298 Days on the Road
Today we are visiting New Zealand’s most-visited natural attraction… but in style!
Our morning drive brings us just outside of Taupo to the Wairakei Park, home of heaps of things to do including the Hukafalls Jet and the Huka Prawn Park. Conveniently, the two are located right next door to each other on the banks of the Waikato River!
The Hukafalls Jet
First on the itinerary is the Hukafalls Jet. We walk into their base of bright blue and red colours, the same colours used on their jetboat, and check-in. Tickets in hand, we are ready to take on the jetboat, a New Zealand invention where water is taken into the jets, rather than your standard propeller motor, and thrust out at 800 litres per second.
Sarah, our driver, takes us and the 12 other passengers down to the jetty where we are equipped with a long and sexy splash jacket, as well as a life-jacket. From there, we’re filing into the jetboat itself with tiered seating so everyone gets an unobstructed view. Like the brave souls, we get into the two front seat and let the ride begin!
Still loving that 360-spin!
Sarah drive us away from the jet, stopping the boat in the middle of the river, sitting high on the side of the boat, and gives a quick safety briefing. The thing to really look out for is the signal for the 360-degree spin…
With that, she gives us the first 360-spin signal of many and literally gives us a sharp twirl! The boat spins suddenly, ending with a huge splash as it crashes into its own wake. No matter how many jet boat rides we have done during our 365 Days: 365 Activities, this trick never gets old! Plus, it’s just a taste of precise maneuverability of jetboats!
Close calls and near-misses
Now we speed downstream with riverbanks surrounded by native forest. Some of that forest is even creeping into the river itself, which Sarah makes sure we get well close to. Just when it looks like the boat is about to collide with a tree, it turns at the very last second. A lady behind us on the boat gives a blood-curdling scream every time we have one of these near-misses just adding hilarity to the thrill ride!
We are also thankful for the manoeuvrability of the jetboat while it is travelling around 80km/h down the Waikato River due to the fact that there are heaps of black swans swanning about. The last thing we want is a giant bird splatting into the boat like some sort of horror movie. There are a few moments when a swan looks like it could fly straight into us, but Sarah’s got this covered, swerving away from the over-sized birds.
Aratiatia Dam to geothermal power stations to the falls!
We come to a stop at the Aratiatia Dam which is being released as we speak! This is just one of the control gates used for power generation and controlling the river level, which is cranking right now! The water level is so high right now that Sarah doesn’t even think the power of Huka Falls will let the jetboat get as close as usual. We’re soon to find out anyway.
After Sarah tells us more about the Hamilton Jet technology, the type of jet used on these jetboats, we are driving straight back down the river with plenty of 360-spins and near-misses along the way. We stop alongside a geothermal power station where we are encouraged to touch the hot water running out of the power station. Then, we are back on course for Huka Falls!
Approaching the forceful rapids of Huka Falls
Jetboating to extreme rapids and falls
The journey is one of 360-spin after 360-spin, close calls with gorge walls, and weaving around small islands. We’re holding on for dear life wondering what the hell we are going to get close to next! Soon enough, it is Huka Falls itself!
Suddenly, the dark blue waters of the deep Waikato River turns light and foamy as it is churned out of set of rapids where the river has suddenly been squeezed down a narrow gorge and suddenly falls into another section of wide river. It’s a magnificent and compelling sight made all the more grand by being down at water level. We are given plenty of time to take photos and take in the falls, while Sarah rides round and around the falls, getting as close at the boat will go before the power of the river is too much. We still get surprisingly close – we wonder how close these boats can get to the raging falls on a “low water level” day?!
Now we have the thrill ride to enjoy all the way back to base where we all leave the boat in a water-splattered mess with huge smiles on our faces. That sure is an insane way to see Huka Falls!
Guided tour through the Huka Prawn Park
Grabbing some photos and video of the experience provided by Hukafalls Jet, we head on over to our second activity of the day which is a complete contrast to the first, the Huka Prawn Park.
A person dressed as a giant prawn, Shawn the Prawn, greets us with waves and hug on the way into the prawn park. Hilariously, Laura realises that her jacket is the same colour as Shawn so she instantly feels like she’ll get on well here at the prawn park. We arrive just in time to catch one of the guided tours which begins every hour. Rob, our guide, takes our group to the pump house where the excess geothermal waters from the power station next door is pumped through, along with cold water, to create the perfect temperature for prawns to live in. With these ideal conditions, that’s why the Huka Prawn Park is New Zealand’s only prawn park and the only place you can fish for prawns in the whole country.
Close encounters and feeding the prawns
Next, Rob takes us to an aquarium where we can get a look at the prawns up-close. Lit up well, we get to really see great details in these fascinating creatures. Coming to the prawn park, we had never seen these creatures other than wrapped up in the supermarket, but right now we are learning just how awesome prawns are, from their googly eyes to their long and ferocious blue claws!
In the nursery, we get some more insights into the life-cycle of a prawn, as well as the work done here at the prawn park. Then Rob is taking us to a pool with young prawns to hand feed them. We dip our hands into the lukewarm water and feel the little critters cling onto our hands in search for the food.
We’ve seen the prawns through various different stages of life, fed the prawns and hopefully, the prawns are going to feed us! Equipped with a simple fishing rod, some bait and a bucket of cold water, we head out to the fishing ponds to catch us a snack.
That moment we found out that fools can’t fish for prawns…
Finding a nice spot under a cabbage tree, we sit on a rock, throw our line into the water, and wait… Sure, we feel a few tugs but it’s not enough to hook the prawns. Patience and trying out different spots is the key, according to our guide prior to fishing, but perhaps we don’t posses the former quality. Although we leave the prawn park empty-handed, we do treat ourselves to cooking a curry back at the Base Backpackers… A prawn curry would have been nice though! Damn our inability to fish!
On that note of failure, join us tomorrow where we might have better luck catching trout on Lake Taupo!
Having a peek at the prawns in the aquarium
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See you tomorrow!