After moving on from Waitomo and Rotorua our next stop was the picturesque Lake Taupo – but we didn’t have a relaxing afternoon of fishing in mind…
…Instead, we would be hurtling down a narrow canyon at 85 kilometres per hour on New Zealand’s only white water jet boat ride!
Jet boating is a true New Zealand pastime. Invented here by a farmer in 1953, these boats have no propellers – instead they work by sucking up water through a hole in the bottom of the boat and pushing it out through the back – propelling you along the water like a skimming stone. It means they can shoot across very shallow and fast flowing water very quickly.
There are many places to take a jet boat ride in New Zealand, but we wanted to try it out on the Nga Awa Purua rapids in the beautiful Aratiatia Scenic Reserve – just downstream from the Huka Falls.
The first thing we noticed about the boat was how small and narrow it was. “Streamlined for speed” said our driver, Russell, cheerfully. The next thing we noticed was the noise it made when it was fired up and revving away – it sounded like a hells angel party on steroids!
To start with, Russell expertly steered us all the way up the river to a dam before spinning us around 180 degrees and blasting us back down towards the rapids. He did say he would warn us every time he was planning a sharp turn, but with so much to take in around me I didn’t always notice the hand signals and was flung into Dale on more than one occasion!
As we tore down the river at break-neck speed, Russell would veer and twist the boat to narrowly avoid rocks with skilful jerks of the steering wheel. But that didn’t stop my stomach jumping up into my chest when I saw what we were careering towards – a huge and narrow canyon. I couldn’t help but draw a sharp intake of breath as we squeezed through the canyon with no sign of slowing down – passing the rocky walls with what looked like inches to spare.
We came flying out of the canyon and bounced over the rapids with the wind and the water whipping our faces. At times the boat was actually leaving the water by about a metre and then slamming back down again with an almighty thud. I felt like a rag doll being thrown around and could not stop giggling.
After 35 minutes of this, we shakily stepped off the jet boat with jelly-legs and huge grins on our faces. I can see why jet boating is such a Kiwi favourite.