Since it’s invention by Bill Hamilton in 1954, the jet boat has become a true kiwi icon.
Untold numbers of deer have been boated out of our backcountry since the early deer culling days, and today the jet boat is still a common tool for access into our backcountry.
Jetboating and hunting seem to go hand in hand, and it’s hardly surprising, given the large number of rivers that a jetboat can cost effectively access and the vast amounts of public land hunting that lines most of those rivers.
Image @ Cam Henderson
In the South Island particularly, half an hour in a jet boat will get you into some very remote places, along with all of the luxuries required to live like a king. Spring is a particularly good time to drag the boat out, with the deer usually feeding up on the river flats in the warmer weather, and the rivers picking up a little from those low winter flows.
Boat accessed spring meat hunting has been firmly on the calendar for as long as I remember. Camping and hunting in some of those less travelled places whilst taking along a chilly bin of good food and few beers has certainly got some appeal. As does the ease of getting the venison back to the truck.
That overnight hunting trip becomes a bit of an easier “sell” to your wife or girlfriend, when you can add in good food and other luxuries to your pitch. It’s also a great way to get the kids out there, with minimal walking involved and usually a few easy deer poking about.
Getting to your chosen hunting spot can be half the adventure, with some rivers being a bunch more “sporty” than others. The amount of water that’s in a river can make a huge difference, with some rivers pretty much impassable in some flows. There’s a certain river South of Haast that I’m told has sunk more boats than any other, and it’s not because of the rapids or any skinny sections. A long straight of slow moving water combined with the glacier discolouration does a great job of hiding the “sharks” just under the surface. It’s important to pick your objectives wisely, and talk to other jet boaters who have gone before you.
A good jetboat is a reliable one - it’s pretty easy to all of a sudden find yourself a day or two’s walk from the road end. The ideal is usually to travel with more than one boat, but that’s often far to sensible for the average kiwi. I’m certainly not shy of solo boating, but I make sure I carry a few simple things to get me out of the proverbial. Jump start packs are small and inexpensive these days, and they are very handy to have in your boat – or your truck.
Smaller boats often driven with a jetski setup, have grown in popularity. And you’ll pretty quickly understand why if you start pushing one. Getting stuck and unstuck can be half the fun and having a set of hardwood push poles certainly makes life easier. I don’t think I’ve found a boat to date that doesn’t leak to some degree, so having a really effective bilge pump is a bit of a no brainer.
Even better than having your own boat is having a mate with one. You get the same amount of fun, without the initial outlay. Keeping the wheel greased with petrol money and beer is usually all that’s required.
The West coast of the South Island has a great number of rivers hitting the coast in a relatively short distance, providing huge scope for hunting and boating. One river I particularly enjoy is the Clarke; the deer are far from heavy on the ground, but the boating and scenery is second to none. The river itself is an awesome mix of big pressure waves, shallow braids and a stunning gorge. With the end of the line usually being right on the edge of the wilderness area.
Last spring a few mates had boated in and set camp a day earlier than myself. I got a sat phone call that night from Tom who said I’d better still be coming and could I please bring a chainsaw. He had got around a large log jam by taking on some skinny little side channel, which wouldn’t exactly work so well going back downstream.
So, I set off the next day with a couple of semi useful mates, one of whom had a broken hand in plaster and the other should have still been on the couch recovering from a snapped Achilles. The log jam was pretty obvious, as were all the rocks the boys had shifted to make the side channel workable, although I’m still scratching my head as to how Tom had actually managed to get through it.
Team useless prevailed in the end with Jack and his broken hand lying on the bow, and Rosco using his two good hands to hold Jack in position while I manoeuvred the boat and then passed Jack the chainsaw, which was already running. After about an hour of almost constant banter, we finally had a boat-width of space to squeeze past the jam.
Arriving at camp we found the boys had just landed a decent trout for dinner. After setting up camp everyone able bodied was off for an evening hunt, leaving the less able to enjoy a few beers. Having no luck on the deer we were soon eating steaks, whitebait and freshly caught trout.
Our morning hunt was pretty much a blow out, with a Makarora WARO machine doing a “beat up” on our tents. This involved flying straight over top of us, at around 50 feet. Those boys for sure would have gotten a good laugh, they also must have taken off still in the dark to have buzzed us in the half light of dawn after flying all the way from Makarora.
Unrestricted WARO as well as biannual 1080 drops to protect the Mohua, have unfortunately for hunting meant that this once famous valley, rich in deerstalking history, no longer produces the quality animals it was once renowned for.
After flicking a few fly’s around, and squeezing back past our log jam, we were only a few bumps and bruises away from the Haast/Landsborough confluence.
You can’t be too precious about jetboats, or you won’t get far.
-It seems with the proposed new national park plans, that motorised access (jet boating) could well be under threat. Make sure you are a member of Jet Boating New Zealand and help protect everyone's access and recreation.
IImage @ Cam Henderson
IImage @ Cam Henderson