New Zealand is the home of jet boats. The HamiltonJet water jet propulsion system used in jet boats worldwide was released in its earliest form by Sir William Hamilton in New Zealand way back 1954. Since then, HamiltonJet of New Zealand has been developing this jetboat propulsion system into what it is today.
Nowadays, jet boats are everywhere, and New Zealand is no exception. New Zealand is home to some of the most iconic jet boat experiences in the world, and somehow, it’s still the only country where I’ve been jet boating. I don’t really know why…
In spite of that odd piece of trivia, I’ve also been on a lot of jet boats in New Zealand, and over the years, I’ve crossed a lot of jet boats off my must-do list. I even added two new ones on our last road trip. So, if it’s your first visit to Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud, and you want to get in some jet boat thrills, here are my must-do jet boat experiences in New Zealand! I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Shotover Jet – Queenstown
Launched in 1965, 11 years after the first HamiltonJet was developed, the Shotover Jet is perhaps the most well-known jet boat experience in the world. Winding through the Shotover Canyons, the shallow Shotover River is the perfect example of what the HamiltonJet was designed for, and makes this one of the most hair-raising jet boat rides in New Zealand.
Originally intended to raise money for Christian Youth Camps, the Shotover Jet has become an icon of New Zealand tourism and even carried dignitaries such as Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. With a CV like that, it’s hard to go past.
If you only do one jet boat ride in New Zealand, this is the one.
Why I like the Shotover Jet
The Shotover Jet has an enormous amount of history, and there is something special about that. However, the thing I like the most is the unique blend of shallow water, narrow canyon gorges, rocky outcrops and high speeds.
Do the dawn ride for a potentially misty experience. Just, make sure to bring some gloves and a beanie, the handrails might be warmed, but it’s still the coldest jet boat ride I’ve done and the ice cold water spray stings when it hits your skin like tiny bullets. Do dress warmly.
This also happens to be the only jet boat where you can get your photo taken with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, which, for most of us, is probably the closest we’ll ever get to an actual photo with the royals!
Where to find the Shotover Jet
The Shotover Jet is located between Queenstown and Arrowtown at 3 Arthurs Point Road, Arthurs Point on the South Island of New Zealand.
Where to book your Shotover Jet experience
- Klook: Check price (Usually the cheapest)
- KKday: Check price (Similar pricing to Klook)
- Viator: Check price (Best cancellation policy)
- Direct: NZD $159 for standard tickets at the time of writing. Check prices (Most expensive but does give you the option to purchase a flexible ticket without a set date/time).
Tips to save money on the Shotover Jet
Look for the “Sunshine Jet” tickets. These tickets are NZD $20 cheaper than the standard price. ”Sunshine Jet” tickets are available every day, but the times are limited to two rides per day, and the actual times do vary. You can check the current times on the Shotover Jet website here.
You can book the ”Sunshine Jet” tickets via Klook, KKday and Viator as well and I’ve found that Klook and KKday are consistently the cheapest. I would recommend booking through one of those two sites for the best pricing.
Auckland Adventure Jet – Auckland
The Auckland Adventure Jet surprised me. I’ll be honest, as much as I enjoy jet boating, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a harbour ride on a jet boat. Compared to racing down a narrow river, how thrilling could it be? It’s not like they could conceivably be allowed to get up close to other vessels, buildings, bridges or anything else. With so much traffic on the harbour getting in the way, how could they possibly stand out?
Fortunately, with the offer of a free ride on your birthday, I was lured in and brought the family along.
The Auckland Adventure Jet does not offer the close-up, life-flashing-before-your-eyes encounters with rocks and cliff walls, but what it does offer is hands-down the best spins and wildest ride.
As a unique and iconic experience, the Shotover Jet might be the one to beat, but if you want the best ride, Auckland Adventure Jet is the one.
This 30-minute scenic ride on Auckland Harbour and under Auckland Harbour Bridge includes commentary on some of the sights and history. If you are lucky, you might also spot bungee jumpers leaping off the harbour bridge.
Unlike many other jet boats that ride flat water (rivers and lakes) with some white water from falls or rapids, Auckland Adventure Jet is on a harbour. Being captain obvious here, that means you are on the ocean and with the sea comes waves.
These drivers know how to use the waves in their spins and tricks to get the most thrills, and they certainly leverage the bumpy waves for all they’re worth. Combine high-speed 360-degree turns with waves that make the boat leap out of the water, and you’ve got a seriously hair-raising experience. This jet boat is the only jet boat I’ve ever felt at risk of falling out of, and I wasn’t even sitting in one of the side seats.
With such wild driving, you will get soaked. If you don’t, ask for a refund.
Note: You almost definitely won’t get a refund because this is not a guarantee offered by Auckland Adventure Jet and my comments hold no sway whatsoever.
Even if you don’t get soaked, I’m confident you will get wetter than any of the other must-do jet boats features here. This experience is also the cheapest ride on the list, so that’s a bonus.
Why I like the Auckland Adventure Jet
Every jet boat ride on this list gives you a poncho but compared to all the others, I came off the Shotover Jet dry bar water spray on my face (I’m not complaining, it was cold enough without being wet!!!!). I hopped off the Hukafalls Jet completely dry. And, the New Zealand RiverJet also left me dry (also not complaining since I was walking around Orakei Korako in the middle of the ride and no one wants the chafing that comes with walking around wet).
I came off the Auckland Adventure Jet sopping wet in most places, and with just a few dry patches here and there, I was one of the least wet.
Poncho? Ha! What poncho? Seeing us, I couldn’t blame you for thinking we didn’t have ponchos on at all!!
The Auckland Adventure Jet is fun. It’s a different kind of fun to the other jets. No, you don’t have the close calls with potentially death-inducing objects, but what you have is hands-down the most fun ride with the best spins and tricks. I’d call it ”roller coaster style” jet boating.
Also, it’s free on your birthday, so, that’s awesome!
It’s a tough call between this one and the Shotover Jet for my absolute favourite. If I could base it solely on the ride itself, the Auckland Adventure Jet would be it. However, if you are looking for an “if you only do one” kind of experience, the Shotover Jet takes first place due to the combination of ride, location and iconic history. So Auckland Adventure Jet takes second place.
Where to find the Auckland Adventure Jet
Auckland Adventure Jet is located right in the heart of Auckland, at Pier 3D on Auckland’s Quay Street and Auckland is indeed on the North Island of New Zealand.
Where to book your Auckland Adventure Jet Experience
Tips to save money on the Auckland Adventure Jet
Book online through the official Auckland Adventure Jet website, and you can save 10%.
For the most significant saving, if your trip happens to be on your birthday, make sure you bring your photo ID showing your date of birth for a free ride. It doesn’t get much better than that!
New Zealand RiverJet Thermal Safari – Mihi
The New Zealand RiverJet company operates on the Waikato River as well, but further downstream at Mihi. Taking you on a 36km return journey at speeds up to 90km/h, the New Zealand RiverJet blends 50 minutes worth of jet boat ride through Tutukau Gorge and active geothermal areas with optional extras that you won’t find on any other jet boat ride.
The New Zealand RiverJet Thermal Safari is a 2.5-hour experience that includes a stopover in the hidden valley of Orakei Korako, an otherworldly place that seems to rise out of the river itself. Being around halfway between Rotorua and Taupo, Orakei Korako is outside of the main tourist areas, and so it is one of New Zealand’s lesser-known geothermal parks.
Smaller than parks like Te Puia and the iconic Wai-o-Tapu, Orakei Korako rises out of the river bank with steaming geysers, bubbling mud and colourful terraces. Unexpectedly, there are 35 active geysers and the most extensive geothermal terrace in New Zealand is here too, Emerald Terrace. Add in caves and boat-only access, and Orakei Korako is a surprisingly brilliant stopover.
New Zealand RiverJet also offers an experience called “The Squeeze”. Bypass Orakei Korako and get out of the jet boat into the river. Following your driver, you wade through warm water and narrow crevasses that lead you to hidden waterfalls and thermal hot springs. This experience just so happened to be featured on a little American TV show called “The Bachelor” back in 2014.
If one pit stop isn’t enough, you can do both with their Ultimate Geothermal Safari. You can also combine one of the rides with a visit to the Tamaki Maori Village in Rotorua, but this is not accessed via jet boat.
Why I like the New Zealand RiverJet Thermal Safari
The New Zealand RiverJet is one of the longest jet boat rides. With 36kms of boating requiring 50 minutes to cover, it outlasts most others and is double the length of the Shotover Jet. The time onboard includes plenty of spins and close-up thrills with obstacles in the river.
Combining jet boats and geothermal experiences that are both off the beaten track and a little bit different is a great idea that results in a truly unique experience.
Where to find the New Zealand RiverJet
Where to book the New Zealand RiverJet
Tips to save money on the New Zealand RiverJet
Prices are about the same when booking directly or via Viator unless Viator has a promo on. However, BookMe does have great deals on a set number of seats per day. You can save up to NZD $50 by booking one of these promo seats. However, there is a minimal number of these deals available per day.
Hukafalls Jet – Taupo
Owned by the same company as Shotover Jet, the Hukafalls Jet features near-identical boats sporting bright blue livery. On the deeper water of this stretch of the Waikato River, these boats seemingly glide over the surface for a remarkably smooth ride with unexpectedly quiet engines.
The Hukafalls Jet darts up and down the Waikato River between the Huka Falls white water and Aratiatia Dam Wall. At speeds of up to 80mk/h, you’ll cover the entire body of water and get back to base in just 30 minutes.
The Huka Falls are a demonstration of natural power. Two hundred thousand litres of water per second roars through the narrow 15-metre canyon before dropping over a series of small falls and one final 7-9 metre drop (depending on just how much water is coming through at any given moment).
There is nothing quite like experiencing this natural power aboard a jet boat at the bottom of the falls. Feeling the power of the man-made twin V8 engines and hearing them racing, pulling against the force of this thundering phenomenon as the water rockets past.
Why I like the Hukafalls Jet
The Hukafalls Jet is one of the smoothest, quietest jet boat experiences I’ve had, and while it isn’t always cold in Taupo, the heated handrails are a nice touch!
The drivers bring the thrills with the obligatory 360-degree spins and by racing in close proximity to cliff walls and hanging branches, but the real show is the Huka Falls.
You can get up close to the falls at the top of the canyon on foot, but the Hukafalls Jet takes you up close from below. In my opinion, it’s only from here that you can fully appreciate just how much water is pouring through this narrow canyon, draining Lake Taupo while never actually emptying it. The fact there is that much water consistently running into Lake Taupo is also a mind-blowing concept!
That’s a lot of water.
The Hukafalls ride is one of the most comfortable jetboats I’ve been on, and when mixed with tricks that throw you around in your seat, this makes for a remarkably delightful experience. Combined with getting up close to the base of the Huka Falls where you are moving through the water at high speeds but not going anywhere, the Hukafalls Jet is a must-do New Zealand jet boat experience.
Where to find the Hukafalls Jet
The Hukafalls Jet is located to the north-west of Taupo, just off of the Thermal Explorer Highway at the Wairakei Tourist Park, 201 Karetoto Road, Taupo. This is smack bang in the middle of the North Island.
Where to book the Hukafalls Jet
- Klook: Check price (Usually the cheapest)
- Viator: Check price (Best cancellation policy)
- Direct: NZD $139 for standard tickets at the time of writing. Check price (Most expensive)
Tips to save money on the Hukafalls Jet
Book directly on the Hukafalls Jet at least five days in advance to save 10%.
That’s my top four jet boat rides in New Zealand. Yes, there are a lot more jet boats. In fact, it could be one of those unusual Kiwi things where there are more jet boats than rivers or something like that. However, these four are my absolute top, must-do jet boat experiences in New Zealand.
Have you done any of these jet boats? What did you think? Is there another one that should make it on my list of must-do jet boat experiences in New Zealand? Let me know in the comments below!
Pin me like a love song baby