Thursday, December 15, 2011

The right kind of jet set

Today in Auckland it's like Fiordland on a typical day, with grey skies, wind and torrential rain - what Mike our Hollyford Valley guide called 'inch-an-hour'. There's been a state of emergency declared in Tasman, at the top of the South Island, people flooded out, roads closed and two foolish tourists rescued from their precarious perch clinging to a poplar tree's spindly branches after getting too close to a raging river. Yet down in Fiordland where this sort of stuff is unremarkable (some parts like Milford Sound get up to 8m of rain a year) it was, and is, dry and calm, so that our jetboat driver, Rob, sat in amazement when we came off the river into the lake: "I've never seen Lake McKerrow look like this," he said as the ripples died away and the surface returned to mirror-smoothness.

The drought ("two weeks without a proper rain!" we kept hearing from the walk people, in tones of astonishment) meant that the river level was 2m lower than usual, so they'd had to cut a new path through the bush down to a deeper part of the channel than the one nearer the lodge where Rob normally moors the boat. Tucked under a tree fern, incidentally, were a couple of boxes labelled 'Fresh Free-Range Eggs' that he'd unloaded for the lodge. I had to commend them on their respect for animal rights in not using battery hen eggs to bait their stoat traps.

The trip along the river was consequently even more exciting than usual, as we skimmed over the shallows, sometimes less than a foot in depth, with rocks and logs to add to the challenge. Not normally a huge jet boat fan - and especially not of the Gold Coast incarnation, which does nothing but deliver nauseating 360 degree spins - I thoroughly approved of this trip, as it was exactly what the Hamilton jet was invented to do: navigate shallow braided rivers, enabling access to back-country, up-river areas that would otherwise require days of walking or riding to get to. Invented by a New Zealander, of course.

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