Just because it’s called our Adventure Capital, doesn’t mean you have to be physical to experience all the thrills of Queenstown. You don’t even have to spend a lot of time outdoors in cold weather – it’s quite possible to have a good arousal while sitting warm on a plush seat while someone else does all the skillful things.
Believe me, there is a real skill in going for a walk along the skippers’ route. Often referred to as New Zealand’s most dangerous road, it’s 22 miles of thrilling and spectacular single-track, deeply rutted, twisty and unpaved track over dizzying drops with few passages. Not surprisingly, car rental companies prohibit their vehicles from driving there; therefore by far the wisest option is to take a guided tour with Nomad Safaris.
Because a recent snowfall meant the possibility of having to install chains, we couldn’t get caught in the glamorous and unlikely-looking Tesla Model X that the company offers for the tour, and we settled in. instead in a conventionally rugged Land Cruiser. Equally tough and reliable was our guide Peter who, since he felt he had driven a hundred times on the road before, was clearly the perfect choice.
* Queenstown is a dream destination for cycling
* Skippers Canyon, Otago: Could this be New Zealand’s most “terrifying” road trip?
* Great Kiwi road trips: Te Anau
Leaving Queenstown towards Coronet Peak, we stopped to hire the 4×4 before tackling Skippers Road, already enthused by its notoriety, and fascinated by its history. Peter told us the stories as he took us through increasingly complicated corners to our first sight of the Shotover River far below. Considered the richest gold river in the world, thousands of people flocked here in the 1860s hoping to make their fortune, despite the challenges they faced.
Just getting there was the main issue, which we could empathize with as we bumped around, around tight corners, through narrow cuts, and through the precisely named Blue Slip – a 45 degree slope of shale. friable. Other alarming features include Hell’s Gate and Devil’s Elbow, but it’s the less scary Pinchers Bluff that really gets the pulse pounding: a narrow section of causeway blasted, by men hanging on ropes, off a solid rocky cliff. falling to the river 183 meters below.
It was a relief when the canyon opened up and we stopped for a great view at Māori Point, where Peter told us about Daniel Erihana and Hākaraia Haeroa, who in 1863 crossed the river and had to save their dog, thus discovering such a litter of gold that by the end of the day they had accumulated 300 ounces – that’s an incredible 8.5 kilograms. No wonder this beautiful valley, now so calm, became a hive of activity for the next 40 years.
Although it took 20 years for a suitable road to even begin to be built – so painstakingly hand-carved – three towns grew up in the valley, and at the end of the road we stopped for tea. in the morning next to the Skippers school. Its beautifully restored masonry is the most significant sign of settlement that remains today, and inside its unheated classroom, impossibly cold on that snowy July day, we got a feel for the life at the time.
Passing one meter long icicles hanging on the side of the road, we set off again crossing the impressive 1901 suspension bridge, 96 meters long and 91 meters above the river. Tom Cruise flew his helicopter underneath in 2017, filming for Mission: Impossible 6, briefly scandalizing the authorities – but inciting us to taste it ourselves.
Luckily, you don’t need stunts like Tom’s to give passengers the chills on a Glacier Southern Lakes helicopter flight – the scenery alone provides it all, in spades. Within minutes of taking off from Queenstown Airport, all we could see was raw, beautiful nature, mountains covered in snow, their peaks reflected in the calm blue waters of distant lakes.
Pilot Albie, a veteran of aerial filming for Tolkien’s film trilogies, has made a specialty of drifting along a valley, gently rising above its head to reveal, in a theatrical performance, the next spectacular panorama bush-covered valleys and snow-capped peaks beyond. the knife-shaped ridge.
Crossing the braided mouth of the Dart River at the head of Lake Wakatipu, we flew over the Greenstone Valley Ice Scoop towards Milford Sound. Here, of course, Miter Peak dominated the scene, an incredibly perfect focal point for the tall majestic scenery here. Settling in at the airfield, we strolled along the shore for a coffee break in the unusually quiet cafe, normally buzzing with excited foreign tourists.
It should have been the highlight of the robbery, but there were more goodies in store. Taking off again, we hiked the 16 km long fjord, between steep and rocky walls and flying past Bowen Falls and other high waterfalls tumbling down the cliffs. Emerging on the coast, we landed again on what initially seemed a secluded, stony beach, but where further inspection revealed the remains of an impressively well-built cottage in the bush – a relic of the times of whaling, according to Albie.
The final thrill came next – after crossing Milford Sound again, we landed on a real glacier next to Mount Tūtoko at 2,746m, Fiordland’s highest mountain. It was beautiful: standing on pristine, dry powdery snow under bright sunshine, the craggy mountain top right next to us and the Southern Alps stretching out to the horizon on all sides. We felt like intrepid explorers, alone in a pristine wilderness, and everyone was buzzing. It was, in both directions, the highlight of the flight.
Reluctantly returning to Queenstown, there were consolations along the way: a dramatic waterfall of ice, gashed by deep cracks shaded in blue; the green and velvety Hollyford Valley, its river a silver ribbon; high lakes making a touch of turquoise against their snowy surroundings.
Finally, we landed again at the airport, everyone delighted with the flight. We could hardly believe we had been gone two and a half hours. Time had simply passed.
The writer was hosted by Destination Queenstown.
Nomad Safaris offers a range of small personalized tours. The four-hour Skippers Canyon 4WD tour costs $ 225 for an adult and $ 99 for a child. There is currently a special add-on offer of a Million Dollar Cruise on Lake Wakatipu for just an additional $ 10 per person. See: nomadsafaris.co.nz
Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters offers a selection of sightseeing flights starting at $ 155 per adult for 25 minutes. It was the Milford Extended Flight, the price of which until the end of September was $ 830 adult, $ 585 child. See: glaciersouthernlakes.co.nz
Stay at the Browns Boutique Hotel in Queenstown – ideally located but quiet, comfortable and personal, with spectacular views. See: brownshotel.co.nz