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KJet (formerly known as Kawarau Jet) was established in 1958 and was the world’s first commercial Jet boating operation.
Local brothers Alan and Harold Melhop made the first powered navigation of the Kawarau Falls Dam in the radical new Hamilton Jet 30 in the summer of 1958/59.
The pair, whose Invercargill engineering business was an agency for the revolutionary Hamilton Jet boats, found that holidaymakers soon lined up for rides on the thrilling new boat, and one shilling a go, the trip provided efficient fundraising for the Christian camp.
The brothers eventually convinced the six-person Christian trust to invest in the operation by buying its own Hamilton Jet - the price was 1200 pounds. So began one of Queenstown's most successful and enduring tourist operations.
The Kawarau Jet service initially operated from the Frankton Jetty near the Frankton Campground but in 1960 moved to a new site on the Queenstown Town Pier at the urging of the borough council which was keen to benefit from the increasingly popular tourism operation.
Soon after, the Shotover Extension was added. A true safari, the trip departed from the Queenstown Town Pier, journeyed down the Kawarau and up the Shotover through the canyons, under the Edith Cavill Bridge as far as the Oxenbridge Tunnel. The boats often grounded in the shallow braids of the lower Shotover River and in 1965 a separate Shotover Jet Service was launched avoiding the troublesome shallow waters.
The trip started at the Edith Cavell Bridge and travelled down to Tucker Beach and back. Both the Kawarau and Shotover Jet services continued to return funds to the camp until 1966 by which time both services had been sold to pay off camp building mortgages. Two dormitories housing a total of 80 beds were paid for by the sale of the services.
Today, KJet is still locally owned and operated and is one of Queenstown’s most successful tourism operations, providing thousands of visitors with over 60 minutes of pure adrenalin 365 days a year!
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