December 12, 2018

60 years of Jet boating: Queenstown’s original adventure pioneers.

Kawarau Jet Services, a name that’s synonymous with pioneering adventure tourism in Queenstown, in 1958 made the first jet-powered navigation of the Kawarau Falls dam, in the new Hamilton Jet 30 with Invercargill brothers Alan and Herold Melhop at the helm. 

At five shillings per ride, Queenstown’s first adventure activity was born, and the brothers found that demand was high from holidaymakers staying at the Lakeland Christian Camp. The trips soon provided an efficient form of fundraising for the Christian Camp and patrons began lining up for rides on the exciting new Hamilton Jet.

The brothers soon convinced the Lakeland Christian Camp Trust to invest in the operation by purchasing its own Hamilton Jet. The Trustees agreed, and Queenstown’s most successful and enduring tourism operation was in business.

In 1960, the company was urged by the then Borough Council, who was keen to benefit from the growth of tourism in Queenstown, to move trip departures to the centre of Queenstown. Kawarau Jet Services moved operations from the Frankton Jetty to the Main Town Pier, where it still operates today.

As pioneers in adventure tourism, one river wasn’t enough, and the Shotover River was added as an extension to the trips. This provided guests with an altogether different experience seeing Queenstown from Lake Wakatipu, the deep picturesque Kawarau River, and all the way up the Shotover River, through the canyon and under the Edith Cavell Bridge as far as the Oxenbridge Tunnel. What an adventure this was and provided a true safari for holidaymakers.

In 1965, Shotover Jet Services was launched, to avoid the challenging shallow braids of the lower Shotover River. In 1966 Kawarau Jet Services and Shotover Jet Services were sold to pay for the building of two dormitories at the Lakeland Christian Camp, named the Kawarau and Shotover Dormitories.

The company was the first to implement roll bars on the Jet boats to provide rollover protection. These are now a benchmark safety standard for all commercial Jet boats, continuing the tradition of innovation. Kawarau Jet designed twin-engine technology and in 1995 launched the first twin-engine Jet boats in order to reduce risk of control loss in case of engine failure as well as increasing boat capacity. The company now has 4 twin-engine boats, and these were adopted by main competitors in 1998, and 2001 and are now industry standard.

Always innovating, the engineers developed shock absorbing handrails and padding in the back of customer seats, increasing comfort and reducing the risk of injury. In 2006, in recognition of Queenstown’s fresh winters, heated handrails were introduced.

Milford Sound’s original cruise operator Southern Discoveries purchased a 50% share in Kawarau Jet (KJet) in 2011 and the company went through a rebrand in 2012. More innovation followed with video cameras being installed on the boats in 2016, bringing us to the present day, where KJet is celebrating 60 years of being the world’s first Jet boat operator in 2018.

Want to Jet boat in Queenstown with the world’s first? Book now!

  • KJet Kawarau River Bridge Dam
  • Early days of Kawarau jet in the 1960s in Queenstown
  • Jet boating with the world's-first Jet Boat company KJet.