Standing comfortably behind The Kawarau Bridge Bungee “launching ramp” in Queenstown, South Island, New Zealand, a veteran explains matter-of-factly to an intrepid wannabe that “Naw, no one’s ever gotten sick on the way down. For whatever reason, those reflexes just don’t seem to work when you’re jumping. Sure, some people lose it after they’re un-harnessed, but it’s usually because they’re hung over.”
Suddenly, he’s off — and he’s in the buff. The nude jumper yee-haws as he plummets 141 feet straight down toward the Kawarau River, his fate secured by a tightly-braided white latex rubber cord that’s good for 500 jumps (or 250 hours). The all-natural Icarus completes a successful “immersion jump”: His noggin bobs briefly under water.
Grinning widely as he's pulled up to the bridge, our hero is deftly recovered by the skilled “we’ve-seen-it-all-before” ground crew of A. J. Hackett Bungee. He’s guided out of the way to make way for a twosome: Many couples have completed tandem bungee jumps as part of their wedding ritual, lending new meaning to the term, “taking the plunge.”
“The ultimate adrenaline rush” of bungee has spawned a roster of other wild, crazy, “gonzo” activities in New Zealand. Just ask Richard Bangs, world adventurer, author and contributor to Web-based projects on Yahoo! and MSNBC, and owner of Mountain Travel Sobek, America’s oldest and largest adventure travel firm. “It’s all wild stuff and there’s no place like it on the planet,” avows Bangs, who just returned from New Zealand and has some theories about why Kiwis set the adventure bar so darn high.
“The country was populated by pioneering, bold-minded, resourceful visionaries who were willing to cross the world and pick up where they had left off,” figures Bangs. “They’ll try what no one else has and they’re not conservative. Maybe it’s geographic isolation that’s contributed to this consciousness, and maybe topography — with high mountains, glaciers, fast rivers, oceans, almost every type of environment in a relatively small place.
The national ethos is to be outdoors and appreciate beauty and wilderness. Less than an hour from almost anywhere in New Zealand, you can access great adventure.” Maybe it’s also because New Zealand has no patience for negligent lawsuits, “part of the libertarian spirit,” Bangs suggests.
The dual-island nation serves up most anything that can be done outdoors, plus a powerful plethora of wacky attractions like the Also located near Queenstown, “It’s your own personal roller coaster,” says the company’s Jess Trimming. “Like riding a motorbike 200 feet in the air.”
Aiming higher? Go gliding with , in Omarama, South Island. Owner Chris Rudge is at the controls when the tow plane gives you a mighty lift, then cuts you loose “to fly on a ‘wave’ (of air) over spindly, snow-covered peaks. Big waves come over the mountains, with lots of heat and thermal ‘drops,’” says Rudge.
You can also sample sledging (an experience somewhat akin to a riding a cork raft in a typhoon) at the bottom of the North Island in Taranaki. owner Chris “Lukey” Luke loves the reaction when guests initially contemplate the intial 33-foot free-fall into the water. “Some are quite formal, then they drop down the dam and start swearing from sheer excitement.”
Near geo-thermally steamy Rotorua, adventurous spirits with strong stomachs hurtle downhill in spheres filled with warm ankle-deep water. “You’ll feel like you’re in a washing machine,” says Zorb General Manager, Keith Kolver.
For a more traditional outdoors experience, you can tramp around New Zealand’s only active marine volcano with White Island Tours on the North Island, near Whakatane, or spot a real live in its natural environment at Kapiti Island, near Wellington. If you're in the market for a relaxed afternoon, take a cruise on the majestic Lake Te Anau near Fiordland, South Island, then descend into the caves to enjoy some bioluminescent ambience with someone you love.
So feel free to jump, dive, zorb or tramp, but please — no whining. It’s just not Kiwi.