Adrenaline underload Queenstown


Planning my itinerary back in January I had no idea that Queenstown is the adventure activity capital of New Zealand. It was just the most southerly New Zealand airport I could get to on my RTW ticket. While in Melbourne I started filling in the blank space that was the three weeks between Queenstown and Auckland. It quickly became apparent that the main things to do directly from Queenstown were so-called adrenaline activities: skydiving, jet boating, bungy jumping and the like.

There are outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, mountain biking, skiing and snow boarding too. However, the nice people at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests impounded my walking boots sent so many months ago from Thailand. I’m still waiting for Rentokil to fumigate them or whatever they have to do to persuade the Ministry they’re not a bio-hazard likely to turn New Zealand into a barren, lifeless desert. And although it’s officially Spring, as far as the Department of Conservation is concerned it it still Winter and many of the trails are closed. For the Great Walks I’d need much more equipment than I have. So many of the walking options aren’t open to me. I’ve never caught the skiing or snow-boarding bugs and fishing bores the life out of me. All of which means that after wandering around Queenstown for a couple of hours the main things left to do are the so-called adrenalin activities. They’re expensive and I was tempted not to bother doing any of them. But then what would I do here?

Twenty-something years ago I did a static-line parachute jump. It wasn’t very exciting: sit on edge of plane, jump out when told to, static line opens your chute, you float to ground. I didn’t have high hopes that a tandem skydive would be much more exciting but I gave it a go.

Five jumpers, five instructors and three photographers boarded the lift plane. We roared into the sky and climbed steeply into the blue over Queenstown. Below us the snow capped mountains, town and Lake Wakatipu shrank to a papier-mache model, skiers on the Remarkables became tiny pinpricks and a few fluffy clouds shone brilliant white. After the 12,000 feet jumpers got out we closed the door and continued the climb to 15,000 feet above ground level.  The roll-up door was opened again. Clipped to my instructor’s chest we shuffled into the doorway. The wind plucked at my feet tucked below the plane and tried to drag us out. With my head tipped back against his shoulder and my thumbs tucked into my harness like a country and western line-dancer I waited for the instructor to release his hold and hurl us out. It wasn’t a long wait. From this height the freefall time was supposed to be 65 seconds. It felt like about 15 seconds. The view was nice. Breathing was a little hard with a 200kph wind in my face. The instructor opened the parachute at about 4000 feet and put in a few sharp turns to spice things up and keep us above the landing zone. But it really wasn’t scary, and was totally adrenaline free. Others took a different view. The smell in the plane a few seconds before he was carried out by his instructor suggested the bloke in front of me had crapped himself.

I’d rather have been flying the plane, a Cessna Grand Caravan, than jumping out of it. The single engine turboprop had fantastic climb performance compare with the tired old Cessna 150 I’m used to flying.

Bungy jumping was invented here in New Zealand. In a tandem skydive you’re getting out of the plane when the instructor gets out. In a bungy jump you have to step off the platform yourself. So it should be more exciting, right? There are a few options for bungy jumping in Queenstown. I went for the biggest one – the Nevis bungy – 134metres in a river gorge. There are about eight seconds of free-fall time before the elasticity of the bungy overcomes the force of gravity and snatches you back into the air to bounce up and down a few times. The jump is from a gondola suspended above the gorge. It is accessed by a cable car from the lip of the gorge. One side is open to the elements, with a slot in the floor for the bungy to pass through and a projecting platform for the jumper to launch from. The bungy length is adjusted automatically based on the jumper’s weight. Jumpers are weighed at check-in and again when they reach the gondola.

There were only two of us thrill seekers in my group. They bussed us out to the bungy site, about a 40 minute ride. There they strapped us into harnesses on terra firma and whisked us across to the gondola. I was the first to jump. The staff there put a pair of ankle cuffs on me. They sat me a in chair that looked like a cross  between something a gynaecologist would use and an electric chair and hooked me up to the bungy. It attached at both the harness and ankles. On the second bounce it is supposed to be possible to release the ankle attachment and then dangle the right way up rather than inverted. With my ankles tethered together I shuffled up to the edge of the platform and looked down. About 150metres below the river twinkled and sparkled in the sunlight. Ah, a momentary twinge of butterflies in my stomach!

“Ready?” inquired the operator behind me. “On a count of three, remember to jump outwards, not just step off.”

I waved to the camera above and in front of the platform.


I flexed my knees.


I leant forward slightly.


I leant forward a little more, taking my centre of mass beyond the ends of my toes. Going off the edge was then inevitable.

I straightened my legs and powered off the platform into a pretty respectable swan dive. Aha, the briefest hint of adrenaline!

I know the dive was pretty respectable because I saw it on the video afterwards. The free-fall was more exciting than the skydive free-fall. It was quite jarring when the bungy arrested my descent and pulled me skywards again. I bounced five or six times before they started winching me back up to the platform. The ankle tether refused to release so I hung inverted for the return journey which took rather more than eight seconds.

The other guy, a bungy veteran, made his jump and they whisked us back to terra firma, through the shop, and onto a bus back to town.

All of the advertising for the skydiving and bungy jumping plays on peoples fears to build up the excitement and anticipation. The problem is they are fundamentally safe activities. Otherwise, in the modern namby-pamby world the operators wouldn’t be allowed to run their rides and attractions. So you know nothing is going to go wrong. If through some freakish occurrence it did, then you’d hit the ground at high velocity. From 150 metres or from 15,000 feet the outcome would be fatal and you wouldn’t have to worry about anything afterwards. So the activities are not scary and there is little or no adrenaline.

Maybe I should have tried the jet boating in the Shotover River canyon. There’s probably a slightly higher chance of the driver making a mistake and plowing into a rock or the canyon wall than there is of a parachute not opening or a bungy cord breaking.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply