Russell Blackstock is a senior reporter at the Weekend Herald and Herald on Sunday.

Skippers Canyon Road label as dangerous is 'absolute nonsense'

Skippers Canyon Road was ranked in the top three most dangerous in the world. Photo / Dean Purcell
Skippers Canyon Road was ranked in the top three most dangerous in the world. Photo / Dean Purcell

Queenstown Tour operator David Gatward-Ferguson is a 20-year-plus veteran of driving Skippers Canyon Road.

Mr Gatward-Ferguson insisted the route being listed as the third most dangerous was "absolute nonsense".

The stretch of road in the South Island is the third most dangerous in the world, according to an international watchdog website.

"I can't even remember the last time there was a significant accident," he said.

"Human nature means that when there is a perceived danger they will take more care and drive slowly, which is what happens at Skippers Canyon."

Mr Gatward-Ferguson is manager of Nomad Tours which takes about 5000 visitors on trips to the canyon each year in four-wheel-drive vehicles.

"We drive everyone from kids to pensioners and they find it scenic and exciting. The only people who tend to have a problem are those with a real fear of heights.

"I even once drove Prime Minister Helen Clark into Skippers Canyon when she was the Prime Minister and while she was filming a documentary. She loved it so much she ended up taking over doing the commentary."

Mr Gatward-Ferguson said sheep and cattle on the track used to be a problem but that hazard had diminished in recent years.

"When we are interviewing people who apply for jobs as drivers we take them along the road till they meet someone coming the other way and ask them to back up into a passing place.

"If they can't do it, they don't get the job."

He added: "Skippers Canyon Road is wider and a lot better maintained than it used to be so it is not as tricky as it was when I started out."

Website dangerousroads.org - which searches for the world's most dangerous routes - labelled Skippers Canyon Rd, 25 minutes from Queenstown in the Mt Aurum Recreation Reserve, as "unbelievably scary as it's totally narrow and difficult to manoeuvre your car".

Watch a video of driving through the canyon

The gravel road is predominantly used by tour buses and commercial tourism operators of activities such as jet boating.

However, the website warns visitors the route is so dangerous that "your rental car insurance won't be honoured if you drive on it".

It went on to say: "This gravel road, with a length of 16.5 miles (26.5km), carved by hand by miners over 140 years ago, is made from a very narrow cut in the middle of a sheer cliff face."

The gravel road is predominantly used by tour buses and commercial tourism operators for activities such as jet boating. Photo / Dean Purcell
The gravel road is predominantly used by tour buses and commercial tourism operators for activities such as jet boating. Photo / Dean Purcell

While Skippers Canyon was ranked in the top three most dangerous, it pales alongside the top two listings.

A highway to hell in Turkey which has taken a toll of numerous lives in recent years is named as number one.

The D915 Bayburt Road is 170km long with 29 dangerous hairpin bends and no railings to prevent cars plunging over the edges. It is located in the foothills of the towering Soganli Mountain and was built by Russian soldiers in 1916.

The view of a 4wd driving down the narrow road. Photo / Dean Purcell
The view of a 4wd driving down the narrow road. Photo / Dean Purcell

Parts of the road are closed in winter due to snow, blizzards and ice.

Number two on the list is India's Keylong-Kishtwar Road. Vehicles are constantly twisting along this high mountain trail which has mind-numbing vertical drops.

Mike Noon, Automobile Association general manager of motoring affairs, said it was not a surprise Skippers Canyon Road was on the list of most dangerous roads.

"I have been on it before on a tour van but would not choose to drive it myself," he said.

Some corners had been strengthened underneath by stones to hold the road to the cliff and the route should not be tackled by inexperienced drivers, he cautioned.

"It has spectacular views but it is a pretty hairy stretch, especially on the corners."

OTHER DANGEROUS ROADS LISTED:


4. France-Italy border (in the Alps) - La piste de l'Amitie
5. Bolivia - Death Road
6. Pakistan - Fairy Meadows Road
7. Siberia - BAM road
8. Northern Peru - Ruta 3N
9. Iceland - Route 622

- NZ Herald

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