6 Astounding Adventures in New Zealand
November 13, 2013
The Lord of the Rings trilogy served as an ample advertisement for New Zealand’s natural allure, but little did some travelers suspect that you can also create your own action-racked epic holiday there. Story by Jim Algie.
Published on Nov 13, 2013
Queenstown is one of the world’s adventure capitals. Every year this town of 20,000 inhabitants pulls in some 1.8 million visitors for its astonishing array of adrenaline-boosting activities. From heli-skiing to jet boats and skydiving to whitewater rafting, this town is the base camp and launching pad for an A to Z list of adventures.
Queenstown’s setting is a joint miracle of Mother Nature and town planning. Image by Destination Queenstown.
Not all of them require being fitted for adult diapers either. Some of the hikes and cycling trips are family-chummy outings. Less frenetic ways to break a sweat and raise your pulse, such as golf, spa treatments and bird-watching tours of beauty, are other possibilities. To really soak up the scenery take a boat tour of the sublime Milford Sound.
Much of Queenstown’s charm springs from its spectacular setting. Hugged by atmospheric mountains and kissing the shores of pollution-free Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is a nature lover’s nirvana with four distinct seasons.
Here is a rundown of the area’s prime pastimes when you’re Indiana Jonesing for an endorphin rush.
1. Bungee Jumping
The Ledge is one of the high points of Queenstown adventures. Photo by AJ Hackett Bungy.
In 2013, the bungee jump turned 25. For it was back in 1988 that New Zealander AJ Hackett, taking some cues from a land diving documentary by David Attenborough, learned the ropes and took the plunge from the Kawarau Bridge.
For those not in the know, the concept sounds suicidal. With an elastic tied to a safety harness, you throw yourself off a cliff or tower, hurtle towards the water at maximum velocity, and then, before becoming genetic Jell-O, bounce back up again. This will be the most heart-pounding five seconds of your life.
The pioneers, AJ Hackett Bungy, offer a range of options. One of the most scenic jumping off points is the Ledge, located 400 metres above Queenstown with spellbinding views of the lake and mountains.
2. Skiing, Snowboarding and Skating
Snowboarding is peaking in popularity. Photo courtesy of Destination Queenstown
Within an hour’s drive of the town are four ski fields that offer a variety of slopes for all levels. Closest to town, the Coronet Peak Ski Field also has night skiing on Friday and Saturday throughout New Zealand’s winter months from July to mid-September.
The Remarkables Ski Field lives up to its name by making a stunning backdrop for your skiing or snowboarding runs.
More adventurous and experienced snow lovers will want to give heli-skiing in the virgin powder of the Southern Alpines a whirl.
If those winter sports leave you cold, then the more pedestrian pleasures of skating, snowshoeing or snowmobiling are the icing on the lake.
3. Jet Boats
Jet boat tearing down the Shotover River. Photo courtesy of Shotover Jet.
Since 1970 Shotover Jet has been treating chill-seekers to one of the most thrilling rides on the planet. Skimming along the Shotover River in one of these jet boats, which reach speeds of 85 kilometers per hour, the canyons narrow and surf sprays in your face, as these spear-shaped vessels navigate perilously narrow channels, zipping around rocky outcrops to come within inches of a dead stop.
Shotover Jet is the only company permitted to operate in the canyons, only 10 minutes from Queenstown but a world away from the tediously turtle-paced office life of big cities.
4. Sky Diving
Sky diving is the limit for most daredevils. Photo by NZONE Skydive Queenstown.
This is the zenith of adventure. For even the most hardcore daredevils, skydiving is the limit.
Feel your adrenaline levels reach new heights as the plane climbs higher and higher (you can choose from heights of 9,000, 12,000 and 15,000 feet) and you prepare to jump. To reduce those flutters of anxiety in your stomach, take the ultimate leap of faith in a tandem skydive with your own highly trained jumpmaster.
Do not panic as you free fall at speeds of up to 200 kilometres per hour, because your tandem master will control the entire jump, allowing you the time to relish the rush, embrace the experience and have it seared into your memory banks, to relive later.
As far as cool travel experiences to boast and blog about, or photo ops for Facebook, it doesn’t get any wilder than this.
5. Whitewater Rafting
For chill-seekers whitewater rafting ranks right up there on the thrill-ometer. Image by Queenstown Rafting.
Queenstown’s largest waterway is the Kawarau River, which became famously known as the River Anduin from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. At 400 metres, the Kawarau contains the longest stretch of commercially rafted rapids in the area.
Besides the aforementioned Shotover River, where jet boats zip through these serpentine canyons like bullets shot from a gun, there is also the Landsborough River. It runs parallel to the Southern Alpines that stretch across the island.
If you want to combine rafting with camping, say for two nights and three days, this is just the ticket. Deep in the heart of the wild, you can feel nature pulsing around you, and be another instrument in its grand symphony of birdsong, of insects whirring, of the river murmuring in its sleep and foaming from its mouth in the rabid sections.
As a cycling hub Queenstown offers trails for breakneck wild men and the whole family. Photo by Real Journeys.
Queenstown is also a cycling hub. Experienced mountain bikers with a need for speed will thrill to these serpentine trails and switchbacks.
For a gentler ride, however, try the Walter Peak Guided Cycling trip from Real Journeys. On this pedal-powered outing you’ll explore the shoreline of Lake Wakatipu, the tussock valleys, the Mavora Lakes fringed by rainforest that also served as another natural set from Lord of the Rings, as well as hitch a ride on a vintage steamship called the TSS Earnslaw. That trip also includes a picnic lunch at a rustic hut and high tea at Colonel’s Homestead restaurant.
Many of these activities can be booked through the website www.queenstownnz.co.nz