A River Journey.

Posted on March 09, 2013

A morning or an afternoon on one of Sue & Brent's Jet boats is literally a thrill from every angle, especially when you make 360 degree spins!

After being collected by Sue from the lodge car park we headed into the breathtaking Matukituki valley by road. The drive ended by being dropped off at the river edge to be met by Brent the operations manager and James our driver of the jetboat today.

After hearing a little “safety is paramount” brief, we embarked on what was a truly eye opening experience. Within seconds of hitting the throttle we were aquaplaning over only 3-5cm depth of water up to 80kph at times! The boat is powered by a Hamilton Jet originally designed here in New Zealand over 50 years ago.

 We had covered a vast distance in minutes, weaving through a course where only the river dictated. For James our pilot, slowing down gently to a stop was rarely an option, he had to throw us into a 270-360 degree spin in tight little pools for an effect – That of which it made! He did however give us warning before committing to such stunts by throwing his hand in the air and mimicking a spin motion. That said, as much as the warning was appreciated, it was still a white knuckle moment.

Calm and collected, James stands up once we have settled down and wiped the spray from our sun glasses and introduces the incredible setting we have just darted into.

We are at the confluence of the east and west branches of the Matukituki river. A stunning sight with overhanging ancient beech trees over the turquoise water and in the distance glaciers hanging tentatively on the mountains.

We hear of the Maori people that settled here and why, we hear of how this incredible valley was formed by giant glaciers that covered even the very mountain tops that we could see today, and we’re told to imagine that the valley floor is actually 300m below us as the river we are sitting in has eroded the surrounding hill sides to fill it in. All of a sudden, the picture painted for us by James sinks in and there’s a silence of awe through the passengers on the boat.

We jetted off again upstream into the ever shrinking west branch to the original settlement of the first generation of the Aspinal’s, the farmers that still to this day work this unforgiving land albeit several generations later raising cattle, deer and sheep. A difficult life to say the least.

Back down to the confluence and this time a sharp turn into the even smaller east branch. The boulders got bigger and the river smaller, I hasten to add we did not slow down though. Sometimes the river seemed not much wider than the boat itself where we now had to stop gently as there was not enough space for one of James’ whirly stunts.

Parked up, we hopped off the boat straight into a solid wall of rainforest with a gentle path leading in. James mentions the trees we are walking through can be up to 300 years old, some that are fat having been fortunate enough to be in good soil and some that are growning on plates of rock under an inch of moss that even after 300 years of growth they are still only as wide as a gutter pipe.

Our little nature walk opened up to a lookout point over a beautiful deep pool. Fish below us darted around, the sounds of the bell birds around us and a moment to reflect on what has stayed the same for thousands of years. A magnificent waterfall cascading down and then trickling by our conveniently placed stepping stones to keep our feet dry, provided more fodder for the never satisfied camera shutter fingers amongst us.

A marvel of a glacier sat what seemed just in front of us but was revealed to be over 7km away. The Avalanche Glacier at 2.5km above sea level measuring 3 km wide and 1 km deep and a roaring waterfall beneath it. What a speechless sight.

Thoroughly in awe, we all got back on the trusty jet boat and zoomed downstream faster than before to our finishing point all but a kilometre away from the mouth of the river and the lake. Lord of the Rings country around us and recited stories from James of Minas Tirith the capitol of Gondor, Sir Peter Jackson’s chosen sites for the ever successful movies now carried further by The Hobbit.

All of a sudden 4 hours had gone, to my surprise we were completely dry and very satisfied with an incredible journey. We got back to the lodge to sort through the several hundred photographs taken and absorb the rest of the day.

If you have half a day free here at Whare Kea Lodge - Wanaka River Journeys is a MUST for local history, environment, custodian pride and pure adrenalin!

Click here for more info of jet boating in the area.