KIWI: Going With The Flow - A Day on the Dart RiverThe trip itself is a mesmeric adventure that combines exhilarating wilderness jet boating with unique ‘Funyak’ inflatable canoes. It’s a ‘cool’ way to intimately explore this region’s magnificent World Heritage designated wilderness that’s located within Mt Aspiring National Park.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2012
It had snowed the day before I arrived in sleepy villageship of Glenorchy and the ground was still frozen hard. With a bus load of passengers we pulled into the parking lot outside the Dart River offices and stepped out into a numbingly cold wind. This didn’t feel like it was going to be the best way to enjoy a wilderness river rafting trip. But that perception was quickly cast aside as they don’t call this trip ‘New Zealand’s Most Sensational Journey’ for nothing!
After some important safety instructions we headed to the changing rooms to don the company’s wet weather gear and wet-suits – essential equipment on this type of trip. Then it was a short bus journey and a walk to the wharf where the jetboats were tied up. We were on a Dart River Funyak Safari to explore some of the South Island’s dazzling scenic landscape. It encompasses an exhilarating wilderness jetboat journey upriver, complete with speed-induced 360 degree spins and a paddle your own canoe ride on the return leg downriver.
The trip itself is a mesmeric adventure that combines exhilarating wilderness jet boating with unique ‘Funyak’ inflatable canoes. It’s a ‘cool’ way to intimately explore this region’s magnificent World Heritage designated wilderness that’s located within Mt Aspiring National Park. Once on the river, the company’s professional guides take you on an inspiring voyage through one of the world’s most dramatic landscapes where there is boundless natural and cultural diversity. This region’s exceptional topography and outstanding beauty is what makes it so rare and special.
The best way to start any day is seated in a jetboat and this one offers a thrilling 90 minute journey through the ice-cold river system. We first started with a few spins on the lake and then sped off as a shower of spray to experience the exhilaration of the longest jetboat ride available in the Queenstown region.
The ever changing channels of this shallow, glacier-fed braided river is a not the easiest of to navigate but that didn’t stop our expert jetboat driver from hitting full throttle when need be. However he also stopped a number of times along the way to highlight and discuss points of significance within this spectacular environment.
All of the Dart River jetboat drivers are extremely knowledgeable and enliven each trip with their own knack of telling informative and entertaining commentary about the forest, the unique flora and fauna, as well as the indigenous Maori and colonial history of the area.
It didn’t take long to set my heart racing as the jetboat reached hard to imagine speeds over the milky-coloured river. On the way there is a pause from being in awe of the breathtaking snow-capped mountains when the driver initiates 360 degree spine-tingling jet spins. Then it’s back to your surroundings of ancient native beech forests, waterfalls and glacial valleys frozen in time. As you travel through this environment it’s easy to understand and see why this region was once used as one of the primary film locations for, ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
This area of the Dart River is bordering close to the proposed and contentious Milford Dart Passage, a privately owned and funded $170-million, five meter in diameter, 11.3km tunnel stretching from the Routeburn track end (an area already visited by 30,000 people a year) below the Southern Alps to the Hollyford Valley not far from the Milford Road. It would effectively more than halve the time it takes to get to Milford Sound making it the longest road tunnel in New Zealand. The problem is the tunnel at this end-of-the-road destination would traverse two National Parks which among other things has got the ire up among many locals.
By the time we had inflated the rafts that had been transported to a remote spot earlier that day we were ready to begin the descent downriver. On the banks of the river the canoe guides begin a full briefing beforehand to ensure everyone knows what to do, especially if they fall overboard – not recommended.
This part of the adventure is in sturdy two-man canoes that require either some paddling to steer the right course or some drifting where the river takes its course. On the downstream journey the specialist guides point out sights and wildlife and share stories of this awe-inspiring area as you explore the shimmering channels of the Dart River as well as hidden side streams, rock pools and dramatic chasms.
At certain times of the year the river becomes very shallow in certain spots and in our case this meant walking the canoes through a few difficult stretches of river, which can be a bit hard on young children or older people with ankle or knee problems, but for me, in some ways it just added to the excitement of the trip.
As we pulled into the gentle flow from a tributary we walked our canoes up to a small pebble beach where they were stored while we had a buffet lunch. Now it was time to enjoy a full riverside wilderness picnic and reflect somewhat on the first part of the journey.
Once back in the canoes it was time to explore a Golan-like hidden chasm cut out through mammoth rocks with crystal-clear deep emerald pools below a powerful waterfall before we launched the canoes back into the main flow of river.
The last job of the day when we were back on dry land was deflating the canoes as everybody helps give a hand to the crew to load all the equipment onto a trailer before we embarked on a warm ride in the bus back to base for a hot cuppa.
Dart River Jet Safaris offer a unique outdoor adventure combination that is hard to beat in what is known as the ‘Adventure Capital of New Zealand.’ This is one trip I’ll store in the travel memory vault for a lifetime . . . so remember, if someday you make it out onto the wide and mighty Dart River, simply go with the flow.
Dart River Jet Safaris
T: 03 442 9992
This is the trip that delivers an adventure package combo to suit all ages
Jet Boat Action • Unique Funyak Adventure • Wilderness Buffet Lunch
Jet Boat Action • Guided Ancient Forest Walk • Back-Country 4WD
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