Imagine Formula 1 on water, in a deep ravine with big rocks and rapids. Jet-boating around Queenstown is all about adrenalin, and fun.
Local rivers like the Shotover and the Kawarau are gnarly, twisting waterways that slalom through high-sided gorges and past huge rocks. The surrounding country is arid and sparse, brown and parched in summer. In winter it is often frozen, with snow on the nearby peaks and the occasional fall down to water level. Jet-boating gives you an easy way to access this terrain, if you can spare time to watch the scenery as you hurtle past. Having said that it’s also an excellent family outing and guaranteed to dispel most of the latent energy children build while they’re travelling.
Modern jet-boats were invented in New Zealand in the 1950s to access the shallow braided rivers of the South Island high country, where conventional propellor-driven craft would inevitably hit the bottom. Founder, Bill Hamilton, developed the concept from the hydro-jet, and was the first person to take a boat right through the Grand Canyon in the USA, doing it first upstream and then down.
This versatility allows jet-boats to careen through the Queenstown river gorges and canyons, powering through deep still pools, rugged rapids and ankle-deep shingle beds with ease. Passengers are strapped in and given life jackets; but take a rain jacket if you want to stay dry. The seats in the centre of the boat are the driest. Kids can travel from a young age but need to be a metre tall when standing to qualify.
There are several companies to travel with. KJet was the original company to launch back in 1960, running the lower rivers and part of Lake Wakatipu. Shotover Jet started 10 years later, having taken over 3 million people for a ride so far. They ride the higher reaches of the Shotover River canyons – it’s a blast. The boats are only permitted on certain sections of the rivers to maintain safety and rule out the chance of collision.
You can drive your Queenstown Airport car rental to the river-based launch area if you wish, or join the shuttles that run from Queenstown. KJet leaves from the wharf in Queenstown. Trips run all year unless the water levels are too high due to flooding.