Skippers Canyon became famous for the goldrush. Gold was discovered in the Shotover River in mid-November 1862 by Thomas Arthur and Harry Redfern. They mined continuously for about two months in the vicinity of the Edith Cavell Bridge site and in this time they secured gold worth about $8,000.
With such high rewards at stake it is not hard to believe that swarms of miners literally raced to the area. Accurate figures though about how much gold was found cannot be provided as no official record was kept. An estimation listed around 5,000 miners worked in this region. Close behind the diggers came those who earned their money from providing services for the miners. Packers, storekeepers, hotel proprietors, blacksmiths, butchers and bakers established settlements in what are now deserted areas.
During the 1870s the number of miners working individually decreased steadily. They were replaced by large companies who invested in dredging. Numerous ventures were floated at one time or another but most companies failed to make a success of their operations and did not survive very long.In the years immediately after Skippers Road had been constructed, tourist companies operated a single-day return journey from Queenstown. Subject to road and weather conditions the coach, drawn by four horses, left Queenstown at 8:00am. It took about five hours to reach Mount Aurum station where the horses were changed before the return journey began. An entry in the 1925 'Official Southland Guide' described the journey as follows:
SKIPPERS. Lake County. Is a wild and romantic mining district, about twenty miles from Queenstown, from which place the trip to Skippers is considered the premier excursion for tourists, daily trips being made, leaving at 8:00am and returning at 6:00pm, the mode of conveyance being by coach, each comfortably accommodating ten passengers, all box seats, thus ensuring an uninterrupted view. The return fare, including morning tea and luncheon, is 19 shillings. Post Office and Telephone. Population, 21. See for more details: 'The Road to Skippers' by Danny Knudson, Published by Reed Books, First published 1974, reprinted 1980, New Edition 1995.
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I own a Queenstown local company that undertakes sightseeing tours into Skippers Canyon. We have been doing this for more than 5 years.
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