Glacier jet boat and heli combo adventure, near Wanaka
Glacier jet boat and heli combo adventure, near Wanaka

Luxury Adventures are doing a series of interviews with some of our key suppliers looking at the different aspects of their lives and how these influence the experiences they offer. Wanaka River Journeys are located in Wanaka, South Island, New Zealand.

Tell us about you’re the Wanaka River Journeys story and how it came to be? 

Brent and Sue Pihama are our names. We created, own and operate Wanaka River Journeys. As well as breathe, eat and sleep our business like most small business owners.  We moved to Wanaka in 1985. With our three children have skied, flown, hunted, boated and explored in the Matukituki Valley. Thus we know it pretty well. Early in our family life, Brent worked off-shore in the oil industry and I was lucky to be mum at home. We wanted to create something here in Wanaka. Therefore in November 2005 we began our jet boating business dream and are now lucky enough to make a living sharing our passion for this amazing area.

What experience do the members of the Wanaka River Journey team have? 

All of our team are extensively qualified in their respective roles. Our jet boat driver/ guides are all Wanaka locals. All of who have years of commercial jet boat driving experience. In addition we require these guides to be able to present to our clients the highest level of informative commentary in a fun and typically kiwi way.  Also have packraft guides who are all extensively qualified and experienced.

What is Wanaka River Journey’s Environmental stance?

Wanaka River Journeys Environmental stance is represented in our company name. As well as the presentation of our product, branding and the passion of our staff. We wear our Qualmark Enviro Silver award with pride on our craft and in our marketing. Ours is a Journey and it is on this Journey that our clients are introduced to the Mount Aspiring National Park. Maori beliefs about the mountains and the waterways that flow from them. Our clients learn of all of these aspects while enjoying our totally unique wilderness experience. Incorporating Mount Aspiring. Hanging glaciers, cultural and environmental information. As well as the exhilaration of a jet boat ride and the peace of a wilderness Walk.

We are guardians of the Matukituki Valley. We see daily changes in the environment. Additional we monitor river, bird and human activity in the valley and will take action when needed. Together with the other guardians; D.O.C, the Valley’s farmers, other tourism operators and climbers. It is our expertise and depth of knowledge of the Valley’s environment that is called upon in many instances. From river safety to river rescue. Coupled with fish, eel, birdlife and flood information to stoat trapping programs.  The most important part of our Journey and one we pride ourselves on is sharing our knowledge of this impressive and yet fragile environment with our visitors. So they can return home with an awareness of the importance of balance between the land and its people.

Packrafting in Wanaka
Packrafting in Wanaka

Seasonally speaking, what are the best tour options during the winter months and how does the experience differ during this time?

Yes we have introduced our Wanaka Jet product for the winter months of June, July and August.  This is a shorter jet boat tour without the wilderness walk but with the other key elements of what makes our jet boat journeys so special. The stunning landscape, views of the glaciers and Mt Aspiring, LOTR film locations. Incredible guides and their stories as well as super shallow winter jet boating conditions, the most exciting of all jet boating experiences. This is perfect for winter as this is just 2.5 hours. We have heated handrails and footrests in our jet boats and winter visitors are more often than not here for skiing so we encourage them to wear their ski gear so perfectly dressed for the occasion!

Do customers need to wear or bring any special equipment for any of your tours? 

Yes, camera’s!! Sturdy footwear for a wilderness walk and dress wise, layers are best plus a warm jacket.  Those joining our packraft Wanaka tour bring a towel and swimwear or active-wear

For your jet boat and wilderness walk product, how far is the walk, do you need a certain level of fitness? 

Our wilderness walk can be anywhere between 50 mins and 80 mins depending on how much chatting goes on. It is an easy, mostly flat walk suited to a low fitness level across a variety of terrain from open grasslands to inside native beech forest. Or maybe along a river bank depending on which walk is being done on the day. The ground is uneven and on a semi formed trail. This may not be suitable for clients who have mobility issues. As we are in a remote location and the river flow dictates where we can stop the jet boat so there can be clambering off the jet boat, up on to a rocky banks required. Our guideline for this is you must be able to climb a flight of stairs unaided with ease.

Mt Aspiring National Park, Jet boat & hike
Mt Aspiring National Park, Jet boat & hike

How long should guests allow for the jet boat and wilderness walk? 

Four hours but give yourself extra time to find a car park, our central downtown pick-up location and possibly a coffee and bathroom stop before we pick you up for the tour.

The packraft tour looks interesting, can you tell us more about this option? 

We are so excited about this new product suited to those who are looking for a step up in active adventure in a truly remote location. Our tour incorporates the elements of jet boating, a wilderness hike. As well as packrafting the spectacular grade 2 Matukituki River beneath a glacier. These small, stable inflatable rafts paddle like a kayak and because they are so light and pack into a backpack enable us to travel deep into the valley to access the most spectacular of River locations. You don’t need any experience to join this tour but need a fitness level suited to a full, active day and must be able to swim.

With your glacier heli, jet tour is there an opportunity to land on a glacier, can you talk us through the day?

Yes this tour called our Glacier Jet is remarkable in that clients leave the jet boat in a remote part of the Valley to fly by helicopter around the Rob Roy and Avalanche Glaciers and on to the Isobel Glacier for a landing. During this flight you see spectacular waterfalls, hanging valleys where glaciers once lay and of course the most spectacular hanging glaciers. After the flight which is 25 minutes, land back at the jet boat and continue with the wilderness walk

Which of your products is suited to the LOTR fans?

All of our products are suited to LOTR fans. There are film locations and scenery shown on the films throughout the Matukituki Valley. The jet boat driver / guide incorporates this information during every tour.

For clients with limited time, which of your activities would you recommend? 

Definitely the half day Jet Boat and Wilderness Walk or Glacier Jet which are both 4 hours. For those heading on to the West Coast or down to Te Anau or Queenstown there is plenty of time to travel to these locations after the morning 10am tour

Enjoying a private high country 4wd experience near Wanaka in the South Island of New Zealand
Enjoying a private high country 4wd experience near Wanaka in the South Island of New Zealand

What rivers do your jet boats run on and how does this compare to the Shotover for example? 

We operate on the Matukituki River which flows from Mount Aspiring, and Glaciers into the western shores of Lake Wanaka. The Matukituki Valley, through which our river flows was formed by retreating glaciers & is one of the best examples of this type of valley anywhere in the world. The Matukituki River is shallow and braided. Therefore perfect to experience how these incredible jet boats operate. It is this type of mountain river which jet boats were invented to navigate.

The big difference between the Matukituki river and the Shotover River is the location and the scenery. We travel into a wide open and spectacular glacier formed valley surrounded by mountains and glaciers where the Shotover jet boats travel into a narrow and stunning canyon with sheer rock faces either side.

Some of our clients want to see New Zealand’s wild life, which tour best fits their needs? 

I would recommend our Glacier River Safari. This is a full day tour which begins with our Jet Boat & Wilderness Walk. On this you will see river birds, trout at certain times of the year.  Occasionally we will spot deer or mountain Thar drinking from the river. After a picnic lunch Ridgeline adventures will pick you up from the river for an afternoon 4WD farm tour. This is on West Wanaka Station, a high country working sheep and deer farm. Bordering on the Mount Aspiring National Park. The 4WD guides have a wealth of knowledge of the farm and farm life. Furthermore the scenery is spectacular and the opportunity to drive through a high country working farm is extremely special.

Are all Wanaka River Journeys products suitable for families with children? 

Yes all of tours are suitable for families with children 4 years of age up. Children love the excitement of jet boating and the magic of the hobbit forest on our wilderness walk. If a helicopter is added you will be hearing their excitement for days to come.  Packraft Wanaka is suited to ages 12 up. Two person rafts enable you to paddle with one of your children or let the kids loose on their own rafts and they will be doing 360’s down the wave trains!

Brent & Sue Pihama are the owners operators of Wanaka River Journeys.

Luxury Adventures Tailoring luxury travel in New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific Islands since 1999.

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