In our continuing series on Adventure Sports, we recently plunked down for a jet boat ride on Lake Wanaka near the South Island’s West Coast. Wanaka is perhaps second only to Queenstown for adventure activities in the south.Jet boating is not exactly a life-and-limb pursuit. But, like the para-gliding we did in Queenstown, it’s a whole lot of fun.

As we learned from our boat pilot, a lean, soul-patch-sporting Kiwi named Craig, an average jet boat can do 0 to 80 kilometers in five seconds. The standard, no-frills six-seaters operate with about 340 horsepower. “That’s nothing, really,” Craig said. “There’s boats around here with 1,100 horsepower. They can do 0 to 90 miles per hour in about two seconds.”

Craig’s been doing this “all my life,” he said, “but commercially for the past 10 years.” He’s trying to convince his boss to spring for a more powerful boat, something along the lines of the 1,100-hp rocket ships. Buzzing down Lake Wanaka – a family of four stuffed uneasily in back, Lisa and myself sharing the front seat – he showed us how a shortened steering fulcrum makes a huge difference in a jet-powered boat: when he takes his foot off the gas the wheel loosens, with lots of give to either side … but when he punches the accelerator the wheel tightens up, making possible the sharpest turns imaginable on water.

Right away we got a demonstration. Barely 5 km out from the dock Craig veered for a buoy, a floating traffic sign – Wanaka is a busy lake. At full speed with about 20 meters to go he tilted the wheel to miss the buoy – then veered back sharply to aim directly for it again. Lisa let out an involuntary cry as Craig, going about 70 kph, gave the wheel two more turns to miss the buoy by inches.

Everyone cheered. “You could have gotten closer,” I said.

“Is that right?” Craig asked, good-naturedly. “We’ll have to do a better job on the way back then.”

We motored up the Clutha River, pausing to do several “Hamiltons” – the equivalent of donuts on an icy road – which sent spray foaming into the back seat. Squeals of delight. The little girl was angry because she had to sit in the middle and couldn’t see anything. But we saw plenty – maybe too much. The mighty Clutha is New Zealand’s second-longest river, with its share of rapids and rocky obstructions, and Craig seemed to aim deliberately for every one.

Not to worry, he said: without a propeller or rudder, and with five inches of industrial-strength aluminum for a hull, we were all but disaster-proof. Strange to me, a canoeist going back to childhood, to intentionally hit boulders and snags I’ve painstakingly (and sometimes painfully) learned to avoid.

On the return trip, true to his word, Craig steered us toward the bobbing traffic sign. “I believe something was said about getting closer.” He winked back at the squirming kids, the boy and his sister, and aimed the prow squarely at the target.

Again he veered away with a safe distance to go. Again he expertly manipulated the wheel to send the speeding boat back at the buoy.

But this time, instead of two last-second changes of direction, Craig swerved a third time. Impact seemed unavoidable. We careened past the buoy with a flourish that nearly took the red paint off the gleaming prow.

Robust cheers all round. Craig cracked a vulpine smile.

“I apologize for my first effort.”