No matter how stunning the falls are from the banks of the Waikato the best way to view them is from the water itself and since 1990 Hukafalls Jet, an icon of the Taupo tourist industry, has given 870,000 visitors that water level experience as well as an adrenaline surging thrill ride.
Hukafalls Jet operates four boats overseen by an on-site mechanic and powered by twin V6 Buick engines capable of 560 horsepower and Hamilton Jet units thrusting 640 litres of water per second. A unique hull design allows the boats to spin on the spot 360 degrees. All this adds up to acceleration, speed and fun! Each boat carries up to fourteen passengers on the thirty minute ride that can depart every fifteen minutes during the summer peak season.
Each of the jet boat pilots is chosen using psychometric testing as driver attitude and behaviour are a critical part of Hukafalls Jet’s stringent safety program. As Business Manager, Simon Thew explains.
“Drivers come from all backgrounds and personality is a big factor, we have to make sure our drivers are the kind of people who have respect for regulations and rules and that they are not risk-takers. They need to be able to inform and entertain their passengers to provide a fun, exciting experience that is at the same time extremely safe. We invest a hundred hours training time in every driver before they are allowed to make a commercial run, this is double the number of hours set down by Maritime Safety New Zealand regulations. The boats also run on a maintenance schedule similar to that of commercial aircraft, key parts are replaced after a set number of hours whether they are worn or not.”
Seating in the boats is tiered so that everyone gets a great view.
“Even the hand rails are heated in winter and we give out spray jackets when it’s colder, yes you do get wet! The boats travel at 80kms an hour up to the base of the falls as far as they can go, in the pool below the falls the water is extremely aerated and jet boats don’t do as well in that kind of water. Everyone has to be over a metre tall to be allowed to ride but the oldest passenger we’ve had was a local woman of 102!”
Every year Hukafalls Jet operates a ‘Locals Weekend’. This gives local Taupo residents a chance to take the ride for a heavily discounted price , and with the company covering all the weekend’s running costs, all proceeds are donated to local community organisations. In the past ten years 6000 locals have taken advantage of the event and $100,000 has been donated.