Around 90 minutes drive from the major South Island city of Christchurch, Hanmer Springs has a European alpine feel, sitting in an amphitheatre of snow-capped mountains. The town, with less than 1000 people is a popular adventure capital of New Zealand while also offering a chance to relax and escape the rigours of normal life.. While a variety of adventures abound, one of the most quintessential New Zealand adventures is jetboating, a chance to experience Hanmer’s Waiai River at high speed at close quarters.
These highly manoeuvrable power boats pack in around a dozen people, shooting down narrow rapids at speeds nearing 100 kilometres per hour (similar to a car on an open highway) while skimming within inches of sharp rocky walls or stony river banks. The boats are capable of turning around within a car length and often perform 360 degree spins (called a Hamilton Spin after the inventor) sending up large sprays of water in all directions, the bracing spray sending a reminder that these are alpine waters.
Invented in New Zealand in the 1950s by Sir William Hamilton, the jetboat is purpose-designed for the fast powerful-running shallow Kiwi rivers where deluging water from large tracts of land are forced through the narrow steep-sided gorges to escape to sea. Immense engines suck water in from under the boat and expel it out the back. This design enables good speed against the rushing waters and only requires a few inches (less than 10 centimetres) of depth to operate – typical of the New Zealand rivers with their rocky bottoms and snaking paths.
On the day our group travelled, the river was running at in impressive 100 tonnes of water per second, though in flood it can reach ten times that amount. Deer and goats stand uninterested on the harsh slopes while birdlife watch on not understanding the commotion.
If still requiring further adrenalin lifts, bungy jumping (35 metres off an historic bridge), quad-biking and white-water rafting adventures also appear on the menu but for me, a relaxing hour in the natural thermal pool more fits the bill.
Located halfway between Christchurch and the whale-watching centre of Kaikoura, Hanmer Springs is a chance to embrace both the most adventurous and the most relaxing of Kiwi experiences.
I travelled as a guest of Qantas Airways on The Great Crusade, a promotion highlighting the best of New Zealand while following the endeavours of the Qantas Wallabies to win the Rugby World Cup. The journey can be followed via Twitter hashtag #greatcrusade. Jetboating is available through Thrillseekers Adventures.