It’s that massive box that needs to be ticked by anyone claiming to be a thrill-seeker. My reason for throwing myself out of a perfectly good plane was more stupid. If my wimpy friend back in London, who is scared of wimpy rollercoasters, can do it, then so can I.
So off I trundled to the ‘adventure capital of the world’ to prove that I could, embrace the fear. And more importantly that I was no sissy.
There is perhaps no better place in the world than Queenstown to risk your life on the cord of a parachute. The mountainous scenery is phenomenal and would inspire even the most worried jumper.
Tandem skydiving (attached to a dude or possibly a dudette) is great because you really have to do very little. I thought there would be a long drawn out I-want-to-slit-my-wrists-style training course. But no.
You watch a short video, take a wee-trip (read as you wish), get kitted up and told to bend like a banana (head up, waist forward, legs back). That’s it…
So how was it? Well, watching the instructors stretch before jumping was certainly a highlight, and although I didn’t get the one I had my eye on, the experience did not disappoint. Surprisingly – and I was surprised – I felt no fear.
I usually get a bit funny on a plane. But this was the one time that I knew if there was a problem I had a tough man with a parachute strapped on my back.
So instead of feeling queasy I was raring to go. I spent the 10-minute journey up to 12,000 feet enjoying the buzz and watching others freak out. If you are going to die this is how you do it.
People say it is easier to go first because you don’t have to watch the others bowl out before you. But I loved the thought that I was about to follow them through the clouds. The best moment was tumbling out of the plane feeling completely befuddled… Not knowing up from down is priceless.
At 12,000 feet you get a 45-second freefall which was without doubt the shortest 45-seconds of my whole life. The rush that you get is difficult to explain. It is tough to breathe and extremely hard not to think “When will my bloody parachute open?”
That was the scary part. You are face to face with spectacular scenery, but the thought of plummeting to your doom keeps getting in the way of enjoying it.
Boomchh!! What was that? It was the glorious sound of the parachute opening and us slowing to the point where I can now hear and breathe and, more importantly, absorb the view.
As a semi-believer in reincarnation, in drunken conversations I have often picked the Golden Eagle as the animal I would like to come back as. The experience did not change my mind.
Gliding down to the ground, with instructor and parachute in tow, is as close to flying I will ever get in this lifetime. I’d done it. I now officially rocked.
Two tiny regrets. Firstly, as a one-off experience I think I should have gone to town and paid the extra $100 for the 15,000 foot jump and 60 seconds freefall.
Also as I did not buy the DVD I will find it harder to convince my unborn children that their mother kicked ass back in the day.
The damage: $299 from 12,000ft ($399 from 15,000ft)
The details: For more info visit nzone.biz.
Becoming a swinger
Arriving in Queenstown I decided to do a survey to find the best extreme sport around. Four people later and it was conclusive – I was to become a swinger. A canyon swinger, that is.
I tentatively made my way to Shotover Street to learn what I had got myself in to. A freaky video, a scary drawing on my hand, and a 15-minute journey later, I realised the answer was: quite a lot.
Canyon swinging is not an activity for the faint-hearted, but it is loads of fun. There are over 10 different ways to jump and the tomfoolery comes from picking which way is right for you. Each style of jump is marked on a ‘pants’ scale of one to five pants, so there are options available for both the nanas and the thrill-seekers. You can even have the instructor customise your very own jump – but be warned, they take no prisoners.
On my arrival at the canyon I was pretty sure it was the baby jump for me, but being the last person to swing I realised I couldn’t digress back to where we had all started. So the five-pants pin jump it was. Harnessed up (and pretending to be cool) I approached the rather attractive instructors.
Note to girls: they aren’t adverse to the occasional cuddle so get in as many as possible. They may be your last.
The ‘pin drop’ requires grasping your hands together behind your back, crouching down, looking directly at where you were about to fall and jumping sideways into the canyon. Simple.
After freaking myself out to a ridiculous level, I counted down from three… and jumped. All I can say is that the feeling of freefall is an out-of-world experience. Despite my pleas to let me stay down there all day I was regretfully hoisted back up to solid ground.
A great thing about fear (ahh there are so many) is that it unites. As a lone traveller you can craftily use the communal fear to make unsuspecting friends. Mwah haha.
Post-jumps, the swingers hit the World Bar and indulged in their notorious tea-pot cocktails. However, the best of the day was already over.
The damage: $169 (extra jumps for $49).
The details: For more info, visit canyonswing.co.nz.
As we drove up a makeshift road towards the Nevis, my palms were sweating, the maniac driver cackling, and whispers spread through the cabin under baited breath: “I hear they throw you off a platform to your death…”
On the other side of the mountain, as if hovering in mid-air, a white pod was suspended over a ravine. Those shiny things lining the river’s edge, are they human skulls? Is that a vulture circling high over head?
Get a grip, man!
A gondola ferried us to the pod. Inside, thumping techno played on the stereo. I assume it was meant to psyche me up – it didn’t help the nerves.
The first victim stepped up, looked out over the barren landscape in the Jesus Christ pose and took the leap of faith.
The fall seemed to go forever.
The bungy cord went taut and snapped him back upwards. Everyone, staring through the glass bottom of the pod, gasped, seeing the ridiculous look on his face; half fear, half euphoria.
I stepped up, put my arms out wide and looked out to the mountain in the distance… three, two, one, BUNGYYYYYYYYYY!
Momentarily flying forward until gravity kicked in, then down I went. I had lived a full 27 years and I was comfortable to call it quits.
The ground rush you get from a bungy is something you don’t get from skydiving, accelerating towards nature at a pace only matched by your heart-rate. I was like Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye – just without the composure as my arms flailed about and irrational thoughts raced through my mind. But saving my life, my freefall slowed as the cord became taut and sprung back upwards for the second part of my ride.
Back on the platform, everyone was staring, waiting for the familiar expression of terrified enjoyment. I acted cool like 007. They must have had Q’s X-ray glasses ‘cos they could see right through me.
The damage: $220 (inc. T-shirt and transport).
Warning: Bring Spare Pants
When it comes to New Zealand’s adrenalin activities, the real challenge is to try and think something up that they haven’t already thought of (handgrenade tennis anyone?). Kiwis are like a bunch of completely fearless five-year-olds.
As well as inventing zorbing and jetboating (attach one very big jet engine to one very small boat), the country has nearly as many bungy jumps as it has sheep, plus it’s hard to find a town that doesn’t offer tandem skydiving. Whitewater rafting is ubiquitous, as is kayaking, while river boarding/sledging is another quirky one.
It’s sort of body-boarding meets whitewater rafting and another classic from the mentalist Kiwis: simply grab a sledge and plunge straight into the angriest looking rapids you can find.
Canyoning is of a similar vein. It mostly involves abseiling down waterfalls, bombing down natural rock slides and plenty more rope and water action. Almost all of these underpant-darkening activities are available in Queenstown and surrounding areas (such as Wanaka and Glenorchy).
For adventure caving, head for Waitomo (North Island) and a vast underground network. Paragliding, mountain biking, surfing, windsurfing, sailing, scuba diving, skiing and snowboarding all have good options and sizeable followings too. We hope you brought spare underpants.
Photos: Thinkstock, facebook.com/NzoneSkydiveQT, Tourism New Zealand/Shotover Can