Shotover Jet hits half century milestone

The Shotover Jet, one of New Zealand's most iconic tourism experiences, will turn 50 in November.

In November 2015 one of New Zealand’s most iconic tourism experiences will celebrate 50 years of operation.

The world famous Shotover Jet commenced operations on the upper Shotover River in 1965 and was one of Queenstown’s first adventure activities. 

Helping to put New Zealand on the global tourism map, the Shotover Jet plans to celebrate its half century with special deals and some quirky nods to the operator’s history.

From November 2 the ‘big red’ boats’ captains will don collared white shirts, black ties and a captain’s hat as a nod to the uniforms of the sixties and seventies. Any visitor who shares the same age as the Shotover Jet during the month of November will travel for free. 

An official acknowledgement will take place on 13 November with invited guests – including the local iwi / Māori tribe, community, local and national government, staff and owners gathering to celebrate the significant achievement.

Shotover Jet operates on an exclusive area of the Shotover River and is the only company permitted to operate within its spectacular canyons, carved out over the ages by a vast volume of fast flowing water from the Southern Alps. The very grandeur of this spectacular environment, less than 10 minutes’ drive from Queenstown, combined with the iconic ‘Big Red’ boats that travel at speeds of up to 85kmh in as little as 10 cm of water adds to the excitement and exclusivity of the Shotover Jet experience.

Over the years many famous faces have boarded the jet boats and ventured up the Shotover River. Prince William and Kate Middleton took the trip on their last visit in 2014. Actors Ryan Reynolds, Hugh Jackman and Brooke Shields, country music legend Kenny Rogers and New Zealand’s own Sir Peter Jackson are among other celebrities who have upped their adrenalin levels on the Shotover Jet.

From the beginning

In 1954 New Zealander William Hamilton developed a revolutionary new style of boating - the world’s first propellerless boat. Since then, the Hamilton Jet has been the means to explore and access waterways all over the world.

Soon after the invention the Melhop Brothers started another world first – commercial jet boating on the Shotover River. In 1965 Shotover Jet began operating when they opened a complementary jet boat service through the Shotover River canyons. The small wooden boat seated up to five passengers and in its first year of operation carried 1,480 people up the river.

In 1993 Shotover Jet was received the New Zealand Tourism Supreme Award and also the Best Visitor Attraction Award. The awards judges said that Shotover Jet had come to “epitomise adventure and action tourism in New Zealand …today the red Jet Boats are an international icon of tourism in New Zealand”.

From its humble beginnings the Shotover Jet has gone from strength to strength and in 2003 carried its 2 millionth passenger. Just eight years later in 2011 rider no.3 million jetted through the canyons. 

Shotover Jet Fast Facts

  • Boats carry 14 passengers and one driver
  • Known as ‘The World’s Most Exciting Jet Boat Ride’ 
  • The famous ‘Big Red’ boats travel at speeds of up to 85kmh (53mph) in as little as 10cm (4 inches) of water 
  • Boats are specifically designed to handle the Shotover River Canyons and each generates up to a 660hp from two 5.8 litre Mercruiser V8 engines 
  • Each of the two Hamilton jet units expels 350 litres of water per second to power the boats 
  • Highly-trained professional drivers know the boats and river like the back of their hand – each undergoes a minimum of 120 hours rigorous training (over double the industry requirement) before carrying their first passenger 
  • The Queen visited Shotover Jet in 1990 but unlike her more adventurous grandson she did not take a boat trip 
  • The original Māori name for the Shotover River is ‘Kimi-akau’ meaning “searching for the coast” – perhaps a reference to it being used as a trail to the West Coast to find pounamu (New Zealand greenstone) 
  • The river was named Shotover by William Rees, the first European to settle on the shores of Lake Whakatipu (Whakatipu-wai-Māori) in 1860. He named it after his business partner George Gammie’s English estate, Shotover Park in Oxfordshire 
  • The Shotover River was the richest gold-bearing river in New Zealand following the Otago Gold Rush in the 1860s 
  • The river is 60km long and the Shotover Jet trip covers return trips on a 7km stretch from the Oxenbridge Tunnel to Tucker Beach 
  • Premier tourism operator Ngāi Tahu Tourism took 100% ownership of Shotover Jet in 2004

Getting there

There are daily flights from all major city centres around New Zealand into Queenstown Airport. There are direct international flights just 3 hours from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The Shotover Jet is less than 10 minutes drive from Queenstown - New Zealand's adventure capital. 

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