Queenstown jetboat firm celebrates milestone

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A Queenstown back-country jetboat safari firm celebrates 25 years on the water next week. 

Dart River Jet Safaris was created by Glenorchy farmer and jetboat enthusiast Neil Ross.

“People around Queenstown said I was completely mad when I suggested a back-country jet boat tour,” Ross says.

“There were already a number of operators on the rivers and people said tourists were only interested in thrills as opposed to a scenic boat ride.”

Working on the belief others would enjoy the Dart’s scenery as much as he did and some basic customer research, Ross pushed ahead.

The first Dart River jetboat safari set off on October 1, 1998, with just five passengers.

“They were blown away,” Ross says.

“One in particular, Rip Gray, wrote to me soon afterwards to say the tour had exceeded all expectations. With that feedback, we knew we had something special.

“It was obvious fairly quickly that people loved the combination of jetboating with accessing the beauty and remoteness of the backcountry.

“That unique component was and still is a real drawcard.”

Current owners Ngai Tahu Tourism will welcome hundreds of former staff members from afar afield as Sydney, the North Island and Christchurch to Glenorchy for Saturday’s celebration.

Neil Ross and wife Robyn will be guests of honour.

Ross drove both the jetboat and van at first but within a year the operation had doubled in size and by 1996 operated seven boats, nine full-time and four part-time staff and three coaches.

It attracted the eye of long-time jetboat operator Shotover Jet, which took over operations.

The business now provides the region’s longest jet boat rides into Mt Aspiring National Park, along with ‘funyak’ trips.