Head to New Zealand and Inject a Dose of Adrenaline into Your Travels
That rush, at the bottom of your stomach, the one you only get when you do something that defies your instincts, is pretty addictive. Anyone who enjoys skiing, climbing, kayaking and similar pursuits can tell you that.
It’s the thing that keeps you going back to the kind of environments that make you feel small and vulnerable: the snow-covered mountains, the deep oceans, the labyrinthine underground cave systems; the high cliffs we ascend to hurl ourselves off in the eternal pursuit of flight.
The ultimate leaps of faith
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably someone who knows that feeling and loves it, perhaps even craves it. Now, of all the places in the world for these sorts of activities, there’s one that trumps them all – New Zealand.
Birthplace of one A.J. Hackett, the man who made bungee jumping famous by hurling himself off the Eiffel Tower back in 1987, and also the person who has taken bungee jumping from an obscure tribal rite of passage in Vanuatu to a worldwide phenomenon.
New Zealand is home to the world’s first commercial bungee jump, over the Kawarau River, just outside Queenstown and at a shade over 40m fall, it’s a great place to start exploring the country’s amazing diversity of extreme sports.
A little further outside Queenstown is the third largest bungee jump in the world and the highest one in New Zealand – the Nevis. Hurling yourself out of a cable car 134m over the Nevis River for 8.5 seconds of freefall might seem like a crazy thing to do – it certainly made me question my sanity – but with their 100% safety record and the guarantee of the biggest rush of your life, you’d be mad not to give it a go.
Plunging into thin air
Skydiving is so fundamentally counterintuitive. We’re so used to getting into planes, but never do we consider that we might not land in them.
And yet, that was the situation I found myself in. I was going up in a plane, but definitely not coming back down in it. We climbed above Lake Taupo, heading up to the dizzying height of 15,000ft. To put it in context, that’s a little over half the height of Mount Everest. Deafened by the noise and having to breathe through an oxygen mask to make sure I didn’t pass out, the door was opened and my friends disappeared out of the door into thin air.
Finding yourself sat with your feet hanging over that much space would be terrifying, were it not for the complete confidence I placed in the man I was strapped to and the fact that I really didn’t have time to think about it. Only a few seconds later we were out of the plane and seemingly floating high above the ground. At that height you have no depth perception, so you can’t tell that you’re plummeting towards the ground extremely fast, not until your parachute goes anyway and the cameraman following you disappears out of sight in the blink of an eye (being in tandem, you have to pull your chute much earlier to compensate for the extra weight).
The whole experience can’t have taken more than a half hour, including the flight up, but it will live with me forever as one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done.
Crashing down waterfalls
Continuing on a theme of going over/falling out of things that are high, New Zealand is home to a large number of rivers, with which come a good deal of fun activities. You can kayak them, canoe them, swim them and, on the more fast flowing ones, do what is known as white water rafting.
On the North Island of New Zealand is a town called Rotorua and just outside it is the Kaituna River. This river is like pretty much any other river in New Zealand, with one exception – it has the world’s highest commercially raftable waterfall. At 7m high it’s a big one.
Despite having been lucky enough to have white water rafted in a few places around the world, nothing could really prepare me for this. After going over what felt like a large waterfall further upstream, only to be told that was just the warm-up one, we drifted round one final corner to join the queue of rafts, disappearing one after the other over a very large drop. That feeling was there. The one that tells you you’re really alive.
A few minutes later and our turn came. The gentlest paddle forward and then the bellowed command ‘GET DOWN, GET DOWN!’, paddles tucked in, heads down and then we were dropping. The raft was completely submerged and we lost a couple of people overboard, but no one was hurt and we were all buzzing unbelievably as we popped back up to the surface, drenched, but never more alive.
Hiking up gigantic glaciers
From activities where you’re submerged in water and utterly at the mercy of its power, to ones that show you its long term irresistible destructive force and scale, while walking around on its seemingly calm, frozen surface – glacier hiking.
New Zealand is home to thousands of glaciers but the most impressive ones are on the South Island and are most easily accessed from the small town of Franz Josef. These vast, slow-moving masses of ice have carved a trail across the entire planet’s landscape, but here you can see their impact in situ and learn about the recent, rapid changes they have undergone and a bit of their history with humans.
The best way to do this is to walk up one and see it up close and personal. Strap on your crampons and the guides will lead you up steps cut into the ice, across moraines, through tiny gaps in the ice and under blue, marbled arches. All the while avoiding crevasses and deep pools of, literally, ice cold water.
If you ever really wanted to get a sense of the geographic scale of nature and the utterly irresistible power it holds, this is the way. On top of that, it’s truly beautiful and a fantastic way to spend the day. There’s nothing like fresh air and a walk up a glacier to clear out hangover and morning drowsiness.
And everything else!
Bungee jumps, skydives and white water rafting are not the only adrenaline activities to do in New Zealand. There are breakneck jetboat rides down the rivers and across the many lakes found around the place. You could get inside a massive, spongy, plastic sphere and roll down a big hill – that’s called zorbing. Or there’s even the bungee jump’s cousin, the canyon swing. This basically involves more creative ways to safely drop someone off a high place. If you’re happier watching you can be the one to press the button this time.
There’s also what is known as black water rafting, which is basically white water rafting in the darkness of caves. As well as a brilliant way to explore these beautiful caves systems, it’s a brilliant way to get an adrenaline kick doing something totally different. If you’ve ever been canyoning, this is very similar, just underground. Hurling yourself off rocks, abseiling down waterfalls and climb up through passages that are slick with mud, really getting stuck into the whole experience shows you a whole new side of New Zealand and one you’re very unlikely to see anywhere else.