Pursuit of the Endless Summer #7
Seven adrenalin activities near Queenstown, listed in order of increasing adrenalin rush:
1. Shotover jet boat, white water rafting, & helicopter triple combo package
Shotover Jet Boat
Unfortunately, high winds cancelled the helicopter portion, so instead we took an adventurous bus ride through Skipper’s Canyon. This old miners road was so treacherous that rental cars were forbidden to travel on it, and a rafting bus went off the edge on the day of our trip. The shotover jet boat was a buzz. It came within inches of the canyon walls while travelling at 60 mph with it’s huge 400hp motor that needed only inches of water to manoeuvre. The 360 degree spins got everyone wet.
2. Dolphin Encounter
We’ve been lucky enough to be surprised by dolphins several times so far in our travels, but we’d never been able to spend time with them in the water up close. So when we learned that Dolphin Encounters brought small groups to swim with dolphins in their natural environment, we were excited to try this unique experience.
Since dusky dolphins inhabit the waters off the Kaikora coast year round, our guides were able to predict the dolphins movements and brought us to a pod of about 100-150 dolphins. Dusky dolphins are one of the most playful and acrobatic of all dolphin species which we witnessed as our boat approached. However, we found it was easier to see the dolphins above the water than below since the ocean was cold and murky, and we were clumsy with our snorkels and wetsuits in comparison to their quick, fluid movements. Apparently dolphins have bouts of activity depending upon their mood, and while they were curious to observe us they weren’t as playful when we were swimming nearby.
Still, we preferred being with the dolphins in the wild with little disturbance to their natural activities vs. seeing trained dolphins in a swimming pool. As our boat returned to the harbor we also saw hector dolphins (the smallest and rarest of all species) and a blue shark swimming at the surface.
3. Black Water Caving
We looked like rodeo clowns in our white rubber boots, purple shorts, 5 mil wetsuits, and goofy miner’s hats. But these costumes were necessary for our abseiling, splunking, and tubing exploration. Instead of joining the busloads of tourists, we chose the adventurous way to experience the Waitomo glow worm caves. Our small group consisted of two guides and one other tourist, a middle-aged man named Colin, who also happened to be from Portland, OR.
Part I – Abseiling
We were instructed to dangle on a rope 100 feet above a cavern floor, and slowly lower ourselves through a narrow gap into the large cave. Colin was nervous, so before he had a chance to back out we offered to let him go first. As he stepped off the platform with an iron grip on his rope, we thought he was going to have a heart attack. Once our feet hit the limestone floor, we scrambled over rocks to do the ‘flying squirrel’. We now attached our harnesses to a pulley and hung feet first to zip along a cable deeper into the cave.
Part II – Tubing
After a peaceful lunch in the darkness to enjoy the glow worms illuminating the cave, it was time to jump into the frigid water. With our inner tubes around us we lept from a ledge feet first and landed ten feet below, our splashes echoing off the cave walls. We then drifted along this slow moving river like travelling in the tunnel of love with the Milky Way glowing above.
Part III – Spelunking
We swam, crawled, and climbed our way through the rest of the cave passages. When we approached a waterfall we were instructed to climb it by straddling the gushing water between our legs. Once again, Colin was on the verge of a heart attack. Four hours after we began, we emerged from the cave onto a forest trail, startling a couple of tourists who wondered where the rodeo clowns had come from.
Fly by wire
4. Fly By Wire
Another innovative Kiwi invention is Fly By Wire. The small craft dangled from an overhead wire 300 feet above the canyon floor. We piloted it at speeds of over 100mph, and could steer it in any direction including falling backwards. With the proper turns and speed we could get to vertical position before heading back across the canyon in a pendulum motion. The rush of speed and views from the highest point were fabulous.
5. River Surfing
This sport is white water kayaking meets body boarding. Dale had seen river surfing on T.V. during our many hours of watching the travel channel, and placed this activity at the top of his must do list. Although we ran only class III rapids, from our perspective the waves seemed quite large. We were exhausted after a 20 minute run – fortunately we were able to rest before we did it all again. Squirts underneath the water and whirlpools were heaps of fun.
6. Tandem Bungy Jump
Here’s a case where a picture speaks 1,000 words. This bridge was 150 feet tall and the site of the first commercial bungee jump in 1988. After three months of constant companionship we decided, “Why not jump together?” Strapped in at our ankles we leapt without hesitation.
7. Tandem Skydiving
The grand finale of our adrenalin activities took us to 12,000 feet for fantastic views of the Fox Glacier, combining a 20 minute Southern Alps sightseeing tour with a 45 second free fall tandem skydiving. Jumping with a big “Waahooo!” was the ultimate way to end our Kiwi adventures.