People having a picnic on a scenic bay with mountains in the background

New Zealand Adventures – “no worries” style

Joseph Campbell called on people to follow their bliss. Tourism New Zealand calls it “getting your life back,” and challenges visitors to give them a week and see what happens.

Americans might call it crazy to head to the antipodean australs to do some heavy amping of the adrenaline kind – whether that means jumping off a cliff, skimming water at 80 miles per hour, jumping onto a 90-foot swing, swimming with Cetacea Delphinidae, spelunking with glow worms or heli-touring through narrow fjords. But if you have ever met a Kiwi – that is a New Zealand national named after a flightless bird the size of a chicken known for its fearless punching prowess, its keen sense of smell and its ability to lay an egg a quarter of its body size – you’ll understand why the country is considered the epicenter of extreme sports.

Even the Auckland skyline features an iconic Kiwi move: You not only can experience the exterior panoramic views of the city from the top of the Sky Tower (Auckland’s answer to the Seattle Space Needle) some 600 feet above the fray – no handrails, but you can take a flying leap off the edge of it. The “Sky Jump” is a common inclusion in tour packages in Auckland and can be booked on site as well. (www.skyjump.co.nz)

However, most daredevils bypass Auckland and head straight to Queenstown. The South Island city just six hours’ drive from Christchurch is rife with crazy Kiwis waiting to share their wares. Consider the Shotover Canyon Swing. This little attraction on a cliff in the middle of nowhere is pure nirvana for the strong of nerve set, who hurl themselves from a platform 300 feet above the Shotover River and arc several times across the canyon in a flying swing. True, A.J. Hackette started this adrenaline boom 20 years ago when it brought bungee jumping to these parts, but the Swing takes the experience of flight a few ticks farther as participants swing on a wire pendulum from one cliff face to the other in a heart pounding swirl of Gs.

Below them, along the Shotover River, jet boats race the wind in shallow river waters. This purely Kiwi invention carries about a dozen passengers through the winding riverbed at 70 mph speeds, deftly maneuvering turbo-charged turns on a dime – the oil age’s answer to whitewater rafting. Above the canyon, paragliders dip and rise and up-river a ways, white water rafters take their shot at challenging rapids.

Zip lining, too, is taking off in a big way. The one at the Mokai Gravity Canyon in Taihape launches you from a ledge 574 foot above a river canyon before you race down a zip-line 2/3’s of a mile long at speeds up to 99 miles per hour.

Between Christchurch and Queenstown New Zealand has the Southern Alps. The Everest of these Alps is easily Mt. Cook – at 12,316, Australasia’s highest mountain. It is said Sir Edmund Hillary, the first climber to conquer Everest – and a Kiwi at that – practiced on this forbidding peak – one of the world’s most dangerous actually in having claimed more than 200 lives. Mountain climbing, glacier walking, heli-hiking, skiing (during the western summer months) is all possible in adventurous New Zealand.

Guided hiking outfits to fit any level of skill and a variety of packaging options for hours, days, type of trip and destination are ubiquitous in the Canterbury and West Coast regions of South Island. Down Under Answers, for instance, offers such add-ins for foodies as “Picnic on a Peak” helicopter tour with a ride through narrow canyons in the Remarkables range and over skyward glaciers before landing at a heavenly lake.

For those with a need for speed, a jet boat safari from Queenstown along the Dart River to the UNESCO World Heritage area of Mt. Aspiring National Park (including 4WD tour of Lord of the Rings scenic filming locations).

Or, an adventurous traveler can take their lover to spend three nights making internal heat on Fox Glacier, South Island exploring the glacier peaks amid primeval rainforests.

The North Island, too, has its ahhs and awes. Rotorua, a kingdom of volcanic wrath bubbling and a paradise of geothermal pampering, offers plenty of adventure to hikers who want to go with the geysers or explorers interested in seeing this hellish paradise from the air.

Among the other intriguing adventures to be found in New Zealand, dolphin encounters ranks high on the “must-do” list. Swimming with dolphins Kiwi-style is not the tame photo-opp tour it is in the states where visitors get limited contact with the friendly sea mammals in a controlled environment. Rather, in New Zealand, whether you are out in the open ocean or in a calm harbor you can frolic with a variety of dolphin species in a multitude of conditions. Wet suits, transport and guidance are all included in most arrangements and because the swimming encounters are highly regulated and can only happen during New Zealand’s summer (our fall to spring) booking early is strongly suggested.

New Zealand Travel Resources:

Down Under Answers
(877) 888-7227
Duatravel.com

Goway
(888) GOWAY44
Goway.com

Springboard Vacations
(866) 447-7746
Springboardvacations.com

Swain Tours
(800) 22-SWAIN
Swaintours.com

Tourism New Zealand
(310) 395-7480
Tourismnewzealand.com

photo by Julian Apse

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