The unassuming home of Middle Earth is such a dazzlingly beautiful country that it hurts. Not only are the Kiwis the posterchildren of eco-tourism and fiercely protective of their natural wealth, they also have an inexplicable love for throwing themselves off great heights and if there stands a glacier, it must be scaled.
This is where jet-boating and bungee-jumping was invented. Here’s everything you must-try-before-you-die in crazy Kiwi country:
All the New Zealand Adventure for your bucket list
The Swoop Strainer
If you’re going to have the jitters, why feel petrified alone? The Swoop has specially designed hang gliding harnesses where you and other hapless people are cocooned inside. One lucky person pulls the ripcord on command, and you are winched 40 meters sky high above the Ngongotaha Stream, and as you release yourself, you plunge at an insane speed of 130 kmph. Now who pulled that damned ripcord?
Do the Jump and the Swing
In the ‘80s, two enterprising Kiwis set up the first bungee centre with a jump from the Kawarau Bridge near Queenstown. Who knew that the world would be so eager to dangle precariously from a rope? The mother of all jumps — the 134-metre Nevis bungy plunge — is their highest, while the Auckland Harbour Bridge jump gives you a stunning view of Waitemata Harbour.
Then there’s the Freestyle Bungy, where a special harness allows your feet to be free, so you can attempt aerial acrobatics like twists, flips and spins.
Or try the Shotover Canyon Swing where you jump from a 109m-high platform, free fall vertically alongside the cliff face for 60m then enjoy a giant 200m long swing over the Shotover canyon.
Take a Spin on a Jet-Boat
An unsuspecting Kiwi farmer William Hamilton developed the jet boat in the 1960s. Today, it’s a thrilling way to power through narrow river gorges, getting within kissing distance of sheer rock faces, and negotiating 360-degree spins on river rapids. The best places to experience jet-boating are Queenstown, Canterbury, the Buller and Makarora regions in the South Island, and the Rangitaiki, Whanganui and Waikato Rivers in the North Island. Check out www.shotoverjet.com for your jet-boating experience. You might freeze your face off. Now you’ve been warned.
Black Water Rafting
Abseil, weave, climb, jump, and float through a glowworm-studded subterranean journey along the Waitomo river. Rafters float on inner tubes (not rafts, as the name would suggest) and in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, thousands of tiny creatures light up the underground ceiling like constellations in the sky. Apart from this glowing feature, you will see stalactites, stalagmites and bizarre rock sculptures. White water rafting seems rather tame now, yes?
Go Scuba Diving on Rainbow Warrior
The famous Rainbow Warrior, once the flagship of Green Peace, was bombed and sunk in 1985. Lonely Planet has described this artificial reef as one of the top ten dive sites in the world. The reef is teeming with marine life and you could be swimming with big eye fish, mackerel, snapper, leatherjackets, moray eels, scorpion fish, and crayfish. You can thank the colonies of jewel anemones for the astonishing colours. Get yer fins on now!
Kayaking on Milford Sound
The breathtaking Milford Sound, carved by glaciers during the ice ages, has been described by Rudyard Kipling as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’. Situated on the west coast of the South Island, Milford Sound can also be visited as a day trip from Queenstown or Te Anau. Take in the mountains, fjords, alpine lakes and glaciers. An eco-friendly option is go kayaking on the Sound. With cliffs, rainforests and waterfalls all within spraying distance — it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
Hang out with the World’s Smallest Penguin
The korora, or little blue penguin, is the world’s smallest penguin. Also probably the cutest. They usually come ashore at night in Marlborough Sounds, Akaroa Harbour, Oamaru, Dunedin and Stewart Island. If you see a penguin with a vivid yellow eye band, it’s the rare hoiho, or yellow-eyed penguin. Dunedin just north of the Otago Peninsula has some of the best wildlife tours. The Fiordland Crested Penguins (Tawaki), one of the world’s rarest penguins are residents of the South Island and are found in rainforested areas of Haast, Lake Moeraki, Stewart Island and Fiordland. You’ll be tempted to take one home with you. Do resist.
Throw Yourself off a Plane
If you are going to voluntarily push yourself out of a plane at 15,000 ft, you might as well do it in NZ. Skydive in Lake Wanaka with 360 degree views of mountains towering above the world heritage Mount Aspiring National Park. Or in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world, over crystal-clear lakes and snow-capped mountains. Taupo, in the centre of the North Island, boasts of a 616 sq km lake created by a supervolcanic eruption over 26,000 years ago. Views of the Southern Hemisphere’s largest lake and snow-capped volcanoes will make you take the leap.
Stand on the Edge of a Live Volcano
To stand atop an active volcano and hear it whooshing, bubbling, hissing and spurting, go to White Island (Whakaari), NZ’s only active marine volcano. A heli-ride to the living, breathing volcano is a surreal experience. The landing is just as surreal — an active volcano island, surrounded by the ocean, cliffs rising to 300 m with a giant cloud of smoke coming from its main crater lake. Or you can take a boat cruise to White Island, followed by a two-hour walking tour past steaming cracks in the ground, bubbling pools and roaring gas fumeroles (vents).
Conquer a Glacier
The magnificent Fox and Franz Josef glaciers still flow almost to sea level. Fed by four Alpine rivers, the Fox glacier plummets 2,600 metres from high in the Southern Alps. Or explore the ‘white ice’ of the mighty Tasman, New Zealand’s longest glacier at Aoraki Mount Cook, where you end up 1,200 metres above sea level. Fluted ice, runnels, moulins and winding streamlets — the landscape is jaw-droppingly beautiful. This is green travel at its best.
Yeehaa! – Answer the Call of Canyoning
Feel like leaping off a waterfall, sliding down rocks and being carried downstream at high speeds for the ultimate head rush? Scramble, climb, jump, slide, swim and shout “yeehaa” as you journey down natural canyons, waterfalls, pools and streams. The Waitakere Ranges in Auckland, Nelson, Canterbury, Wanaka and the Kaueranga Valley make for fabulous canyoning experiences.
Ready, steady, jump!