A Jet Boat Excursion in Fiordland National Park

Things aren’t done half-heartedly in Southland. Today we are going on a jet boat ride. No, a jet boat excursion through the Fiordland National Park. We’ll be making a journey from lake to ocean, but the ride starts with the drive to Lake Hauroko.

Lake Hauroko is not an easy one to get to, but well worth the effort as we are about to find out. To make our 8am tour, we set off in Murray’s, the owner of the Tuatapere Backpacker, car at 6.45am. (Much to Murray’s dismay, as he thinks we only need half an hour to get from Tuatapere to Lake Hauroko).

A leafy obstacle

Murray, Natalie from the Netherlands, Robin and Laura set off on their merry adventure along the straight roads of Southland. A morning mist hangs low over the pastoral lands and covers the mountains in the distance. Soon enough, we hit the 20km gravel road to Lake Hauroko. As if nature wants Murray’s time estimations to be wrong, we are faced with a huge beech tree that has fallen across the road.

Everyone rolls up their sleeves and starts breaking branches, just enough so we might be able to squeeze past. Success: we are back on the road!

A smug Murray

We continue through this mountain beech forest all the way to Lake Hauroko where… Indeed, we are the first ones here… Maybe we did set off too early? Nevertheless, it has certainly taken us longer than 30 minutes! Murray takes his newspaper out and starts reading it in a statement of: “I was right! We would be here early enough to warrant me bringing this newspaper!”

Ok Murray, we get it…

Oh Lake Hauroko, you're so BEAUTIFUL! Oh Lake Hauroko, you're so BEAUTIFUL!
Spinning and speeding deep in the Fiordland National Park forest Spinning and speeding deep in the Fiordland National Park forest
The cool kids always sit on the back seat, right? The cool kids always sit on the back seat, right?
Laura stretches her legs at the Waitutu Hut Laura stretches her legs at the Waitutu Hut

The mind-blowing Lake Hauroko

While we wait for the Humpridge Jet and our other fellow jet boat thrill-seekers to arrive, we take the time to have a look at the stunning Lake Hauroko. A jetty stretches out into the most reflective lake, showing us the surrounding mountains covered in beech forest. With the early morning colours mixed with low-lying clouds weaving between mountains, we couldn’t think of a better time to come here.

Here comes the Humpridge Jet

Just as we have been still for too long that we are attracting the pesky sandflies, Roffy arrives with the Humpridge Jet on the trailer, followed by a car full of a work-colleagues outing from Invercargill who are joining us on the jet boat today. The question is, how the hell did Roffy get this boat past that tree?

Jet boating on Lake Hauroko

Life jackets on, jet boat in the water, we are ready to go on this expedition. Roffy does the all-essential safety briefing then we are off across the glassy Lake Hauroko. We drift around corners, squeeze between islands and stop a couple of times for Roffy to show us a few things, like a hidden cave network and a Department of Conservation (DoC) hut in a hidden Teal Bay.

So we’ve whizzed around this absolutely pristine lake of the Fiordland National Park, but that’s just the beginning. The real thrills that the jet boat was invented for begin upon entering the Wairaurahiri River!

The Humpridge party boat

Jet boating on the grade 3 Wairaurahiri River

The Wairaurahiri river is not exactly smooth. It is a shallow rocky-bed river full of rapids – grade 3 if you are white water rafting! Can jet boats really go down here?! With Roffy’s 100% safety record with Humpridge Jet, we can’t really argue with the man who has some incredible skills navigating us down this river at speed. One wrong turn and we are either having a boulder under our asses or a tree to the face.

We vigorously bounce up and down over a mix of small rapids and white water, getting sprayed every so often when Roffy drifts around a sharp turn. Robin and Laura just look at each other and laugh at every near miss with a half submerged tree or a branch from the rugged forest hanging alarmingly low over our heads. We want to stop filming to save data but there’s just too much going on!

Roffy gives us the universal jet boating hand signal for doing a 360-degree spin. (Do any jet boat tour and you will know what we mean). On an uncharacteristically quiet part of the river, Roffy will give us a sharp and fast 360 spin in the boat covering us with spray. It’s hilarious! This jet boat trick never gets old.

Roughing it like a deer hunter

If we thought the Teal Bay Department of Conservation hut was “rustic” then the deer-hunters hut that we are shown next is rough as f*ck! As Roffy ties up the jet boat in the riverside, a helicopter flies overhead carrying a dead deer. Gulp! We head to a clearing in the forest to a hut that looks like it’s out of a Brothers Grimm story. The place is covered in cob webs and looks unchanged since the 1960s, but people actually still come out to use this! It’s all part of the New Zealand bushman lifestyle.

Now that we’ve had time to stretch our legs and our minds to how the bushman lives, we hit the Wairaurahiri River once again on its final leg out to the ocean.

Cooking up a storm Cooking up a storm
This is how you do a Kiwi BBQ! This is how you do a Kiwi BBQ!
After smelling the Poo Plant... After smelling the Poo Plant...

From mountains to ocean

The forest all of a sudden becomes lower and thinner to reveal long stretching pebbled beaches and waves crashing into the end of the Wairaurahiri River. What an awesome journey from mountains to the southern coast! It’s taken us about three hours to get here, travelling 27km down the river!

Roffy takes us back a few hundred metres back up the river and ties the boat up once again. We get out and walk through the rainforest to the huge Waitutu Lodge – definitely fancier than the other huts we’ve seen today.

A Southland feast

Kettles on the stoves and the BBQ lit, Roffy starts sprucing up something to eat. Meanwhile, we have a cup of tea and explore the Waitutu Hut. It’s like the tree-house environment you always dreamed of as a kid. There are plenty of walks in the forest to unknown wonders, a swing-ball stick (we totally forgot these existed), and a rope swing, which Robin and Laura occupy for way too long… Until, Roffy is serving a buffet fit for kings on the table… Tender venison, Tuatapere sausages, kransky sausages, garlic prawn kebab and another unknown meat kebab: this is all served on a silver fern branch in true wilderness style! There are also four different salads and soft bread and butter… Wow! Southland is truly keeping us well-fed!

Back along the Wairaurahiri River

We could dedicate this whole blog post to the dinner, but no! We are getting back on the jet boat for the return journey to Lake Hauroko! It’s a slightly smoother ride tackling the river upstream (seriously “slightly”) but with no less thrills and a good mix of 360 spins along the way.

Roffy stops the boat a couple of times to show us a few plants – one of which he gets us to smell. Is it lavender? Jasmine? What beautiful natural fragrance could it be?! We smell our hands after rubbing the plant on them… It smells like fart.

A world heritage view!

The poo plant soon forgotten, our attention is captured by the view where the Wairaurahiri River opens up onto Lake Hauroko. Once again, we are among the mountains and forest of the Fiordland National Park and an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The end of our Humpridge Jet tour is marked with a 360 spin next to the Lake Hauroko jetty. Nice!

Rounding up our time in Tuatapere

We say goodbye to Roffy and these awesome Invercargill-dwellers that we’ve had such a blast with today. We hope to catch up with them in Invercargill in just a couple of days! It’s time to drive back to the Tuatapere Backpackers with Murray and Natalie. We don’t care how long it takes!

Tomorrow, we leave the wonder Tuatapere and head to Invercargill. Our first activity in the hub of Southland is a brewery tour. As we established yesterday, Southland loves getting us drunk. See you tomorrow!

Laura and Robin

Speeding along the mighty Wairaurahiri River
Speeding along the mighty Wairaurahiri River Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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