Dart River Jet Safaris celebrates 25 years of fun and innovation

Dart River Jet Safaris celebrates 25 years of fun and innovation

A quarter of a century of fun and innovation on one of New Zealand’s most distinctive waterways will be celebrated by Dart River Jet founders and a host of staff past and present later this month.

Current owners Ngai Tahu Tourism, will welcome hundreds of former staff from as far afield as Sydney, the North Island, Christchurch along with special guest founders Neil Ross and wife Robyn to celebrations in Glenorchy on Saturday September 14.

During the day invited guests will take their families on a Wilderness Jet experience along the stunning Dart River, and later enjoy an adults-only evening of nostalgia over dinner, drinks, cake and speeches at Glenorchy Lodge.

Celebrating 25 years of pioneering wilderness adventures, the evening dinner -- and tall tales to be told of days gone by – promises to be an entertaining night out. An ‘open mic’ session will give past staff the chance to talk through some of the colourful experiences of the first safaris.

Now one of New Zealand’s most spectacular jet boating experiences attracting domestic and international visitors. The business initially started with a five-seater Hamilton 141a boat and the enthusiasm of local Glenorchy farmer and jet boat lover Neil Ross. Mr Ross said those first years were built on passion, hard graft and the much-needed support of wife Robyn. “

People around Queenstown said I was completely mad when I suggested a back-country jet boat tour to friends in the tourism industry,” he said. “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.” Working on some basic customer research and a belief that others would enjoy the Dart scenery as much as he did, Mr Ross’ first ever Dart River Jet Safari departed on October 1, 1988 with just five passengers. “They were blown away,” he said. “One in particular, Rip Gray, wrote to me soon afterwards to say the tour had exceeded all expectations. With that feedback, we knew we had something special. “It was obvious fairly quickly that people loved the combination of jet boating with accessing the beauty and remoteness of the backcountry. That unique component was and still is a real drawcard.”

One year later and the one-man van driver, jet boat operator and tour guide operation had doubled in size, taking on more staff, more vehicles, setting up in Queenstown and dropping a second boat, the Destroyer, into the water. Dart River Jet Safaris’ was also the first operator to hire a female driver, Toni Chiddock, who Mr Ross described as being one of the best drivers in the history of the company.

“Toni was a very accurate, safety-conscious driver and she was also very entertaining for the mostly male clientele.” Today, Mr Ross remains a champion of the industry supporting equal opportunities. He said 1993 was also a watershed year for the business. “Around the same time, other now-iconic tourism businesses such as AJ Hackett Bungy were starting, spurring the adventure tourism scene in Queenstown.”

In 1996, with seven boats, nine full-time and four part-time staff, three coaches and a significant annual turnover, the successful business attracted the eye of long-time jet boat operator, Shotover Jet, which took over operations.

Current Dart River Jet General Manager Clark Scott said the business had grown from strength to strength, following in the determined footsteps of the Ross family. “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,” he 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 park and Dart River Valley from water and land.”

Dart River Jet’s Wilderness and Funyak trips take visitors on the region’s longest and jet boat rides into Mt Aspiring National Park, combining breathtaking scenery, exhilarating wilderness jet boating, Maori heritage and inspiring adventure.

Next month Dart River Jet Safaris will release a special local’s day rate for Saturday 19th October (Oct 20 as weather contingency day) with all funds from the day going to a Glenorchy charity.

For further media information please contact:

Nigel Kerr
Ngai Tahu Tourism Southern Marketing Manager
DDI: +64 3 442 9361
Mobile: +64 27 2368553
Email: nigel.kerr@nttourism.co.nz

About Ngāi Tahu Tourism

Ngāi Tahu Tourism is one of New Zealand’s premier tourism operators and the parent company of an extensive portfolio of iconic adventure and eco-tourism businesses. From high adrenalin thrills to remote and spectacular World Heritage locations each business offers a range of unique experiences for travellers to and around New Zealand. South Island operations include Shotover Jet, Dart River Jet Safaris and Hollyford Track Guided Walks in Queenstown, and Franz Josef Glacier Guides and Glacier Hot Pools in Franz Josef. North Island operations include Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park and a significant investment in the Agrodome in Rotorua and the Hukafalls Jet in Taupo. Ngāi Tahu Tourism is part of the Ngāi Tahu Holdings Group which includes significant seafood and property businesses.