Queenstown: The ultimate adrenaline rush

By Shandelle Battersby

The Shotover Jet is as good as it gets for thrillseekers, finds Shandelle Battersby.
The Shotover Jet heads for Edith Cavell Bridge, just out of Queenstown. Photo / Supplied
The Shotover Jet heads for Edith Cavell Bridge, just out of Queenstown. Photo / Supplied

If cuss words uttered per second won you a prize for "most exhilarated passenger", then any of the three blokes sitting behind us on Queenstown's famous Shotover Jet would be winning, hands down.

Yep, the three lads from England had looked pretty chipper when we took their photo before they got on the twin V8-powered jetboat, but as the thrilling ride through the narrow Shotover River Canyons went on, they started to sound more and more terrified and the swear words started to fly.

But afterwards, the trio, like all 12 of us (maximum 14) who'd roared up and down the river at 85km/h with driver Joseph Coutts for 25 minutes, were grinning like idiots from the sheer adrenaline rush of it all.

Coutts' deft manoeuvring of the boat saw us executing multiple 360-degree turns with the utmost precision in as little as 10cm of water, and coming within centimetres of the canyon's walls and rocky outcrops. Occasionally we had to bang our way over the odd rapid.

For adventure seekers, this is as good as it gets.

Back on land, the sight of the bright-red boats twisting and turning in the ice-blue river, with towering schist canyons and bright yellow gorse-covered hills as a backdrop, is so spectacular that it's hard to tear your eyes away.

A ride on the Shotover, which last year celebrated its 50th birthday, is as Kiwi as jandals and hokey-pokey icecream and is almost a rite of passage for New Zealanders.

Its remarkable history is long and rich, beginning soon after the invention of the jet unit by pioneering Kiwi inventor Bill Hamilton in the 1950s, when Harold and Alan Melhop started operating a Hamilton Jet 30 on the river as the "Red Hull Queenstown Taxi" to raise money for Christian Youth Camps.

Operations commenced as the "Shotover Jet" a few years later in 1965, making it one of the area's first adventure activities.

The story goes that the journey changed from a "sightseeing adventure" to its current incarnation after Trevor Gamble took over in the 70s.

Gamble had pulled back on the thrills after getting a few complaints, but changed his mind after being told by a lady in her 70s that the ride had become "boring" and she wanted her money back.

After that feedback, he decided to go as close to the sides as possible. I can report firsthand that his legacy continues.

These days, the fleet, now owned and operated entirely by Ngai Tahu Tourism, is made up of seven boats, and passenger numbers are over the 3 million mark.

Its most famous passengers to date are the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who went for a hoon during their 2014 royal visit.

The pair were braver than William's granny, the Queen, who was content to watch from the sidelines when she visited the attraction in 1990.

She should have taken a leaf out of the book of the elderly lady whose comment to Trevor Gamble made the Shotover Jet what it is today.

Checklist: Queenstown

Getting there: Jetstar and Air New Zealand fly from Auckland to Queenstown severl times a day.

Details: A ride on the Shotover Jet costs $135 for adults, $75 for children. Family passes are available.

- NZ Herald

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