Bored of 360 degree spins, David Whitley leaps overboard for a mini-canyoning adventure between Taupo and Rotorua.




You don’t have to go far in New Zealand to find someone willing to take you for a spin in a jetboat. The bloody things are everywhere, but that’s hardly a surprise given that they’re a proud Kiwi invention.




They’re the baby of Bill Hamilton, who came up with the idea of powering a boat by sucking water from underneath and using jet propulsion to send it out of the back. It’s ideal for New Zealand’s fast-flowing, low depth rivers – traditional problems of striking rocks in shallow water become less of an issue.




The first time you go on one, it’s tremendous fun. It powers down the river at high speeds, the driver taking you as close to canyon walls and potentially perilous rock islands as he or she dares. The thrill is in not quite knowing how much you can trust the person behind the wheel. Just how many times have they done this? And, jeez, that was a bit close for comfort…




You’ll also get a few tricks thrown in, such as 360 degree spins. And more 360 degree spins. And more 360 degree spins.




It’s on your second jetboat trip that you realise that there’s pretty much only one trick that can be done with jetboats. And, once you’ve experienced it a couple of times, that quickly gets boring.




Thus it is that I find myself trying to stifle yawns on the Waikato River as the 6th sharp full turn is signalled. I feel like saying: “It’s OK. You’ve shown us this one already.” The wind in the hair rush is perfectly fine on its own; everyone seems to be enjoying that more than the supposed special treat.




But it’s not the high speed ride back through the Waikato’s forested gorges that New Zealand Riverjet’s jetboat trip is all about. The highlight actually comes when you leap over the side of the boat and leave it behind for an hour.




As New Zealand’s longest river flows out from Lake Taupo towards the sea, it is joined by hundreds of tributaries. Some of these pump cold water in – you’ll always find trout hanging around where these hit the big river – but others come from hot springs.



It’s by the confluence of one of these warm streams that we stop. The warm and cold currents are immediately obvious as we wade through, but the stream soon disappears into a rock wall. “That’s where we’re going,” says the driver, pointing at the rock.




On closer inspection, there is a narrow gap. A very narrow gap. There is, apparently, a reason they call it “The Squeeze”. Even breathing in, my chest is pressed against one side, and my back against the other. To push through would draw plenty of blood.



The call goes up to duck down lower – where there’s more room – and attack it head first. It’s a claustrophobic dive into something that looks rather painful, but it works. The even bigger bloke behind manages it as well.




We timidly step along the stream bed, feeling the way ahead in case any submerged rocks attempt to snag us, and stop just before another dark passage through the rock. “You’re going to love this,” says the driver. “This place is special”.




We walk through and encounter a waterfall. It has carved out two seats beneath where the water – at perfect morning shower temperature – is thundering down. And sitting down beneath it, inside a long narrow crag cut into the earth, is far more impressive than any number of jetboat spins.




Disclosure: David Whitley was a guest of Destination Great Lake Taupo. He stayed in Taupo as a guest of YHA Taupo.


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Sir Edmund


Sucked in by tales of an extraordinary adventurer, David Whitley decides to spend his limited time amongst New Zealand’s highest peaks in a darkened room.



On a list of what would seem to be poor choices I have made whilst travelling, visiting Mt Cook for two hours after a eight hour round trip from Queenstown would have to be pretty high up. Close behind on that list would be the decision to spend the majority of that two hours inside a darkened room rather than getting out and walking around some of the most spectacular scenery on earth. Especially given that it was a perfect blue sky day.


For this, I blame one man: Sir Edmund Hillary.


Mt Cook was where Everest’s first conqueror took his baby steps in the world of mountaineering. Well, I say baby steps, but you’d be hard pushed to get to the top of New Zealand’s highest mountain without some serious training and fancy equipment. In many ways, it was the perfect training ground for bigger peaks, and plenty of mountaineers have used it as such. Nowadays, Mt Cook Village - which sits at the foot of the mountain it is named after – pays tribute to its most famous temporary resident. The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre sits within the Hermitage Hotel, and a large part of it is dedicated to the people who have climbed Mt Cook and worked within the National Park that surrounds it.


Some of the stories are extraordinary. For example, in 1982 Mark Inglis and his climbing partner were trapped in below freezing conditions and without rations on Mt Cook’s Middle Peak. They toughed it out for 13 days before being rescued by a helicopter, and severe frostbite meant that Inglis lost both of his legs. He then went on to be a cycling medallist at the Paralympics, a wine-maker and a competitive skier before returning to the scene where he nearly died in 2002. Inglis made it to the summit of Mt Cook – a remarkable feat that he topped in 2006 by becoming the first double amputee to successfully scale Mt Everest.


And it’s stories like that that keep you inside.


If it’s stories you want, then Sir Edmund Hillary (or ‘Ed’ to just about everyone) had thousands. This remarkable man – who died in 2008 – did so much more than just climb Everest (as if that wasn’t enough). He led an expedition across the Antarctic, stood at the North Pole and rode a jet boat up the River Ganges in India.But the most fascinating parts of the centre are devoted to Hillary the man. He was an awkward giant who was, on occasion, cripplingly shy and had to propose to his first wife through her mother.


His life is laid out on video, and it is played on a loop amongst all the mountaineering equipment. I went in for a quick peek and was reluctant to leave again. There are so many aspects of Hillary’s life that I didn’t know about - from his philanthropic work for the Sherpa people of Nepal to the death of his wife and daughter in a plane crash. They were coming out to meet him while he oversaw the construction of a hospital in the Himalayas. 


The whole thing moved and fascinated mean in equal measure. And while it may seem absurd to have barely explored some of New Zealand’s most magnificent scenery whilst I had the opportunity, sometimes it’s worth deviating from the obvious plan.


More photos here



Disclosure: David visited Mount Cook as a guest of Great Sights New Zealand.