Slip closes Skippers road for month

BROOKE GARDINER
Last updated 05:00 14/09/2012
Skippers Canyon
SKIPPERS CANYON JET

FLYING VISIT: The air space above Skippers Canyon was busier than usual as Skippers Canyon Jet and Queenstown Rafting customers were ferried into the canyon by helicopter after a slip closed the road.

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The historic Skippers road will be closed for at least a month after a huge slip wiped out a five-metre section overnight on Wednesday.

The road is closed from the slip site known as Devil's Elbow, 18 kilometres from the Coronet Peak Rd turnoff, preventing vehicle access to the historic Skippers Canyon settlement.

A proposal by the Queenstown Lakes District Council to cut a new road into a rock wall on the inside curve of the slip site could see the road reopened within four to five weeks, weather dependent, transport manager Denis Mander said.

"We are proposing that works start immediately and that we adopt a seven-day working week to bring forward the re-opening date,” Mr Mander said.

Council staff met with engineers yesterday morning to discuss repair options and had agreed the best option was to create a rock bench and rock bolt as necessary, he said.

“We did explore alternatives such as lowering the road, bridging or completely realigning road but discounted these because of a combination of engineering feasibility, cost and time to implement.

Both the consultant and contractors advising council agree the benching proposal is the right approach,” he said.

Roading contractor Downer started work at the slip site yesterday under the emergency works provision of the Resource Management Act, he said.

"One of the key dilemmas we have is what to do with the material . . . really the only option we have is to dispose of the rock into the river."

That option would require the council to get consent from the Otago Regional Council, which it hoped to do by the end of the week.

The slip affects several tourism operators and a handful of residents, who have all adopted contingency plans to continue living and operating in the Skippers area.

Skippers Canyon Jet owner Ben Hohneck said they resumed operations yesterday using helicopters to ferry customers into the canyon and had been inundated with bookings for the heli/jetboating excursion.

"Judging by the response of customers and number of people booking in, the heli-jet option is popular and we plan to continue the offer until the road is fixed," Mr Hohneck said.

Skippers Canyon Jet had absorbed some of the cost extra so passengers were getting a chopper ride in and out of the canyon for an additional $75.

"It's unbelievably cheap and the customers today have all been thrilled," he said.

Staff would continue to drive in to work using vehicles on either side of the slip, he said.

Queenstown Rafting had also turned to using helicopters and planned to do so until the road was repaired.

General manager Tim Barke said they'd had to start summer trips from Boulder Beach, which means they do not pass the slip site. Summer trips usually start from Deep Creek, which is no more than 2km up the river beyond the slip.

Other tour operators planned to continue operating in the canyon with trips stopping short of the slip until the road was repaired.

The repair proposal, which would not affect any historic stone stacked walls, is also being considered by the Historic Places Trust.

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- The Southland Times

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