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Queenstown, Adventure Capital of the World! – Bungee, Luge, Mad Dog River Boarding?
Kiwis are crazy. No they are, they’re actually crazy. Maybe that’s a little harsh, maybe fearless is a better word, or daring.
Whichever way you look at it though, they are nuts. I am of course referring to New Zealanders’ tendency to throw themselves, willingly into all manner of dangerous but exciting activities. The bungee, skydiving, canyon swinging, luging, rafting, river boarding, ZORBING (what the hell?!) and the perfect base for all this is Queenstown, “Adventure capital of the world”. I found Queenstown to be the kind of place where it’s ok to get involved in things you may never have dreamt of doing before, I met a lot of people who had found their inner adrenalin junkie there but who also fully intended to bury it again once they left. Some of these activities are best ticked off once and left as an accomplishment.
If you want to get involved I suggest you start small, start with a luge. Luging is like go karting without the engines but with all the speed. Your kart is powerless but is given all the propulsion it needs from the steep curving tracks. I would recommend taking a crowd of friends on the cable car ride up the hillside overlooking Queenstown and visiting the luge track for a competitive hour or so. If you happen to cut ahead and take the lead look out across the perfect views of the surrounding mountains and small town below.
Queenstown’s Kawarau and Shotover Rivers has rapids big enough for white water rafting, but that would be too easy, Kiwis have no fear in riding down those rapids armed with nothing more than a body board, wetsuit, helmet, wetsuit and fins. I spent an afternoon getting smashed around by the full force of the river, crashing under waves, riding along rapids and dipping down falls. The currents were strong and fighting through the water was tiring but the payoffs were worth the effort. After a while I was a little thirsty, my guide recommended I drink from the river and did it himself as if to prove it. Sure enough the water tasted as fresh and pure as anything I had ever tasted “You’re not in England now” he quipped.
Once we had passed the rapids and the excitement was over we were just gently being dragged downstream back to base chatting to each other. This section of the river was obviously considered too dull for these guys so at this point another guide skidded up on a jetski with what is essentially an aerobics mat tied to the back. We were invited to hold onto the mat in pairs to be dragged up and down the river at speed, the sharp turns meant not all of us stayed on. Just after I lost grip I was quickly told to get back on and “ask him to really give you hell”. We arrived back at base and took a 12 metre rock jump into the water and generally larked around on rope swings and high speed slides that shoot you across the water on a tray like a skimmed pebble. The activities were fun but as with a lot of these things it is the playful, entertaining guides that make it what it is.
Bungee jumping is an activity New Zealand has claimed as its own and Queenstown is known as “the home of the bungee”. This is with good reason as it was the first place to commercially offer the activity to members of the public. There are a trio of jumps you can get involved in, the highest being the 134 metre Nevis jump, the one I did.
This bungee is taken over a canyon and even the rugged 4X4 drive up the dirt track road felt unsafe, filled as I was with dread for what was to come. The typically chipper drivers insane enthusiasm did little to calm my nerves, neither did his deliberately adrenalin infused soundtrack. Breathe by the Prodigy never sounded so terrifying as when I was sat in the back of that truck, skidding and sliding up the gravelly unfenced road up that mountain.
The platform you jump from is a small steel pod suspended on wires across the canyon, therefore the only way to get access is by topless cable car. This is scary enough and a first opportunity to look down at the drop and ponder – what the hell am I doing here? How did I get myself into this? What was I thinking? And the like.
They work down in order of weight, so heaviest to lightest. Something about not having to recalibrate the equipment wildly each time, which sounded right and safe and sensible, okay we like that.
I must state that from the moment you are in the pod you are clipped onto the railing, so you are completely safe at all times. But still, when it’s your turn and they call you over to have your feet strapped together, the chair they sit you down on feels very wobbly – like it might just throw you over the nearby edge. With my feet strapped together and the bungee cord attached it was very tense penguin walking over to the edge ready to jump, especially when they pushed the edge of the rope over and I felt its slight pull on my legs.
I had asked around about this. I was ready for their Kiwi mind games, the wind ups, the tricks, the casual call of “wait” or “oh hold on” just as you have jumped. I had been told it looks better on the DVD to dive somewhat head first and smoothly arch round as you fall rather than cower over the edge feet first and end up flipping round clumsily in the air. I was also aware there would be a group countdown of three, two, one and that it looks super cool to dive off early, around the two mark.
I knew all of this but when the moment came I still took a minute or two to throw myself over. But the jump itself was just fine, by as early as the third bounce back I was cheering because I knew I was over the worst of it, heck it was even kind of fun. Those Kiwis have a lot to answer for.