It may well be the warmest start to winter for many years, but you wouldn’t know it in Skippers Canyon. It’s 15 minutes drive from bustling Queenstown but it’s a wild and forbidding world where the forces of nature are writ large.
Accessed by a narrow road – not for the faint hearted – that winds around and clings to rocky crags, with precipitous drops below, you see around you uplifted strata and sawtooth ridges. Only the hardiest plants – alpine tussock and introduced pine, cling to the rocky soil.
The road, cut by hand over a century ago follows the canyon down to the valley of the Shotover River, a slash of bright blue meandering far below, through it’s own ravine.
We went there twice last week for photo tours. Climbing the Coronet Peak Road out of Queenstown at dawn and turning off at Skippers Saddle we looked back to watch as the Remarkables range was lit by the rising sun. Signs warn of the dangers ahead for unprepared drivers.
Over the ridge the temperature dropped. It was was minus five most of the way and what would have been a muddy, rutted and slippery track was frozen solid and dry. Hoarfrost sparkled on leaves and branches and glowed ethereally through distant trees.
For the photographer, this is a dream. Here geological history is laid bare. Diagonal layers of rock point to the sky. Glacial terraces, flat as football fields, are cut through by the mountain river. Patterns are everywhere.