July 30, 2019

Queenstown’s Lakes and Rivers

Legend! You’ve chosen the only Jet boating company in Queenstown that travels across three waterways. Here’s the run down on Queenstown’s lakes and rivers.

Lake Wakatipu is 77km long and 402m deep as its deepest point!  There are five major rivers which feed into the lake and numerous smaller streams and creeks.  The Lochy at Halfway Bay, The Von at Mt Nicholas, The Greenstone at Greenstone Station, and The Dart and Rees at the top of the lake in Glenorchy.   The lake is a lightning bolt shape and runs south for 30km and then bends 90 degrees east. 20km along it turns sharply again, and reaches its end a further 20km south near Kingston.

On your Jet boat trip, you’ll leave the Main Town Pier in Queenstown Bay and blast between the Gardens and the Queenstown Golf course towards the Kawarau River. This is the main outlet of the lake, which flows out of the Frankton arm. There’s evidence of an earthquake 18,000 years ago opening up the Kawarau river outlet when prior to this the outlet was originally in Kingston (Mataura River) where the only remaining signs of the river bed are the two large dips along the Kingston straight before Fairlight.

You’ll then zoom under the Kawarau Dam – now a foot passenger bridge, which was opened in 1926. You can read about the interesting history of this project here! In 2018 a long-awaited two-lane vehicle bridge opened and your Jet boat driver will expertly navigate through the dam, under the bridge and complete those 360° spins we’re famous for!

The Kawarau River is about 65km long. Because the Shotover River (which flows into the Kawarau) is only slightly lower than the Kawarau, when the Shotover is in flood it forces the Kawarau to stop its flow and actually pushes the water back into Lake Wakatipu.

Kawarau can have a number of meanings, a popular one is ‘bitter leaf’ a shrub that used to grow along the banks of the river which was used for medicinal purposes.  The Maori meaning of the word is ‘many shrubs’.

After traveling down the Kawarau river at top speed, you’ll reach a spot in the river where the two rivers meet called the confluence. The main difference between the two rivers is that the Kawarau is deeper than the Shotover, which can be very very shallow! Jet boats can travel up and down the Shotover river in water that’s less than 5cm deep because the Jet unit sits flush with the underside of the boat.

Gold was found in the Shotover River in 1862. At the very beginning of the rush the gravel in the Shotover River was yielding 12oz of gold per cubic yard of gravel.  In the year 1863, really the first full year of the rush, Otago as a whole, produced nearly 566,000oz of gold (today’s value approximately four hundred million dollars). 

In geological terms the Shotover River was formed by glaciation and followed by erosion due to water.  Lake Wakatipu used to be much higher than it is now, 60m higher in fact, and the Shotover River was higher too.  The flat plain that the airport currently uses as a runway used to be the delta of the Shotover River

The first bridge across the Lower Shotover was built downstream of the current vehicle bridge (which was opened in 1975).  It was built very close to the river level and would have been in great danger of being swept away on numerous occasions.  The old bridge was opened on the 30 April 1915.  It was an effort to build and a pier actually collapsed while the bridge was under construction.  This bridge was in use until the opening of the new bridge.  The old bridge was restored in June 2005 by the Lions Rotary Club and is now used for walking and cycle traffic.

Your Jet boat will travel under the two bridges on the Shotover River and then return back to Queenstown, with lots of 360° spins along the way. Don’t take our word for it though, book in with us and experience the trip yourself!

  • Kawarau Falls Dam in summer Queenstown
  • Aerial view of Shotover River Bridge Queenstown
  • Aerial view of Queenstown
  • Historic Jet boat under the Kawarau Falls Dam with KJet Queenstown