A Dart River Jet Safaris boat heads up the Dart River, near
Paradise, in 2008. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Dart River Jet will today mark 25 years of operation with
a reunion of hundreds of former staff from across New Zealand
and Australia, along with founders Neil and Robyn Ross, in
Now a thriving business attracting domestic and international
visitors and owned by Ngai Tahu Tourism, the business started
with one five-seater Hamilton 141a jet-boat and Mr Ross, a
Glenorchy farmer and jet-boat lover.
The early years of the operation were built on passion, hard
graft and Mrs Ross' support, he said.
''People around Queenstown said I was completely mad when I
suggested a back-country jet-boat tour to friends in the
''There were already a number of operators on the rivers and
people said tourists were only interested in thrills as
opposed to a scenic boat ride,'' he said.
However, Mr Ross worked from some basic customer research and
a belief others would enjoy the Dart scenery as much as he
did, and the inaugural Dart River Jet Safari departed on
October 1, 1988 - with five passengers.
Among Dart River Jet Safaris passengers over the past 25
years were the late Sir Edmund Hillary and his wife, Lady
June (second row, first and second from right). The couple
are pictured during their honeymoon in December 1989. Photo
''They were blown away.
''One in particular, Rip Gray, wrote to me soon afterwards to
say the tour had exceeded all his expectations.
''With that feedback, we knew we had something special.''
The ''unique component'' of combining jet-boating with
accessing the remote back-country was - and still is - a
drawcard, Mr Ross said.
Within 12 months the one-man operation had doubled in size,
had added staff and vehicles, and set up in Queenstown,
dropping a second boat, the Destroyer, into the water.
The company was also the first operator in the area to hire a
female driver, Toni Chiddock, who was one of the best drivers
in the history of the company, Mr Ross said.
By 1996 the company - with seven boats, nine full-time and
four part-time staff, three coaches and a ''significant''
annual turnover - attracted the eye of Shotover Jet, which
took over operations.
Dart River Jet general manager Clark Scott said the business
had continued to grow from strength to strength, following in
the Ross family's determined footsteps.
''Twenty-five years ago, Neil saw a gap in the market, and
created a business that today remains one of Queenstown and
New Zealand's top water-based adventure tours, with
international appeal,'' Mr Scott said.
''It's a real honour to be here now - what makes us most
proud is that the success of the business is its full sensory
and educational experience, taking in the beauty and history
of the [Mt Aspiring] national park and Dart River Valley from
water and land.''
The Dart Wilderness Jet and Funyak trips take visitors on the
region's longest jet-boat rides into the Mt Aspiring National
Park, combining scenery, wilderness jet-boating, Maori
heritage and adventure.
During today's celebrations guests will take their families
on a Wilderness Jet experience along the Dart River before an
''adults only'' night of nostalgia over dinner, drinks, cakes
and speeches at the Glenorchy Lodge, which will include an
''open mic'' session to enable staff to tell stories about
the early days of the company.