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Pilgrimage or Baptism of Fire?

Haast is a pilgrimage for many jet boaters at Easter, but for one new boater and his family this was more like a baptism of fire. Derek Ayson’s no stranger to a speed rush. The Southlander from Gore has been behind the wheel of his rally car for years, as his trophy cabinet can attest to! Sliding the tail of his high powered Ford Escort around gravel roads is not too dissimilar to a jet boat, so a foray into river boating sometime in his life was hardly unexpected. What was surprising to everyone on this Canterbury branch pilgrimage though, was the speed with which he adapted from gravel to water in a weekend of 15 hours of jet boating across six very different and often challenging rivers.
Derek: Well, what a fantastic jet boating weekend Rachel and I had with our girls Georgia and Chonelle!!

First a little bit of history. Prior to this trip, we had very minimal jet boating experience, especially behind the wheel. Our jet boating interest started when our good friends Paul and Robyn Mullan invited us to come jet boating with them up the Dart river, then the Kawarau and Shotover rivers at New Year in 2015, experiences we thoroughly enjoyed. A few months later (while staying with Paul and Robyn at Lake Hood), we all climbed into their Hamilton 152a and headed up the Rakaia river starting at the Gorge bridge, boating up as far as we could go. When we got back to the bridge Paul let me have a drive back up the river for a bit, then back down to the trailer with a few pointers along the way.
Well this was so much fun, so the hunt began for a jet boat of our own. A few months later we purchased a tidy Mk3 Hamilton 141a from Jason Popplewell in Gore and is running a Ford 302 Windsor with a Hamilton 3 stage jet unit. It’s an awesome boat built up from new by Graeme Savage as highlighted in his readerSHIP column in Autumn’s JET mag.
Our first river we ventured onto was the Waiau that flows from Te Anau into Manapouri. This is a fairly deep river with not too many obstacles to hit, so was a good introduction to having a bit of a drive without too much pressure.
Our next boating adventure was Haast.

Thursday 24th March.  Briefing was held at the Haast Beach Motor Camp at 9am where Canterbury Branch Chairman Steve Kirner welcomed 24 boat crews from several different branches. After cruising fairly leisurely upstream for quite a few kilometres on the Waiatoto River, we arrived at a ‘rock garden’. I can see why it’s named that by the size of the fairly jagged rocks everywhere! I did ask myself “we’re not going up there are we?” But after most boats picked their way through the rocks I was not to be outdone and ventured carefully up amongst these reasonably large obstacles. The next rapid was Cathedral Rocks where the water was flowing quite fast and there was a bit of a climb into the next pool. Again with some excellent guidance from more experienced boaters we successfully negotiated it without any drama. After a bite of lunch we headed back to the trailers and off to the Jackson River. This was boated as far as we could go, then on the way back we ventured into the Ellery canal. The bridge near the start had scaffolding underneath it with only a small gap (about the width of my newly painted deck!) which I thought was as far as we could go. But a few boats managed to sneak through, so again, not to be outdone, we did as well and followed the river upstream into Lake Ellery. It was then a drag race to the top end of the lake! Getting back under the scaffolding was a bit interesting, so we decided to take our time and back through, which worked out pretty good, and the scaffolding stayed reasonably intact… and no scratches!
Friday 25th March. After briefing it was off to the boat ramp at Lake Paringa. A quick blast across the lake, down the Hall River and out into the Paringa River, past all the whitebait stands to the river mouth. After a walk over the sand dune to have a look at the sea, we headed back upstream to the Paringa Bridge where we all stopped for lunch and some wandered over to the salmon farm. Just before the bridge Colin Brown from Otago caught a nice trout, but it escaped out of the net before they got it in the boat. Fish 1 – Colin 0, but unlike most fishing stories there was evidence!
We all headed further upstream to where the river divided into two. Most of us ventured up the left branch to take a look but after the Lukes boat went up the right branch, hit a rock and snapped off a major oil line to the engine we decided that was probably far enough for us! Steve Kirner got behind the wheel of Steve Spargo’s LS powered 212 Rivercraft, skilfully towing the stricken 152 back to where it could be recovered by a vehicle just below the Paringa road bridge. We followed them downstream and were totally impressed as we had never seen this done before! With a bit of time left in the day, five boats launched into the Waita River and headed up the Maori River towards the Maori Lakes. Well this was great fun and was a bit like rally driving on water!! After lots and lots and lots, of corners we emerged out into the Lake, but were advised not to stop as would probably get weed stuck in the grill. Not wishing to experience that for the first time we  did a big loop and all headed back downstream. This wee adventure was the highlight of our day!
Saturday 26th March. After drivers briefing, it was off to the Cascade River, south of Haast. What a fantastic road heading in there and a real hidden valley. It was probably lucky I was towing a boat, otherwise I would have been tempted to attack it at ‘rally pace’ – Lol!  Another great river with a few side chutes we all ventured up for a look. About four boats headed up the Barn River which started off very much like the river to the Maori Lakes, then it got narrower and narrower until all of us got weed stuck in the grill – so now I have experienced extracting weed from the grill. Edging the boats around in a channel narrower than the length of the boats was quite entertaining, then it was back out onto the Cascade. We scooted down to the mouth for a look and past a lot of very elaborate looking white bait stands. On the way back to the trailers I heard a noise behind us getting louder and louder and thought “crikey that boat behind us is going pretty fast”. Next thing a helicopter buzzed right over us with the Lukes inside waving! It was actually quite funny as they’d hired the chopper to continue because they couldn’t fix their boat! Then it was back out ‘that fantastic road’ again and down to Jacksons for fresh Blue Cod, Orange Roughy and Gurnard for dinner.
Sunday 27th March. After saying goodbye to a lot of great people we had met, we and 6 other boats decided to boat the Makarora and Wilkin Rivers on the way home as the weather was still sensational. We headed up the Wilkin and stopped just past the hut for a bite of lunch. Colin did the good deed of ferrying a couple of tourist trampers to the other side of the river so they could unload some gear into the hut. Then it was back down the Wilkin (following the commercial jet boat) and up the Makarora as far as we were allowed. On the way back, John and Margaret Shearer managed to get their wee Scott Jet beached three times (following our enthusiastic leader for the day, Colin Brown). On one occasion we were following them (at a safe distance as I have learned) and had to think quick and take evasive action by skipping over a few ‘wet stones’ and back into some deeper water… Lol. We were all done and back on the trailers by mid afternoon.
I have to say again, what a fantastic weekend our family had! Our first real jet boating experience was one we will remember for a long time! We boated some amazing rivers, got to see some spectacular parts of New Zealand and met a lot of awesome people! The camaraderie between everyone involved was tremendous (very much like rallying) and the guidance and pointers to help us gain experience navigating the very different rivers was greatly appreciated! A big thanks to Steve Kirner and the Canterbury Branch for a well organised jet boat run (and for turning on some nice sunny West Coast weather), and to our good friends Paul and Robyn for introducing us to this new sport! We are hooked now!