60+ years of Jet boating

After 60 years of providing Queenstown’s first and finest Jet boat experience, you could say ‘Jet boating is in our blood’, and we have a few stories to tell!

The world’s first commercial Jet boating operation, Kawarau Jet Services now trading as KJet has its origins in a Christian Youth Trust. Originally this was setup to ensure the ‘spiritual, moral and physical wellbeing of the young people in Otago and Southland.’

Early Jet boat Industry

The early Jet boat industry was inextricably linked with the Lakeland Christian Camp. In 1958 camp trustees and Invercargill brothers Alan and Harold Melhop made the first jet-powered navigation of the Kawarau Falls dam in the new Hamilton Jet. The pair owned an Invercargill engineering business and was an agency for the revolutionary Hamilton Jet boats. They soon found that holidaymakers would line up for rides on the thrilling new boat. Starting at only five shillings a ride, the trip provided efficient fundraising for the Christian camp.

The brothers eventually convinced the six-person Christian Trust to invest in the operation by buying its own Hamilton Jet – the price was £1200. So began one of Queenstown’s most successful and enduring tourist operations, establishing the world’s first commercial Jet boat tour Kawarau Jet.

New Operations

In 1960, Kawarau Jet Services moved operations from the Frankton Jetty near the Frankton Campground to the Queenstown Main Town Pier. This was at the urging of the then Borough Council. The council were keen to benefit from the increasingly popular tourism operation. Soon after, the Shotover extension was added providing a true safari from the Queenstown Main Town Pier. This involved a journey down the Kawarau and up the Shotover river, through the Canyons and under the Edith Cavell Bridge as far as the Oxenbridge Tunnel and return to Queenstown.

The boats often grounded in the shallow braids of the lower Shotover river. So in 1965 Kawarau Jet Services launched a separate operation to avoid the challenging shallow waters. The trip started at the Edith Cavell Bridge and travelled down to Tucker Beach and back. Both the Kawarau and Shotover services returned funds to the camp until 1966 by which time both services had been sold to pay off camp building mortgages. Two dormitories housing a total of 80 beds were paid for by the sale of the services. To this day they are named the Kawarau and Shotover dormitories.

Kawarau Jet Nowadays

Kawarau Jet (now commonly known as KJet), is still a Queenstown owned and operated business. Shaun Kelly has been a partner in KJet since September 1987. Nowadays, Shaun and his wife Sally run the operation alongside business partners Skeggs Group, whom all take pride in an enduring tradition of innovation.

Alan and Harold Melhop of KJet Queenstown, Jet boat pioneers Early jet boating with Kawarau Jet in the 60s in Queenstown Jet boating in Lake Wakatipu with KJet Queenstown in the 1960s