New Zealand for adventurers
By Jo Gardner – October 2019 – 5 minute read
With its varied landscapes and a history of being first with thrilling attractions, New Zealand is still the place to go for adventure.
Jumping out of a plane
I don’t seem to be able to move – my legs have turned to jelly and my breathing is beginning to resemble a woman in the throes of labour. I need to sit down.
“It’ll be alright, Jo; you’ll be so proud of yourself afterwards,” my inner voice says reasonably. Followed swiftly by: “you hate heights, what the hell are you doing?” By the time I’m strapped into my outfit and shaking my tandem partner’s hand I can hardly say my own name.
The plane is tiny – just the pilot and 10 seats filled with other crazy Brits having second thoughts. I look for something to be sick in but there’s nothing. As the plane takes off tears fill my eyes and I suddenly want to call my mum.
At 12,000 feet, the doors open and I’m soon teetering over the edge desperately wishing I could go back. “Nooooo,” I shout as the countdown begins. But I’m out, whirling and swooping around at lightning speed, 100mph winds filling my ears - I try to close my eyes but can’t. It’s ridiculously cold. A minute later, my partner pulls the shoot and we jolt upwards violently into the sky. But as the parachute opens we begin to drift more slowly. He asks, “Are you OK?” As I try to make sense of what has just happened, I muster, meekly, “I think so.”
The feeling, not to mention the view, on the way down is incredible and I imagine it's what a bird feels like when it soars effortlessly through the air.
“Put your knees up,” he says as we approach the landing strip, swooping onto the ground to a round of applause. I’m alive. I'm undoubtedly relieved. But I'm happy. I did it; I did a skydive.
Built for adventure
With mountains, volcanoes, rivers, glaciers, forests and fjords, New Zealand is perfect for adventure. This is, after all, the country that invented the bungy jump, a high-thrill activity where participants dive head first off a precipice or bridge with just a piece of elastic rope attached to their ankles. Love it or hate it, there aren’t many countries that haven’t adopted the activity for themselves, with revellers now hurling themselves off famous landmarks the world over.
But New Zealand didn’t stop there. The Kiwis then brought us Zegos (quad bikes on the water) and Riverbugs (heading downstream while strapped to an inflatable armchair), both bonkers activities certain to get your blood racing.
“New Zealand is a fantastic destination for adventure,” says Paul Done, Audley Travel's Product Manager for New Zealand.
“Clients can combine a leisurely self-drive trip with stunning scenery and heart-pumping activities in one holiday. We are currently receiving bookings for a wide range of excursions including sailing in the Bay of Islands, geothermal exploration and hiking on White Island - New Zealand’s most active volcano – as well as helicopter rides, jet-boating, hiking and cycling.”
Lord of the swings
After three decades of planning and development, the Nevis Catapult was the first of its kind when it launched in August 2018 in Queenstown.
The brave are propelled 150 metres out into the air on a rope across the Nevis Valley, reaching speeds of almost 100kms per hour before falling towards the valley floor in a series of heart-racing bounces.
Throwing yourself out of a plane strapped to an instructor is still a popular activity for holidaymakers. The only difference in New Zealand is the sheer choice when it comes to the scenery you want to admire on the way down – be it a lake (Taupo), snow-capped mountains (Queenstown or Wanaka), glacier (Franz Josef or Fox) or a beach (Abel Tasman National Park or the Bay of Islands).
Invented by AJ Hacket and Henry van Asch in 1980s, the Bungy jump is as popular as ever. The highest is the Nevis in Queenstown but you can also jump off the original (Kawarau Bridge, Queenstown) or the Auckland Harbour Bridge. The AJ Hacket brand also offers swings and ziplines in Queenstown and the sky jump - a controlled descent off Auckland's highest building, 53 floors to the street.
For something altogether more sedate, but no less adventurous, visitors can take to the water on a traditional Maori canoe and paddle to some of the coastline’s most iconic spots, learning about Maori culture on the way – including blessings and etiquette. Tours take place in Abel Tasman National Park.
The jet boat was developed in the 1950s by New Zealand farmer William Hamilton, to navigate the shallow Canterbury rivers. Now a tried and tested activity, revellers try to stay dry as they power through narrow river gorges, narrowly missing the sides, and skim across the surface of water channels. Queenstown, Lake Taupo and Rotorua are popular spots to get splashed.
If white-water rafting is your client’s thing, suggest they head to Rotorua, home of the highest commercially rated waterfall.
The wild West Coast, Queenstown and the Tongariro River near Lake Taupo are other popular raft spots.
The Paparoa Track, a collection of hiking trails created in the previously inaccessible Paparora Range, is set to open this December. Over three days, hikers will be able to enjoy views of alpine tops and rainforests as they hike across the 55km track. New Zealand in Depth has created a two-week itinerary with prices from £2,400pp including accommodation, car hire and access to the track.
Featuring some of the most challenging and spectacular caving systems in the world, New Zealand is unsurprisingly top of the list for cavers. You can walk or float through the spectacular Waitomo Caves, spotting glow worms along the way, or enjoy guided underground adventures in Nelson, which is home to southern hemisphere’s deepest sinkhole.
Another one for the Kiwi hall of fame, Zorbing was invented by kiwis Andrew Akers and Dwane van der Sluis in 1994. The concept: get inside a big plastic ball (orb) and roll down a hill. Silly but fun, it's Rotorua’s most iconic activity other than gazing at its geothermal geisers.
But no doubt something more mad and thrilling will be invented soon enough.