We pick you up from your accommodation in or close to Queenstown in our comfortable AWD. A short drive takes us from the downtown bustle through rolling rural countryside to Skippers Saddle, high up on the road to the Coronet Peak ski field. This is the beginning of a 22km dirt road, hewn over a hundred and thirty years ago through mountains and backcountry to reach the rich gold deposits of the Shotover River. The one-lane road winds above precipitous valleys, past fantastic, sculptural landmarks and far-flung mountain vistas to reach and then follow the crystal blue Shotover River as it winds through its own spectacular ravine.
Along the way, we encounter aptly named waypoints like Hell's Gate, Bus Scratch Corner and Pincher's Bluff. Around every corner, awe-inspiring features such as Gorilla Rock, the Lighthouse and Castle Rock. Every bend in the road brings a view of distant ranges and snow-capped peaks.
At the halfway point, we descend to a riverside beach, the launching point for jet boats and rafting tours and an opportunity experience the Shotover's blue glacial waters. The landscape opens now revealing massive glacial terraces, so flat and sharp-edged they look almost man made. Here we see how gold miners massively changed the landscape with their sluicing and dredging practices. We pass sites where industrious communities, silent now, thrived briefly. Only the odd foundation stone or the remains of a chimney stand testament to the past. Our guide will show you where to look: a copse of trees, the site of a village, rusting steel pipes bringing water to sluicing guns, a Chinese miner's shack, all being taken back by nature.
Toward the end of the road, we cross a wooden suspension bridge, spanning a 70-metre ravine. Inaugurated in 1901, this remote structure was a huge engineering achievement for its time. Just wide enough for one vehicle, it is a fantastic example of the tenacity and drive of the people who came first to this region. Finally, we climb through a ghostly stretch of pine forest to reach Skippers Schoolhouse, the last intact building of the settlement that stood here for some sixty years. The lovingly restored building contains a collection of photographs capturing the stories, the characters the and experience of life in those hard times.
This is the perfect place for a rest and refreshment stop, with coffee, tea and cookies to replenish us for the drive back to Queenstown. Our return journey gives us an opportunity to revisit views and landmarks, to capture favourite spots in a different light or from another angle. Your guide is a local landscape photographer who knows this road intimately in all its moods. You will be guided in techniques of composition and use of your camera to create images that capture the true beauty and majesty as you see it.
The tour runs for about 5 hours, with stops for photography, tuition and refreshments and returns to your accommodation in or around Queenstown.