Skippers Canyon was formed by the glacial activity of the Ice Age between about 100,000 and 25,000 years ago. During that time ice and rock ground its way down the valley, scouring rich seams of gold from the mountains as it went. As the glacier slowly melted away it deposited large quantities of gold rich alluvial gravels on the valley floor. Over the past 25,000 years the mighty Shotover River, whose source is deep in the Southern Alps, has eroded the steep canyon walls that we see today and acted like a natural sluice, cleaning the gold from the gravels and washing tons of the precious metal 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 during a daring river crossing. Upon finding the dog unharmed the Shepherd’s noticed gold stuck in the crevices in the rocks to the side of the river and that that day the two shepherds picked up around 21lbs of the precious metal, which in today’s value is worth nearly NZ$1m.
Word of the shepherd’s discovery soon got out and the gold rush was on. 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 their riches.
Skippers Canyon remained highly inaccessible until the building of the Skippers Road in the 1880’s. It took 8 years to complete the first 20km stretch of road as large sections of it needed to be carved out of the vertical cliff face using only star headed drills and black gunpowder. 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 including alluvial gold mining, panning, sluicing, dredging, hydraulic elevating, hard rock mining and ambitious 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.
It is believed that 330 million ounces of gold has been mined from Skippers Canyon, which, in metric terms, is about 10 tons of gold, worth nearly NZ$1bn by today’s value.
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.
Come with Skippers Canyon Jet and experience unbeatable value as you are taken on a spectacular guided tour of Skippers Canyon via the infamous Skippers Road followed by the thrilling jet boat ride through the most dramatic canyons of the Shotover River. You will discover a land rich in gold mining history and breathtaking scenery just a short distance from central Queenstown. One of Queenstown's best activities, not to be missed.BOOK NOW