Picture this: A twisting, turning, terrifyingly narrow canyon looms in front of you. You’re shooting toward it in a large red boat, going more than 80 kph. And, once you pass through the jagged canyon walls, the boat pulls a 360-degree turn in the middle of the river.
No, it’s not a scene out of an action flick — this is just another ride on the Shotover Jet.
For the past 40 years, Queenstown’s Shotover Jet has been thrilling millions of adventure seekers from around the globe.
The fleet’s big red jetboats zip up and down the Shotover River, skimming past high canyon walls, taking hair-pin turns sideways, and pulling 360-degree turns in just inches of water.
It’s just as exhilarating — and as fun — as it sounds.
What is a jetboat?
Jetboating is another one of the crazy adventure sports that was dreamed up by a New Zealander. The first jetboat was built in the mid-1950s, and, by 1970, the Shotover Jet was operating as one of Queenstown’s first commercial adventure activities.
Since then, it has grown into one of New Zealand’s most popular attractions.
Jetboats operate differently than regular motor boats, with water intake systems similar to what you find on jet skis. The first jetboat was designed without any sort of propellers so that it could navigate the shallow rivers New Zealand is known for.
The massive Shotover Jet boats can travel as fast as 85 kph in just 10 centimeters of water.
And, without propellers, the boats are able to perform their signature 360-degree spins.
The Shotover Jet is one of 4 jetboating options operating out of or near Queenstown — the others being the Kawarau Jet, the Skipper’s Canyon Jet, and the Dart River Jet. But the Shotover Jet is perhaps the most popular, because it is the only company with permission to operate in the awe-inspiring Shotover River canyons.
The Shotover Jet experience
A ride on the Shotover Jet begins with a short bus ride from downtown Queenstown out to the boat dock along the shore of the Shotover River.
You place your belongings in a locker, and are given an oversized raincoat and life vest to put on before having a photo snapped in front of the river.
Then you climb into the boat with up to 13 others.
Before you know it, you’re careening up the river, headed into the canyon. Probably screaming you head off.
Your driver — who has gone through ridiculously extensive training to pilot the big red boat — will sidle up to the canyon walls, send the boat skimming sideways around turns, and accelerate so fast it might take your breath away.
And then comes the tell-tale sign: the driver raising one finger above his head and moving it in a circular motion — it’s time for a 360-degree turn. Hold on!
This process will repeat a handful of times. You’ll cover a few miles on the river, and pass through the narrow canyon walls at least 4 times. You’ll bump over rough water, skim over sections of river where you can almost reach out and touch the bottom, and laugh with delight as the large boat spins around again and again.
The most fun you can have on the water
I’ve done plenty of water sports before — from tubing to water skiing to pulling flips off the high dive. But nothing can compare to the adrenaline rush that comes from jetboating.
My most recent ride on the Shotover Jet came just last month, as I traveled around New Zealand’s South Island on my Blog4NZ trip. It was my second time on the big red boat, but it was just as exciting — and just as memorable — as the first.
I brought a friend along, too — Jeremy of Travel Freak — and we had a blast yelling and laughing as our driver sped through the canyon and over rough bits of river. We were also blasted in the face with plenty of frigid water. By the time the ride was over (just under half an hour), our faces were about ready to fall off from the cold water and wind.
But it was so worth it.
Things to know before you go
Are you considering a jetboat ride in New Zealand? I highly recommend it. But there are some things you should know before you climb into the boat.
- You'll probably get wet. They give you oversized raincoats for a reason. With the high speeds, frequent turns and variable river conditions, water is often sent flying over and into the jetboat. And it will probably be cold. This is also why it's best to leave all your valuables behind in a locker. There's nothing worse than a wet camera that isn't supposed to get wet.
- Leave the hat on shore. Don't wear anything — be it a hat or glasses — that might get blown off your head when the wind is whipping past. The boat will move FAST, and the guy sitting behind you doesn't really want your sunglasses attacking his face halfway through a 360-degree turn.
- Dress warm. Jetboat rides operate year-round, often in very chilly weather. It's likely to be cooler in the canyon, too, and even colder when you're zipping through it at more than 80 kph. While the handrail in front of your seat is heated, gloves aren't a bad idea.
- Sit on the driver's side. This may not be true of all drivers, but both times I've ridden on the Shotover Jet, those sitting on the driver's side of the boat seemed to get closer to the canyon walls than those of us on the other side. If you want your jetboat ride to be as thrilling as possible, sit on the left side of the boat.
And, in case you're wondering what the view is like from inside the boat, check this video out (which I may or may not have taken illegally…):
So would I recommend the Shotover Jet to visitors to Queenstown? Umm, hell yes.
The Shotover Jet is the most expensive jetboat in Queenstown (with tickets costing $149 NZD), but I'd say it's totally worth it.
Have you ever been jetboating? Tell me about it! If not, is it something you'd pay to do while traveling?
Disclaimer: I received 2 complimentary passes for the Shotover Jet as part of my Blog4NZ prize package. But I've paid for it before, and I'd pay for it again. As always, all opinions are my own.
All photos and videos (except the last one) provided by the Shotover Jet.