New Zealand, home of the world’s best Jet Boat rides
There are a few important things you should know before travelling to New Zealand:
- When referring to footwear, ‘flip flops’, ‘sandals’ or ‘thongs’ do not exist. ‘Jandals’ however can be found on feet on any beach or high street in New Zealand.
- Don’t mention the 2007 rugby world cup.
- Kiwis LOVE jet boats, and you should too!
NZ has a long history with the jet boat and is a world leader in the field of awesome jet boat rides. You’ll find them hurtling down rivers and lakes all over NZ, and we strongly recommend booking yourself in on one of the many options on either North or South Island. Here are some of our favourites!
Shotover Jet, Queenstown
The legend. New Zealand’s first jetboat tour operator, Shotover Jet have been operating for over 40 years. Along the way they’ve served up thrills to over 4 million people. Located on the Shotover river in Queenstown, the Shotover Jet is a wild ride, known for high speeds and 360-degree spins. Shotover Jet have sole use of the Shotover canyon section of the river, giving them full mastery of every inch of the water you’ll travel on —which is a good thing, as these boats operate in as little as 10 centimetres of water! The twin-V8 engines of ‘big red’ provide a booming soundtrack which bounces off the walls of the canyon as you tear through at up speeds of to 90 km/h, skimming past boulders and rocky outcrops with expert ease. You’re also treated to some beautiful scenery with idyllic farmland paddocks and quiet pebble-lined bays. You might even see a sheep or two grazing up on the river banks. If you’re wondering whether you’ll get wet… it’s a strong possibility—but that’s part of the fun, right? If you’ve treated yourself to a new hairdo or simply prefer to stay dry, the best option would be to grab a seat closest to the centre of the boat.
Each 25-minute journey is immortalised via video cameras mounted on the boat, with videos available for purchase after every ride. Allow around 90 minutes total to ride the Shotover Jet including return travel time from Queenstown. An unmissable experience for anyone visiting the region. To learn more and book your Shotover Jet experience, click here.
Dart River Wilderness Jetboat Safari, Glenorchy (Queenstown)
You won’t see any lions or tigers on this safari, but you will definitely discover some of the world’s most beautiful scenery. The Dart River Wilderness Jet departs from Glenorchy, at the far end of Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu. But this is no short blast down-stream, it’s a full wilderness adventure navigating through braided, glacier-fed rivers, across lakes and deep into the heartland of Mt. Aspiring National Park. Your expert guide deepens the experience with commentary on the trees and wildlife of the area, ancient Māori legends and the stunning scenery as you pass through.
As this is a half-day trip, you can enjoy the chance to tie up the jet boat and explore the ancient beech forests that were used extensively as filming locations for the Lord of the Rings movies. The landscape is breathtaking, with rugged mountains towering over picturesque grass flats and babbling creeks and rivers. As part of your itinerary, a 4WD coach ride takes you through even more filming locations found in the Narnia and Lord of the Rings movies. And to cap it off, you can see the best of Lake Wakatipu on the drive in and out, it’s around a one-hour drive including photo stops.
Allow 6 hours for the full experience plus return travel from Queenstown. Follow the link to learn more about the Dart River Wilderness Safari.
Wanaka River Journeys, Wanaka
It’s an age-old question in New Zealand… which is more beautiful, Queenstown or Wanaka? Well, we’ve thought about it a lot and we still can’t decide. Some decisions just aren’t meant to be made. We can say for sure that a fantastic way to see either place is from the seat of a V8-powered jet boat, howling across their beautiful lakes and rivers. On your Wanaka River Journey, you’ll head up the crystal-clear waters of the Matukituki river towards Mt. Aspiring on a half-day wilderness cruise and walk. Your experienced driver takes you skimming across the glacier-fed waters, drifting into long, arcing turns and across shallow braids in the river. Grins and gasps are guaranteed, and as you pause in the tranquillity of the deep pools you’ll learn the history of the region and its glaciers. As you venture deeper into the heart of the mountainous country, leave the boat behind and make your way onshore for a walk through the forests of McGill’s Creek or up towards Avalanche Glacier. Lord of the Rings fans will instantly feel at home in this countryside.
Allow around 4 hours for the whole trip, leaving plenty of time before and after to explore the alpine paradise that is Wanaka. Given enough time, you might be able to decide if you prefer it to Queenstown. Don’t bet on it though.
Follow the link for more information on the Wanaka Jet Boat & Wilderness Walk Tour.
Fiordland Jet, Fiordland
Ask a kiwi what they know about Fiordland and they’ll likely give you a reply mentioning Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound. You might now hear the words ‘jet boat’. But that’s changing thanks to the amazing jet boat experiences offered by Fiordland Jet. They have an impressive range of tour options that cover the Waiau River, Lake Manapouri and the Kepler Track with more than just jet boating—there are helicopter rides and guided walks on offer too. These are two of our favourite picks from their range.
A jet boat up the Waiau river begins your adventure—you might recognise it as the great Anduin River from the Lord of the Rings movies. Your guide will ensure you keep an eye out for some trout along the way, as well as pointing out some of the unique flora and fauna of the area. Arriving on Lake Manapouri is an epic moment, where you’ll find yourself gazing in awe at the huge mountain ranges and ancient forests all around.
Twin Lakes Heli Jet
Take to the skies for the best view of Fiordland as you make your way up the Waiau river via jet boat, before boarding a helicopter on the shores of Lake Manapouri. Your flight takes you over Lake Te Anau to the peak of the Kepler Mountain Ranges which offer perhaps the most stunning view anywhere in Fiordland—cameras essential.
Huka Falls Jet, Taupo
Huka Falls Jet offer the biggest thrills in Taupo, the North Island’s home of adventure. They have a fleet of state-of-the-art jet boats and experienced drivers operating all year round with one goal: making unforgettable memories! Your driver takes the boat screaming down the Waikato River at over 80 km/h, sliding past boulders and trees on your way to Huka Falls, one of NZ’s most photographed places. Brace yourself for the 360-degree turn, guaranteed to leave your heart pumping and grinning from ear to ear. Some passengers liken the Huka Falls experience to a ’20-minute roller coaster on water’. Keep an eye out for clouds of steam rising from the hot streams which feed into the Waikato river, the Wairakei geothermal power station and Aratiaia Dam.
Huka means ‘foam’ in Māori, which is fitting for the huge volumes of water that come tumbling over the 11-metre cliff at Huka Falls, with water flows of up to 160 cubic metres per second. The falls are also known for their distinctive bright blue colour at their base, caused by the clear waters and mass of bubbles reflecting the natural light above.
As a short trip, the Huka Falls Jet leaves you plenty of time to explore the countless things to do in Taupo, famous for its golf resorts, walking tours, skydiving, fishing and bungy jumping. As well as being New Zealand’s largest lake, Taupo is one of NZ’s outdoor adventure hotspots.
Katoa Jet, Rotorua
Rotorua is best known as NZ’s geothermal wonderland and a cornerstone of Māori culture, but it’s also home to adrenaline rushes thanks to the Katoa Jet! Get your fix in just 30 minutes with a white-knuckle ride across Lake Rotorua. Your experienced driver will guide the V8-powered boat expertly through spins and curves, and pedal-to-the-metal, you’ll be roaring across the lake at over 80 km/h.
Landmarks to keep an eye out for on your journey include Kawaha Point, Mokoia Island and Sulphur Bay. You can explore Mokoia Island on your jet boat ride for additional cost, where a guided walk on the island takes less than an hour and introduces you to a secluded bird-lover’s paradise. Mokoia Island is home to rare breeding pairs of kiwis, North Island Saddlebacks and native Robins. For the maximum adrenaline rush, you have to try the Skyjet option. After taking the jet boat ride, strap into a parasail for a towed ride-in-the-sky. At 400ft high, you’ll got a 360-degree view over Rotorua and beyond! For more information on the Katoa Jet (formerly Kawarau Jet), click here.
History of Jet Boating in New Zealand
New Zealand is the birthplace of the jet boat, where it was first designed by kiwi farmer-turned-engineer Sir Bill Hamilton in the 1950s. After establishing a manufacturing business, Hamilton set out to solve the unique problems faced by recreational boat users in New Zealand.
Traditional propeller boats were not suitable for navigating the rivers of New Zealand, which are often shallow and fast-flowing. Their propellers would often strike rocks in the shallow water or get stuck in the mud on the river bottom. Hamilton saw a solution in the use of water jet propulsion and developed his own unique design. His design used an internal impeller which drew water in, sped it up and then shot a jet of water out of the back on the waterline. And like that, the jet boat was born!
In 1960, Hamilton took a fleet of three boats equipped with his water jet units to the United States, where despite a sceptical response from local media, his crew successfully completed a world first by navigating all three boats up the Colorado river up and through the Grand Canyon. It was in the late 1960s and early 1970s that some kiwi entrepreneurs started to design and run jet boats for commercial use on the rivers near Queenstown, and thus was born the legendary Shotover Jet. Since then, the Shotover Jet has become a New Zealand icon and inspired jet boating operators all over New Zealand and beyond.
Are you ready for the best boat ride of your life? Ask us about our range of jet boat tours today!
Do you have a boating story? Let us know in the comments below 👇