. Upon finding the dog the Shepherd’s noticed gold on the ground were the dog was standing and it is said that that day the two shepherds picked up around 9kgs of the precious metal, which in today’s value is worth nearly US$400,000.

Word of the shepherd’s discovery soon got out and the gold rush was born. Within two months there were over four thousand miners searching for their fortunes in the canyon and over the next century miners battled the harsh New Zealand conditions in their quest for gold.

Skippers Canyon remained highly inaccessible until the building of the Skippers Road in the 1880’s.
It took 22 years to complete the road as large sections of it needed to be carved out of the vertical cliff face using only black gunpowder and hand drills. The building of Skippers Road was deemed an engineering feat in itself and today is considered a site of outstanding heritage significance.

A multitude of methods were used to mine for gold in the canyon such as hard rock mining, dredging, hydraulic elevating and river diversion schemes. Remains of these schemes are still visible today with steel flumes, sheet pilings, diversion channels and dredges lying alongside the riverbank. The Sainsbury Gold Claim also plays host to a variety of gold mining relics that were used during the gold rush itself.

Today, as 5th generation locals, we are proud to offer you the opportunity to see and appreciate the grandeur of Skippers Canyon and Jet boat the upper reaches of the Shotover River. This is a truly unique backcountry experience with dramatic landscapes and fascinating history.