Jetboating

 

 

 

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.

 

You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal here

 

 

Tongariro Crossing?

 

 

After conflicting reports, David Whitley takes on the Tongariro Crossing (well, half of it) on New Zealand’s North Island.

 


“The Tongariro Crossing is for pussies”, I had been told elsewhere in New Zealand. “If you want to spend your day in a queue of people walking across a mountain, then great. But it’s really not that much of a challenge.”

 


The Tongariro Crossing is the big boy, sat high on the pedestal waiting to be shot at. It has long been one of New Zealand’s prescribed must-dos, and this status means it attracts both flak and tens of thousands of people wanting to take it on every year.

 


When half of it is closed due to volcanic activity – as is currently the case – there must be a temptation to file it in the overrated basket and skip it.

 


It’s when you get to the south crater that you realise succumbing to that temptation would have been a terrible mistake. Yes, you’ve hardly got it to yourself and, yes, the severity of the uphill grind to get there is vastly overstated. But my word, the scene is magnificent.

 


The South Crater is a vast flat, dust-blown field. A white track, created by footfall crosses the centre of it, and tufts of hardy grass manage to poke through an otherwise totally barren landscape. It looks like the sort of giant amphitheatre that would be used for some ultra-bloodthirsty Colosseum-style entertainment by an evil galactic emperor in a sci-fi film.

 


To the left, Mount Tongariro slowly climbs towards its summit. To the right, Ngauruhoe soars upwards, the perfect volcanic cone. It’s merely a vent of Tongariro, but it is higher. Small figures can be seen on its slopes, attempting to crawl up the brutal scree at a 45 degree angle. It’s a dangerous undertaking – rocks regularly tumble down into the would-be climbers’ path.

 


The figures are humans, but I half expect them to be Hobbits. Ngauruhoe doubled as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films. Peter Jackson and co had to do surprisingly little to make it look so deadly and forbidding.

 


The rest of Mordor comes into view as we climb along the ridge that leads out of South Crater. Over to the west is the Oturere Valley, a black and bumpy place formed by centuries of spilling lava.

 


Mordor is not the goal, though – the Red Crater summit is. And the views from there are so remarkable that I want to yabber about them to everyone I’ve ever met, whilst simultaneously weeping and drooling. Behind, the iron oxide stains the Red Crater a deep crimson. A sweep round brings into view Ngaurohoe, and Tongariro’s summit. But it’s the no-go zone ahead that’s the cherry on top. Inside the stark central crater, the Emerald Lakes dazzle with seemingly impossible intensity – the blue and green colours alarmingly vivid.

 


Beyond, looking deceptively close, but an hour’s walk away, is the Blue Lake. And behind it is the reason we can go no further. A white cloud rises above the water. It’s the Te Maari crater, which erupted twice in 2012 and is now being carefully monitored as it continues to let off steam.

 


It’s a reminder of where this landscape of lava flows, rusty orange rivers and bleak, rocky plains came from. And it’s a reminder that it has not finished changing.

 


We have to turn back. It’s not yet safe to make the full crossing. But despite occasionally having to wait for other people to go past or get out of the way of your photo, and despite not being the grand physical endurance test some people build it up to be, there are few places on earth that can compare. It’s not a walk into the unknown and it’s not a walk into solitude, but it’s a walk into something truly special.

 


Disclosure: David went on the Tongariro Crossing as a guest of Adrift Guided Outdoor Adventures and Destination Great Lake Taupo. He stayed in Taupo as a guest of YHA Taupo.

by David Whitley

 

 

You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal