A Travellerspoint blog

Witnessing the Ultimate New Zealand Experience

What else to do with a high bridge and a long piece of elastic?

sunny 22 °C

New Zealand is the infamous home of bungy jumping and outside Queenstown is the bungy operation that claims to have started it all – AJ Hackett’s at Kawarau Bridge. We decided to stop and watch some brave folks leap off the 142 foot high bridge, which overlooks a particularly picturesque river ravine. With bungy elastic strapped firmly around their ankles, and loud heavy rock music pumping from the jump station, individuals nervously hobbled to the edge of the platform and plunged to the river below. A few were ‘helped’ with a gentle nudge if they were taking too long.

Even watching people jump leaves a lump in your throat. As perfect strangers stand on the platform, you feel nervous for them: everyone can imagine the all-encompassing and uncontrollable terror they’d feel standing in the jumper’s shoes. You’d have to be crazy, right? I mean, of all the adventurous pursuits, bungy is the one I said I’d never do.

I guess I lied.

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I didn’t have any intention of doing it. But as Lloyd and I watched, I started to feel tempted. We’re in New Zealand, the home of bungy. The more I thought about it, it became clear that I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t do it. I’d never forgive such an overt demonstration of lack of courage. Though my belly was doing triple backflips just thinking about it, I concluded that there was – in fact - no choice. It simply had to be done.

Happily, the jump crews were taking a break for the twenty minutes or so before my jump, so I didn’t have to torture myself with experiencing the agony of jumps while I waited. But before I knew it, Lloyd and I were walking towards the jump platform in the middle of the bridge. Interestingly, I no longer felt nervous. I was 100% focused on the task in hand: I wanted to get off the platform as quickly as possible and reduce the opportunity for dithering or backing out. And I wanted – needed – to do it without once looking down.

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Waiting on the bridge to have my legs bound...

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Ankle binding.

Lloyd, prohibited by his back from jumping, left to get to the viewing area while I was taken onto the back of the jump platform. With a thick, blue towel for padding, my ankles were strapped firmly together while the crew member made some unwelcome small talk about the weather. There were questions I wanted to ask about the science behind the jump, but I was so totally focused on getting off that platform that I mostly sat there with a steel look of determination. When the crew attached the bungy cord to my feet ‘restraints’, I knew my time had come. Still, mysteriously, no nerves.

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Just seconds to go.... Focus. Focus. Focus.

I was helped to my feet and – as well as you can with your feet bound together – hobbled to the edge of the platform. I manage a pretty convincing smile for the camera and a wave over to Lloyd. The crew dude counts down from five. Five. “Just keep looking straight ahead.” Four. “This will be over in less than two minutes”. Three. “I just have to jump… the rest will take care of itself”. Two. “If I hesitate, it will just make it worse”. One. “Just do it.”

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Just did it!

I’m flying, and everything goes deathly silent. No rock music, no screams from the crowd, no water, no birds. Nothing. The last thing I remember seeing is the stunning vista ahead of me: beautiful blue sky and a river ravine. I realize I’m still looking forward. And then – the sensation of falling. While I feel every inch of the drop, I don’t see any of it. My eyes are wide open, but it’s as if my brain chooses to block out the terrifying sight as I plunge towards the water. As the bungy gets to work, and I bounce back almost as high as the bridge, my sight is restored, and I can experience three or four ‘bounces’ with all of my senses.

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Immediately, the ‘retrieval’ crew is coming after me, and – still hanging upside down from the bungy – I’m dragged into the dinghy. The relief is overwhelming. The achievement of having jumped feels massive. And as soon as everything stops shaking I’ll be able to confirm that I’m physically unhurt.

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And of course, I’m fine. A few hours post-bungy, I still had a massive headache in the back of my eyes, but was fine after a good night's sleep. It's hard to know what's left to beat it in our last two days in New Zealand.

Posted by jacquiedro 23:57 Archived in New Zealand Tagged round_the_world Comments (4)

Fast River Canyons and Remarkable Peaks- But No Hobbits

Queenstown Day 2, Part I

sunny 17 °C

Blessed with another stunning day, we managed an early start and headed out of town a few miles to the Shotover River where we planned to take a jet boat ride through the river’s spectacular canyons. This being Queenstown, we would do so at high speed in a specially designed jet boat powered by twin V6 Buick engines, each cranking 200+ horses, and propelling 800 litres of water a second.

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These photos don't even begin to do it justice....

For 25 minutes, our jet boat skimmed across the water, swerving around canyons at high speed and frequently avoiding massive boulders by only a matter of inches (check out the video… there is NO zoom used at all). The 360 degree turns throw us around the boat like rag dolls, but left us smiling every time.

Exhilarated, we dried off and headed to the outskirts of Queenstown where we planned a late breakfast overlooking the town in Deer Park.

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Hey, it's not called Deer Park for nothing....

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The fact that several Lord of the Rings scenes were filmed here did not escape us, and we did spend an hour or so admiring the dramatic backdrop of the Remarkables.

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The animals here are quite used to visitors – in fact you are encouraged to feed them by hand, so we spent a few minutes with some baby goats which were actually too young to be interested in the supplied animal feed. Far more assertive were the deer, who would have knocked the can out of my hand given the opportunity!

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It was a perfectly appropriate way to wrap up our time in Queenstown, and it was with some reluctance that we headed out of town, although - as it turned out - we wouldn't make it too far before our next stop ....

Posted by jacquiedro 20:56 Archived in New Zealand Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Adventures in the Adventure Capital of the World

Queenstown Day 1

sunny 18 °C

We arrived in Queenstown on Thursday evening, and I’m not sure why I thought Queenstown would be much like Christchurch, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The town’s setting is simply priceless, with the milky blue waters of Lake Wakatipu, and the rugged, snow-tipped peaks of the Remarkables. It therefore comes as no surprise that the locale has been used in many movies, including – of course, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There seems to be a lot of construction going on around town, however, so enjoy it while you can!

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This is clearly a fast growing area, built largely on the success of the adventurous pursuits industry. And it’s not called the Adventure Capital of the World for nothing. There’s seemingly nothing you can’t do here (as long as you have a hefty wallet to support your adventurous spirit) from jet boating and bungy jumping to skydiving, paragliding and trekking.

In homage to our location, we decided to give paragliding a go, and travelled a few miles out of town to Coronet Peak where we would launch from about 3800 feet. Unlike Milford Sound, we were blessed with stunning weather, and the view from the top of Coronet Peal was breathtaking. We could see Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables (or as Lloyd calls them, the Incredibles) on the horizon, while below us was a vibrant, green valley of farms and expensive housing estates.

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The toughest part of paragliding, as you might expect, is the take off and the landing. As these were tandem paraglides (we’d have needed a good deal more time and a great deal more money to go solo!), our ‘pilots’ would clearly do most of the work, and all we really had to worry about was not getting in the way, or – worst of all – falling over and tripping up the pilot behind you.

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Preflight preparation. "Your crew is here primarily for your safety...."

Lloyd’s take-off was almost text book. Standing on a downward facing slope, Lloyd and his pilot Ivan starting running as soon as a strong up-wind materialized. The result is the inflation of the canopy which happens with such force that both passengers can be pushed backwards. Lloyd and Ivan (unlike me!) managed to avoid going backwards but – for just a moment – they ran in place before gaining control over the canopy and propelling themselves forward and off the side of the peak.

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Lloyd moments before he was carried off the mountain...

Click here to see video highlights of our flights!

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Lloyd moments after he was carried off the mountain...

After just a few seconds of intense concentration and physical effort allowed us to take off, the overwhelming sensation is of peace. As I settled into my little paraglider seat, I realized how incredibly quiet it was around me. We swooped around like a bird, taking advantage of the same thermals to climb higher. With just the wind rustling the canopy and rushing around our ears, we flew almost in perfect silence just a few inches above a line of ragged peaks.

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While Mike (my pilot) and I were enjoying a more gentle and scenic flight, Lloyd and younger pilot Ivan were having altogether too much fun spiraling several hundred feet above us. Mike and I tried to catch the same thermal, but – to the utter relief of half of me – we failed. I always feel so conflicted by the desire to see and experience more, while at the same time trying not to be crippled by the discomforts of motion sickness. My parents didn’t shake me enough as a child or something….

There are two ways to land. The first, much like take off, is where you kind of run-in as the pilot slows the paraglider down as much as possible. Watching Lloyd’s landing from above him, it was clear he was going for this option when, about ten feet above the ground, I saw his legs start to frantically run in mid-air! To my relief, Lloyd and his back landed safely, and he quickly sprung up to see Mike and I demonstrate the other (somewhat less advanced) landing. In this one, the pilot did all the work, while I just sat back and slid back to solid ground on my nicely padded personal seat.

After paragliding, we headed up Bob’s Peak on Queenstown’s Skyline Gondola. I’m sure at one point there was little reason to go up Bob’s Peak other than to enjoy the spectacular view, but some bright spark has built a tourist/adrenaline junky mecca up there that includes bungy jumping, a number of luge tracks and paragliding, in addition to restaurants, bars and tourist shops. Of course, for the privilege of the opportunity to part with you hard earned cash at any of these venues, you must first pay to ride the gondola. Rising almost half a kilometre, and an average incline of 37 degrees, this is about as adventurous as you can expect me to be in Queenstown!

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More lupins! This was a view from Bob's Peak. Note the paraglider which is also offered here. If we had to choose again between Coronet Peak and Skyline, then we'd opt for Skyline for the amazing views over the Lake.

After the superb experience we had toboganning at the Great Wall several months ago, we were excited by the opportunity to “luge” atop Bob’s Peak. It turned out to be more like go-carting, but that didn’t stop Lloyd from quality-controlling the 800 metre long Advanced Route four times. I enjoyed the more sedate Scenic Route, with my adrenaline rush deriving only from Lloyd almost crashing into me a few times.

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On the ski lift, headed to the top of the luge run. We did this more times than mid-30 somethings should admit to....

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Lloyd, well, being Lloyd

Before we descended back to our campervan for the night, we enjoyed a sundowner in the bar overlooking Queenstown. Tomorrow, we plan to be up early to enjoy the morning before setting out on the six hour drive up to Fox Glacier.

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It remains to be seen if Queenstown's adrenaline fever takes over...

Posted by jacquiedro 18:55 Archived in New Zealand Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

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