Queenstown, New Zealand
“It’s just got to be done!”
This is what I was told time and time again. Traveling from city to city, sharing beers and stories with my fellow travelers, the one name that was on everybody’s lips (and eventually my nightmares!) was Nevis. Who was this Nevis you say? Or what is a Nevis? Well, I suppose the most accurate description is THE Nevis is all of your fears rolled into one. Let me share with you the recipe.
First, throw in one cup bungy and shake (most likely at the knees). Next, add one fixed gondola and suspend 134 meters above the ground and shake again (uncontrollably). Third, add one open cage, EXTREMELY DRAFTY moveable platform to transport one out to said gondola, and lastly, induce nausea and vertigo by peering through the many clear plastic floorboards of once again said gondola and staring straight down 134 meters to the (extremely) small stream in which you feel you will soon end up as you make your way to the edge and …jump.
What do you think? Sound like fun?
Well, to help explain the motivation behind why I did it let me assure you that I had NO idea of any of this prior to the jump. Or perhaps I chose not to believe it. I would hear the storytellers rave on how high it was, or how they’ve never felt so close to death but a part of me was always quietly telling myself (I talk to myself often… sometimes a necessity on those long and lonely bus rides common to the solitary traveler) that they were merely exaggerating to get the attention of the crowd and more specifically, the women. But as I arrived in Queenstown, New Zealand and the stories grew more and more outlandish and more plentiful I have to admit, the seed of doubt had been planted in my mind. Perhaps they weren’t exaggerating quite as much as I had previously assumed. But by this time, the decision was out of my hands.
I had made friends the night before with another traveler and, after perhaps one too many beverages, had assured him that we would arise first thing in the morning and proceed to the AJ Hackett Bungy Company (the parent company who operate the Nevis Bungy, among several others) and hand over the kingly ransom of $159 NZ to procure ourselves a seat on the next shuttle out to the Nevis Bungy site.
The next seat available turned out to be on the next day, so I had a whole day with which to compose my thoughts, take long walks along the streets of Queenstown, and write out my last will and testaments entitling who would receive my meager possessions should I (most certainly) not make it back from this foolish endeavor.
The next morning came far too quickly. My newfound friend and I met at the AJ Hackett station to catch the shuttle, although I suppose “shuttle” is a loose term for the monstrosity that pulled up to the curb before us. It looked like it had seen action in all the major wars since 1914. I was assured it was in top physical condition by the driver, a young man named Russ, who had a bit of a wild look in his eye (as I’m sure you’d need to pilot this creation), and with quick grind of the gears we were off.
The ride out to the site takes about 20 minutes and it passes through some glorious scenery, of which the south island of New Zealand has in abundance. Long stretching fields of the most opulent green and daunting mountain peaks surround you on either side. It wasn’t long before we made a turn off from the smooth main road and onto a rutted and obviously well used and abused, dirt road. The road wove through a field for a few minutes and then began to climb, alarmingly, up a very steep and narrow grade. I noticed with particular interest that the slope to the immediate left of the shuttle dropped off severely straight down and that there was no guard rail to protect us or even a sign saying, “Hey, you might want to keep your eyes on the road. This is some pretty scary business over here.”
I eventually arrived at the top of the mountain and piled out of the shuttle, a little shaky from the journey. However, if I had thought the ride up was a bit traumatic, I was in for a rude awakening. Directly in front of us was a small building which was the main office and housed all the equipment and facilities necessary to operate the bungy. But directly behind THAT, suspended in between two mountains and dangling innocently in the center of a yawning chasm, was the Nevis bungy. I managed to get the shuttle doors open but I was unable to hotwire the ignition before Russ was back on the bus dragging me, kicking and screaming, into the main office. Or at least that’s the scenario that played through in my mind. In reality I merely stood and stared, slack jawed, in awe of something so inspirationally terrifying.
I was ushered in along with my new friend and the several others who had somehow been persuaded to make this voyage. Inside we were greeted by a hearty New Zealander named Jason who assured us that everything was going to be fine and we were about to have the greatest experience of our lives but before that could we just sign a few waivers to release the Nevis from any responsibility in the unlikely event of our deaths? I felt like standing up and saying, “No, Jason, should I not make it back from this excursion the first thing I would like for you to do is to change the name from the Nevis Bungy to the ‘Scott Cunningham didn’t make it back from his bungy experience so what the hell makes you think YOU will’ Bungy Co.” But instead I meekly filled in the forms and got into the lineup to be fitted for my harness.
Now the Nevis harness itself is a bit of a marvel. Instead of merely securing you about the legs like most bungy harnesses, this one attaches to both your legs and your chest. I believed this was because the good people at Nevis just wanted to be extra careful about not allowing you to plummet to your death. About this I was mistaken, but I didn’t discover it until later.
After you’ve been fitted with your harness you’re escorted out to a small platform to be transported over to the gondola, as it is fixed in place. The small cable car that arrived to bring us over was an open cage, meaning that you could see right through the floor to the ground below and the walls only came to waist level with a small canopy for a roof so, should you REALLY WANT TO, you could lean all the way out. As well, the safety procedure upon boarding was to clip ourselves onto a bar attached to the canopy stopping us from say, jumping out, but doing nothing for my fear of the cable car detaching and plummeting to the earth. However, by this time I was numb from continued shock and thought very little of it.
Soon we arrived at the gondola car and stepped off into its small confines. The view from inside was breathtaking. On every side was a magnificent sweeping vista of mountains framed by blue sky and snow white clouds. After I’d had a few seconds to soak in the view one of the two “jumpmasters” approached me and asked to view the number written on the back of my hand which I assumed was my weight, since I had been given it after having stepped on and then off a scale (I’m very clever you know). He then ascertained that I was the heaviest of the group (lovely distinction) and that I was to go first. As in right now…
Well, once I’d swallowed my tongue and retrieved my eyeballs from where they’d rolled to I was lead to a chair directly opposite the “exit”. There I was given a final check over to make sure my harness was in good working order and it was there that I learned that instead of the chest strap being a secondary “safety” harness, it was instead meant to be my primary means of support after I detached the rope connecting my legs. “Detach my legs? What on God’s green earth would I want to do that for?” I believe my response was. Well, because the Nevis is so high, it wasn’t feasible to be lowered down to the ground as was the norm on other bungy sites. Instead, on the crest of your second bounce, you are meant to pull a rip cord which detaches your legs and then, as you dangle by your chest strap 200 feet in the air, a small hook travels down your line and attaches on to a built-in clasp and you are winched back up to the cable car. By this point they could have told me that I’d be meant to stick feathers onto my arms and fly back to safety. I nodded thickly and I was escorted over to the jump platform.
Standing on the edge of that platform feels as though you are suspended in mid air. You are far enough ahead that the cable car is just a blur in your peripheral vision and you simply stare at the distant mountain side and try to take slow, deep calming breaths. Then, from some distant place, you hear the jumpmasters counting “3, 2, 1 Bungy!!” and you jump. There is a split second where it feels as though you are flying and then gravity takes hold and you have a mere second to utter “Help?” before you begin to fall.
You freefall for over 8 seconds and the wind rushes past your ears like you have decided to stick you head out the driver side window of a Formula One racer on it’s last lap and then you are at the end of your rope and you begin your rapid ascent back. It appears as though you are actually going to rebound fully back up INTO the gondola again but you stop several meters short and then begin to plummet again. Oh and yes, during the whole performance you scream like a first grader who’s being chased by a large dog.
The whole experience is breath taking. Never before in my life have I been so scared and so excited at the same time. By the time I was winched back into the main cabin of the gondola and detached from the cable I was shaking so hard that I couldn’t stand, but the smile on my face was from ear to ear. It’s true what they say…It’s just got to be done!!