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Wilderness with a Rush

19 Aug 2014

Thundering through the gorges and over river flats at more than 80 kilometres per hour rapidly rids the mind of city ills and instead focuses on all the wonderful scenery that middle Earth provides.

My friend Melissa and I are invited to experience a two­day jetboat adventure with Ric Georgeson, the owner of Rakaia Gorge Alpine Jet, just a 45 minute drive from Christchurch. As we travel southwest across the Canterbury Plains we are soon in deep wilderness, surrounded by snow­capped mountains and stands of evergreens and riverbank vegetation.

Ric first carries out a full safety procedure. We don comfortable lifejackets along with six other adventurers who have booked the overnight high country experience. After loading all the gear into the boat there is still ample room for passengers and Ric‘s friendly dog.

Excitement arrives immediately as we leave the jetty and enter the rapids of the fast­moving Rakaia River. This jetboat is one sophisticated machine. It is powered by a six litre, especially modified Chevrolet engine.

Ric has an intimate knowledge of this form of transport as his grandfather, Bill Hamilton, invented the waterjet propulsion system in 1954 that is now powering boats all around the globe. Ric has access to the Christchurch manufacturing plant and has his boat regularly maintained by the Hamilton Marine factory.

The Rakaia is littered with nature‘s handiwork. Rocks and gravel bars create a labyrinth of obstacles through which the rushing waters carve out their channels. As we sit, trying as hard as possible to remain upright, as the boat careers at high speed through water as shallow as 100 millimetres and within centimetres of jutting rocks and overhangs, we begin to appreciate Ric‘s experience. What is especially exhilarating about this adventure activity is that all that lies between the adventurers and the next rock is the skill of one person at the helm. On a jetboat we learn that it‘s possible to scream and grin at the same time. I am grateful to have an experienced river pilot as we speed from quiet eddies, over sandbars, between rock ledges and over the ever­rushing water.

I begin to believe that this jetboat could run on the stream of adrenalin flowing from our on­board team. After about 30 minutes of fun, Ric lands the keen fisher folk on strategic spots along the river. Those of us who prefer to swim or explore the wilderness and set up camp are dropped at Friendship Bay, an area ideal for camping and swimming. There is a wonderful, deep eddy that cuts back in from the rapid Rakaia and is perfectly safe for swimming and diving.

It is not long before we have the tents pitched and a fire going to help dry clothes a little dampened by the exhilarating ride to Friendship Bay. The bay is sandy, unusual for a riverbank, and is well positioned and sheltered, making it a perfect camp site.

It‘s not long before the boat returns with Melissa holding on to a four kilogram salmon she had hooked only a few minutes from the camp. The cooking utensils are produced and, along with a gourmet spread Ric has prepared, we enjoy fresh, high country salmon. This proves to be an ideal finale to a wonderful river experience.

The next morning Ric calls us all from our camp beds at 9am. After a swim in the river we enjoy the choice of either a healthy or hearty breakfast. Appetites blossom in the high country and there is not a lot of food packed back onto the boat.

We all climb aboard around 10am and head back down the river to the jetty in the Rakaia Gorge, all wishing that we could have spent a few more days up­river trying for a few more salmon and trout.

Ric is also a professional fishing guide and has landed countless trophy fish over the many years he has spent on the Rakaia. Photographs adorn his office walls of many satisfied clients who also will not forget the mighty Rakaia. Jetboat adventures, whether overnight sojourns or short, exhilarating blasts, can be experienced throughout New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific.