Got a text, late yesterday afternoon, that Torpedo7 had finished servicing En-Trance so first activity was a walk to collect it. On the way I passed this awesome Tahuna Mural being painted on a construction site hoarding around the carpark in Stanley St.
Fresh from its first full service at 1,520km. All OK, apart from gear tuning and rear suspension arm bolt torquing, and ready to explore Skippers Canyon.
Been there before, but not on my bike
Years ago (2003!), after finishing my first Adventure South Tour in Queenstown, a few of us did a part-day Skippers Mountain Bike Tour. We were shuttled to the crest of the Skippers Road, went down the mountain bike trail and then shuttled back for the road downhill back from Coronet Peak.
I remember the trail was quite challenging in places. It took us over an hour (with history stops) and remember being told professional downhill racers had done it in something like 10-15 minutes. Today was just me, and all the way on my bike!
Up to Coronet Peak (nearly)
Went via town with a stop at 'Ferg Baker' to get some lunch. Took the road past Arthurs Point and over the Shotover River. Watched the Shotover Jet tourist jet boats, from Edith Cavell Bridge, would see them later in the day but little other tourist activity.
The Coronet Peak Road climb begins. I wouldn't be going the whole way but the climb up to the Skippers ridge is about +450m from here.
Coronet Peak Road over Dalefield with The Remarkables in the background.
Coronet Peak Road climbing, climbing, climbing, climbing...
Coronet Peak Road looking back towards Queenstown. A mountain bike shuttle passed me, taking people up for trails, down from Coronet Peak, which finish near the road turnoff. Cheats! :)
My Coronet Peak Road rest stop, view towards Arrowtown, Crown Range and Lake Hayes area.
Coronet Peak has some great summer mountain bike trails. Saw several groups riding them, but not for me today.
The Skippers Road has a bit of a reputation, even features on a 'Dangerous Roads' site. Originally built by hand to access a gold mining area it is now an attraction, rather than just a road.
"Constructed between 1883 and 1890, the Skippers Road was considered a major engineering feat in its day."
"Skippers Road, a narrow, winding, and exhilaratingly treacherous pathway that twists and turns for about 11 miles through Skippers Canyon, was carved and blasted right out of the solid rock by Chinese labourers. It took 22 years to carve out an access road using only black gunpowder and hand drills."
It's narrow, rocky and has lots of shear drops to the river with no barriers. Lots of warnings about not taking rental cars down it; most rental agreements exclude it, so you'll have no insurance.
Last chance to reconsider... No going back, it's into the canyon from here.
Skippers Pack Track
I rode the 'Pack Track' down. This historic pack track was created and used by gold miners in the 1860s. It descends ~400m in 3.5km, rated Grade 4 'Advanced' for mountain bikes.
The loose surface and cupped weathered trail earn that grading as much as the gradient. I just took it slow, again! Not a place or time to get injured with a summer of riding still ahead of me.
Looking ahead (below left) and back up (below right) the Pack Track.
Looking across to Skippers Road from the Pack Track. Would be riding the road out, a longer but steadier climb.
The track ends at a stream where the canyon flattens out, from here in I would be riding the road.
Skippers Canyon & Shotover River, a partner for the rest of the ride.
Although the road is narrow it's fine for cycling, especially in weather like this. It would be a different matter for two vehicles meeting each other, narrow, blind turns, and little to no space to pull over!
I wonder how many tonnes of rock was moved to create it. Just hope what's left stays up there, doubt a bike helmet would be much help.
You do have to be comfortable with heights, or just stay away from the edge. Little or no barrier at all in most places!
Although the Jet Boats were still running (video below right) neither of the bungy jump sites were active due to COVID and reduced visitor numbers. I only saw five vehicles, twice each as is a dead-end road, all day. I remember numerous shuttle busses to jet boats, bungy jump sites and LOTR location tours on the road back in 2003.
There is a surprising amount of climbing down in the canyon, don't think getting over the ridge is all the uphill you'll be doing.
Nice to find a bit of shade for a rest while reading the history. Used all the three litres of water I had on board, could have done with one more!
Decisions: Skippers Canyon Road it is as Branches Rd goes a further ~15km up the canyon.
Skippers Bridge was my goal for the ride. This iconic structure is often seen in NZ media of all kinds. I was watching the 2016-2018 TV series "Wanted", with Rebecca Gibney (also co-creaotor) & Geraldine Hakewill, on Netflix on this part of the trip (recommended!). Although it traverses Australia, Thailand & NZ it was amusing to see, just a few days later, one of the pivotal scenes happen at this bridge.
Lunch with a view
It's 91m down to the river from the bridge deck...
Lunch was the 'counter bar' at a little shelter overlooking the bridge. Ferg Baker's pastry was nicely warmed, just by being in the bike bag for the morning. My apples were a little bit 'stewed' too but was using both the insulated bar bags for water bottles today.
The road back
Strava missed the last 5km into Queenstown
I was only about 30km from the motel but ~1000m of climbing on the way here would be matched getting out!
Cooled off my feet and soaked my headband in this little roadside waterfall. I found using a Merino helmet liner (intended for skiing and originally purchased for Antarctica!) keeps sweat out of your eyes and can be soaked for evaporative cooling. As good in the heat as they are in the cold!
The road surface was mostly better than I expected but with no traffic concerns and a bike you can pick your lines. There are some sump-busting exposed rock sections which would challenge anything with normal ground clearance.
This is normally a bungy site, all locked up and quiet until COVID restrictions lift, and tourists return (if they do?).
If you're going to live somewhere this remote, a helicopter in the front garden seems like a wise move!
I went down to the river where the jet boats turn around. No sign of them while I was there, thought about a swim but a paddle was enough.
Amazing clouds build over the ridges, even the roadside 'weeds' look good.
Bell's Hill, downhill going out but this old photo shows the climb in better.
No welcome at the Welcome Home Hotel. A pity as was running low on water, a cold beer would have been very welcome indeed.
There's a road up there, somewhere.
Climbing on dusty light gravel in the afternoon sun, and little breeze, was hot work.
Looking back, love the lighting, the colours. Not his terrain but reminds me of Grahame Sydney.
Was glad of some shade (under roadside rock faces) on the way up.
Otago gold, but not the kind which attracted pioneers.
Skippers Canyon Road looking over to the Pack Track I biked down on the way in.
That saddle (below) is the top, not as apparent is the extra 1.5km loop to the right hiding around the second bluff.
The end of the 'hidden loop'. Stopped to soak my headband in a small stream here and a local, heading down in a battered farm ute (not a mall 'show pony'), slowed to check I was OK. When confirmed I was, he said 'but must be a bit crazy to ride up this road' :)
Last look back before heading over the saddle.
All downhill, well mostly, to Queenstown from here.
Evening shadows over Dalefield & The Remarkables
Heading back to Queenstown I used some bike path in the new housing around Arthurs Point.
Returned to the motel with the, now obligatory, Lake Whakatipu foreshore & Queenstown Gardens loop.
Never tire of the Lake Whakatipu evening view.
After a shower and change I walked back to town and continued the 'Ferg' dining theme with a 'Ferg Deluxe' burger for dinner. Only my second this visit, this trip, but the server recognised me. I think more a sign of how few customers they had, rather than anything distinctive about a burger and fries order!
A fantastic day. Although only 62km ~2000m of climbing, 3/4 on gravel, made it one of those rides you measure by effort, not distance! Worth it though!