Far, far down, cars glitter like coins at the bottom of a water fountain. They move slowly along the long white veins of winding roadways linking together Auckland’s towering skyscrapers.
I can barely make out the shape of people standing at the traffic lights, but I doubt they can see me. This is the Auckland Sky Tower, and at 328 metres high, it is the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere. Today, I just so happen to be standing only a couple metres from the top.
A greenie, if launched from this peak position, would catapult to the ground at the destructive rate of 150km/hr. It would split through concrete like a stream of urine in fresh snow. Or so I imagine, anyway.
The wind is puffing harder than a fat man on a stairmaster, but a harness tethering me to the side of the building provides some comfort. I will not fall. Repeat. I will not fall.
Today, I can see as far north as the Leigh Peninsula, east towards Hauraki Gulf, west to Manukau Heads and south to the Bombay Hills. But the most impressive sight, if you ask me, is of the sailboats dashing over the water. It’s my second day in Auckland and I’m already feeling quite at home.
It may not have the je-ne-sais-quoi of architecturally stupendous places like Paris or Prague, but its laid-back atmosphere cannot be beat. Friendly people, good bars and ‘delish’ food make this place tops. And if you don’t believe me, just take a look at all the great things you can do to get your pulse racing in Auckland.
It just so happened to be one of the most miserable days of the year – raining, cold and extremely windy. Nevertheless, there were three of us up at 10am braving the elements.
Walking along the purpose-built structure under the bridge to get to the jump zone, I thought I must be insane.
If we had not been harnessed to the railing, I’m sure at least one of us would have been blown off into the water below. I selflessly let the two Irish guys jump before me. One of them said he wanted to get dunked in the harbour, but as he jumped, only his head got dunked in.
Now, when I get nervous, I usually talk it up like I’m not scared at all, so I turned to the bungy driver and said: “You only got his head wet! Come on, that’s nothing.”
The guy just looked at me and grinned. I didn’t like the look of his expression at all. It was the kind of face the tough guy gives in a movie before he kicks some ass. Sure enough, I got a proper dunk – almost totally under water, literally up to my shoes. I came out of it utterly soaked, but grinning like a gold medal champion.
With nipples harder than a Chuck Norris/Mr T fight-off and gale force winds whipping round my face, I began to realise quite how high up 192m/630ft really is.
Welcome to Auckland’s Sky Tower; the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere and home to New Zealand’s highest jump, a base jump by wire which offers a more gentle introduction to extreme sports.
While you still get that “I probably should have worn huggies” feeling as you peer over the edge and the exhilarating adrenalin rush as you fall, the fact that the wire is attached to your back instead of your feet means the descent is far less jolting, but just as enjoyable. Alternatively, you could try the Skywalk; a guided stroll around the outside of the Sky Tower.
The best of the rest
With no siderails, a path 1.2m wide and continual encouragement to lean back or forward over the edge (hands-free), it’s a brilliant addition that’s thrilling, informative (your guide points out geological and historical landmarks as you get a 360° view of the ocean and city) and makes you feel like a movie star, with diners from the Tower restaurant pointing and gasping as you lean over the side.
The Blue Canyon is one of Auckland’s best outdoor playgrounds, complete with waterfalls, slides, jumps and challenging abseil spots, all down a scenic gorge hidden in a lush rainforest.
Or check out Sleeping God Canyon, where huge waterfalls crash into deep pools below. If you haven’t already tried canyoning, this is the perfect opportunity to explore New Zealand’s great outdoors while getting the blood pumping at a thousand beats per minute.
The country also has some prime surf spots, boasting kilometres of scenic coastline. Pounded by swells from all angles, it’s surprising it’s taken so long for surfers around the world to find this pristine spot.
Beaches in the area vary from those with marbled white sands fringed by palm trees to the rugged black sands of the west coast with towering black cliffs and rainforests.
It is a common misconception that you’ll freeze your nads off in the water, but in the summer, the temperature can reach 30°C.
Photos: Getty, Thinkstock