Skippers Canyon road is located just a short drive from Queenstown. I was fortunate enough, along with my eight year old daughter Violet, as well as a friend of mine to embark on a Photo Safari with legendary photographer Jackie Ranken. Jackie is Violets hero, after Violet studied her for a school project. Jackie and Violet have been corresponding now and then ever since. Violet is more creative than sporty by nature,so its great for her to have such a strong, successful creative role model in Jackie. We need to show our daughters more women like this to aspire to, positive women successful through hard work and perseverance - whether that is in the sports field , science or the arts. More Jackie Rankens, Sophie Pascoes and Rita Angus' , and less Kim Kardashians. But that's a topic for another post.
Skippers Canyon road is narrow, windy and unforgiving. It is also strikingly beautiful : the road is flanked by jagged rocky outcrops and mountains, with the Shotover River winding through the canyon far below. Wilding Pines, once threatening to overtake the landscape, have been sprayed and now stand dead and eerie. Their soft grey branches contrast with the rugged landscape around them. The road is surprisingly busy, and at times Jackie has to back to a suitable place to let another vehicle past. She handles this with considerable skill. This road is rated the third most dangerous in the world, but all the drivers we met were considerate and sensible. At no time did I feel worried, even though we did spot a four wheel drive over a bank at one point, left from a not so recent accident, teetering like warning. The road requires alertness for sure, but then so does any.
We stop at various times to photograph the landscape. Jackie is an absolute wealth of knowledge with a gentle and patient teaching style. We are encouraged to get creative and break some rules. There are interesting spots along the way, little icons in their own right: Maori Point, Castle Rock, and the infamous Hells Gate - where the road passes between sheer rock, with millimeters to spare. The whole road is an engineering marvel, testament to the skill and bravery of the contractors who built it in the late 1800s to allow access to miners during the Gold Rush. We pass over Skippers Canyon Bridge, a later addition built in 1898 to replace the original much lower bridge which was flood-prone.
We end up at Skippers Point, well kept monument to much harder times. Once a busy little town fed by the Gold Rush, all that remains is Skippers School and Mount Aurum Station Homestead. Although now abandoned, the grounds are immaculately kept and the school house retains the desks and pews of students of a by gone era. There is a stillness and peace here, disturbed only by very persistent mosquitoes. It hard to believe this quiet place once was a bustling little village, with no less than six hotels. We head back at around five pm. This is not a road that would be enjoyable in the dark.
I come away from this having learned a lot under Jackies guidance, and a fresh appreciation for our stunning, moody New Zealand landscapes that manages to be so stunningly beautiful and wildly unforgiving in equal measures. If you ever get the chance to go on a Photo Safari with Jackie, I would highly recommend it. Nothing makes you appreciate the details and the moment better than photography, and there would be no better teacher in this instance than Jackie Ranken whose local knowledge and photographic skill make her a perfect teacher and guide. You can check out her website here:
http://www.qccp.co.nz/ or www.photosafari.co.nz
Jackie runs the Queenstown Centre for Creative Photography with her husband, also one of New Zealands top Photographers, Mike Langford.
Jackie gives Violet photography advice
Skippers Canyon Bridge
Violet and Jackie Ranken