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50 years of Shotover Jet boat history on display at Queenstown International Airport

October 12, 2015 Attraction No Comments Email Email

Fifty years of innovation, tourism history and success is on display for all to see at Queenstown International Airport this month and next.


The original Hamilton Jet 30 that started ‘the world’s most exciting jet boat ride’ being admired by (L to R) Molly Woodham, Sophie Woodham, Marsha Gillan and Katie Molloy (all 13) at Queenstown Airport 

As Queenstown’s iconic Shotover Jet celebrates a landmark 50 years in tourism, thousands of visitors to the airport’s international and domestic terminals can see for themselves just how jet boat technology has improved over the decades.

On display in the domestic arrivals area is an original Hamilton Jet boat – makers of Shotover Jet boats in the early years.

Laden with history and a powerful reminder of just how much technology has improved over the decades, the Hamilton Jet 30 features a red fibreglass hull #109 moulded in Hamilton Jet’s’ Christchurch factory with a timber deck.

It left the factory on Christmas Eve 1963 and went straight into service over the busy Christmas and New Year holidays, registered as ‘Red hull Queenstown taxi’ by the pioneering Melhop brothers, Harold and Alan.

Hamilton Jet built 188 of these boats between 1960 and 1972, powered by a 170 horsepower Ford Falcon engine coupled to a Hamilton Single Stage Colorado Jet Unit.

While widely admired for its power and maneuverability at the time, this pumped 220 litres of water a second through the jet unit compared to the 740 litres per second of Shotover Jet’s current boats.

In 1965 this boat was transferred to Shotover Jet Services — also owned by the Melhops — and so started the era of Shotover Jet.

“We’re thrilled to have one of these early boats as it represents a piece of early New Zealand tourism history,” said Ngāi Tahu Tourism Southern Regional Manager David Kennedy.


“We’re even more delighted to have it on display at the airport for two months for everyone to admire.”


As well as the Jet 30, another display sits in the international arrivals hall, where a small replica Shotover Jet ‘buggy’ sits on rocks in front of a famous Shotover River canyon image.

Visitors are being encouraged to sit in the buggy and take their own photos.

In November 2015 Shotover Jet will become the first jet boat operator in the world to reach a milestone 50 years’ of continuous operation. It started operations on the upper Shotover River in 1965 and was one of the experiences that helped put New Zealand on the global tourism map.

An original adventure tourism operator, not only is Shotover Jet still going, it’s still growing — last year carrying over 140,000 people from around the world.

Fun facts about the Jet 30 and tourism

The Jet 30 came from the factory with seating for four passengers.  In the early 1970’s, Shotover Jet owner Trevor Gamble realized that another row of passengers could be seated above the engine.

As well as enabling him to carry more passengers, this tiered seating enabled rear passengers to get a good view forward.  When in 1975 Trevor designed the first alloy ‘Big Red’ boats, he incorporated tiered seating into the design, something that continues to this day and is now used by most other jet boat companies.

The Jet 30 was the boat that started the ‘World’s most exciting jet boat ride’ that made Shotover Jet famous.

In 1972 Trevor had owned the business for a few years and was starting to go close to the rocks in the gorge.

“We started to get complaints about how dangerous it was from some customers and I thought I’d better back off.  But on one trip I had an old lady who was at least 70, with a hearing aid.  So I whizzed down the gorge missing everything by at least three feet, and when I turned and stopped at the bottom of the first gorge she started to speak before I could,” he said.

“She said it had been so exciting on her trip the previous year, she’d brought her husband back but found it boring and demanded a refund.

“That night my wife Heather and I went home and said, right, that’s it, we advertise it as a thrill trip from now on.  We’ll go as close as possible to the rocks.”

The Jet 30 continued in service until 1975 when it was retired in favour of the new and bigger alloy Mark 1 boats which carried 10 passengers in comfort.  One of these boats is on display at the Shotover Jet river base in Arthurs Point.

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