Queenstown and Jet Boating: a match made in heaven

When the first jet boat appeared on the Shotover River in 1965, a tourism institution was born. Today, Queenstown and Glenorchy’s shallow, braided rivers flanked by untouched wilderness are considered jet boating paradise. And with an endless stream of visitors on the hunt for thrills, it’s no wonder that our town is the place to go for world-class jet boating.

So the real question is, which jet boat trip to choose. Queenstown and Glenorchy boast five jet boat operators offering everything from short, sharp thrills to long, scenic splendour. There are two jet boat operators in Lake Wakatipu, one in Glenorchy, one in the stunning Skippers Canyon and a rather famous red one on the Shotover River. So, how did all these jet boating fanatics appear?


Bill Hamilton was the inventor of the Hamilton Jet boat

Thanks to an innovative South Islander named Bill Hamilton, Kiwis can proudly claim the jet boat as a home-grown invention. Bill Hamilton grew up on Ashwick Station, near the Canterbury town of Fairlie. As a boy, Bill dreamed of a boat that would allow him to travel up the swift, shallow rivers around the family property. Driven by this desire, Bill began working on a water jet system that he could incorporate into a boat. Thanks to his sharp engineering acumen and innovative mind, Bill was able to roll out the first jet boat in 1954. His invention would go on to revolutionise conventional boating, and the Hamilton Jet company is today considered the leader in waterjet propulsion technology.

Kiwi ingenuity

The innovation of a jet boat lies in the inboard motor that sucks water from under the boat and propels it out the back of the jet unit to provide thrust. Traditional propeller-driven boats require deep water or else they become stuck in shallow waterways. Hamilton’s jet boat enabled him to avoid this problem and today’s jet boats can operate in around 8cm (3 inches) of water.

Yes, the clever technology incorporated into jet units has lent itself to endless commercial applications but what we really care about is the fun factor. Jet boats are designed for fun and thrills, and the impressive manoeuvrability of these high-powered beasts allows you to experience 360-degree spins, travel up impossibly shallow rivers and access locations you would not be able to by any other means of transport.



Skippers Canyon Jet may not boast the high profile of the Shotover Jet, but that doesn’t mean this experience is any less impressive. Skippers Canyon Jet operates further up the Shotover River in the sublime Skippers Canyon. The experience takes around 3 hours all up and begins with a hair-raising 45-minute 4WD trip along the Skippers Road followed by a 30-minute jet boat ride. Expect stunningly beautiful scenery within the canyon, thrills, shallow water and 360-degree spins.

What’s good about it?

Skippers Canyon Jet gives you access to one of New Zealand’s most iconic landscapes. The Skippers Canyon is intrinsically linked to the gold mining history of the region, and the 4WD journey gives you a glimpse into this fascinating history. The road is carved into the sheer canyon walls high above the river and provides an experience that may feel like more of a thrill than the jet boat trip!


Kawarau Jet racing across Lake Wakatipu

The big yellow Kawarau Jets are easy to spot at the main town pier. The Kawarau Jet experience takes an hour and will shoot you off at speeds of 85 km/hr along Lake Wakatipu, the Kawarau River and the Shotover River. Kawarau Jet is perfect if you’re short on time but still want to experience some thrills and sightseeing.

What’s good about it?

The Kawarau Jet gives you the opportunity to experience jet boating two rivers and Lake Wakatipu in one experience. The deep waters of Lake Wakatipu and Kawarau River provide plenty of room for speed, while the Shotover River is where the thrills and spins happen.


Shotover Jet is Queenstown’s original jet boat operator, and the experience shows in everything this slick operation does. The Shotover Jet experience begins on the Shotover River at Arthur’s Point and takes you through the dramatic Shotover Canyons. This ride is all about the thrills, and you can expect plenty of 360-degree spins and close calls up against the jagged walls of the narrow canyon. At 25 minutes, this is the shortest of the jet boat experiences, but what they lack in duration, they make up for in thrills. Shotover Jet will have you flying along at 85km/hr at some points.

What’s good about it?

Apart from being an adrenaline junkie’s dream come true, the Shotover Jet gives you unique access to some truly spectacular scenery. Shotover Jet is the only company allowed to operate in the dramatic Shotover Canyon.


Dart River Wilderness Jet offers something completely different to the other experiences. The boat journey begins in Glenorchy, the stunningly beautiful lakeside township 45 minutes from Queenstown. The experience includes transfers to and from Queenstown, or you can drive the unforgettable journey along the Glenorchy Road yourself. Dart River Wilderness Jet allows you to experience the splendour of Glenorchy, Mt Aspiring National Park and the Rees and Dart Rivers in one morning or afternoon. The trip combines a 1-hour jet boat experience with a short bush walk and backcountry transfer. The experience is unique as you will experience the high-speed thrills and 360-degree spins of the jet boating as well as an immersive experience in the backcountry. The return trip from Glenorchy takes 3 hours and includes a soup and coffee stop.

What’s good about it?

The Dart and Rees rivers are pretty much the perfect jet boating rivers. On this trip, you enter the stunning Te Waipounamu World Heritage Area, an area that is inaccessible except by foot.


Departing from the main pier in Queenstown, Thunder Jet offers a similar experience to Kawarau Jet. The difference between the two is that Kawarau Jet branches into the Shotover River and Thunder Jet skips the Shotover River and carries on further along the Kawarau River to the Kawarau Bridge. The whole experience takes an hour and delivers full-on fun, thrills and spins in the 820-horsepower jet boats.

What’s good about it?

Thunder Jet looks the part. Painted in bright yellow, orange and black with flames across the bow, Thunder Jet is sure to impress kids and big kids alike.