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So close to Wanaka township and yet so remote from civilisation is the pristine Matukituki River, just on the fringe of the Mount Aspiring National Park. This is one of the lesser known national parks of New Zealand and probably a little understated, but it's majestic peaks and raw remote landscapes are truly world class.
Wanaka River Journeys operates an amazing half day trip into this absolutely pristine alpine region. Departing central Wanaka by minibus, the very scenic 20 minute drive stops at the bridge where the Matukituki River enters Lake Wanaka from the mountains behind. Here everyone transfers from the minibus to the waiting jetboat. After a full safety briefing, donning of life jackets, introduction to the extremely well qualified jetboat driver etc the thrills really start coming thick and fast!
Jetboats are designed to skim over very shallow water and much of the Matukituki is just that. It doesn't pay to over think it, but the jetboat is travelling at high speed over water that is ankle deep! Truly, the expertise of the driver is outstanding and a thrill in itself. Having said that, the trip is more about the spectacular scenery than it is about doing 360 spins in the jetboat - although the driver does sneak in a few of those as well!
The jetboat trip is 42km up river through the most pristine alpine landscapes. Every now and then there is a deep pool to stop, pause and breathe in the surrounding views while the guide points out the many highlights. Avalanche Glacier is particularly impressive, as is Treble Cone skifield and, if the high cloud plays the game, mighty Mount Aspiring itself. The commentary includes Maori and colonial history of the region, some LOTR film insights and identifying bird species which includes oyster catchers, paradise ducks, canada geese and swallows. Even seagulls, so far from the ocean, nest on the shingle islands between the river braids.
It takes approximately an hour to travel up the river as far as a jetboat can go. Then there is an opportunity to disembark adjacent to a rock outcrop that performs the duty of "jetty" and enjoy some time on land with a guided 2km round trip walk across grassland, through some native mountain beech forest to a lookout point for a view of Mount Aspiring.
The funny thing about river trips is that they are one way in, the same way out, and yet the scenery on the return journey looks so completely different. Thankfully the boat driver again makes photo stops along the way to catch the new camera angles. The trip finishes back at the lake, back into the minibus for the return drive to Wanaka township.
Ideally a 2 night stop in Wanaka puts a little space around the trip and offers time to enjoy Wanaka's very relaxed lifestyle, but even if you are on a self drive holiday en route from Queenstown to Fox or Franz, allocating a few hours around Wanaka to experience this amazing part of New Zealand is worth every minute.
This trip has been on my list for far too long. The anticipation was far exceeded by the reality so if this isn't on your list yet, then put it there!
Travelling around New Zealand by self drive rental car allows wonderful flexibility to create interesting, compelling New Zealand holidays that include the popular hot spots as well as more off-the-beaten-track places like beautiful Wanaka.