While in New Zealand, I experience the local alternative to drugs – the adrenaline rush.
Flying Kiwi Parasail
After my mom agrees to try one “extreme” activity, I pick out something really gentle: parasailing in the Bay of Islands.
“Look,” I say, stabbing my finger at the brochure, “There’s some little kids. If they can do it, so can you.”
My mom mumbles something about irresponsible parents / photoshop. Norm at the hotel desk leans over to take a look and points out that it’s the highest parasail in New Zealand at 1200 feet, “so you have longer to fall.” His wife hushes him with a glare.
Even after making the booking, my mom drags her feet. “It’s going to be a total waste of money. I’m not going to like it.”
She boards the orange Flying Kiwi boat anyway. We are joined by some Australian girls from the Magic backpackers bus and an older couple we pick up in Russell across the bay.
When it’s our turn, we strap on our life jackets and harnesses, clip onto the bar, and sit down. We are lifted gently into the air, our feet leaving the deck to dangle freely, the boat receding beneath us, and the breeze carrying away our laughter.
Being under canopy has to be one of the most peaceful feelings. The roar of engines and hair-whipping wind from the boat disappears and a rich silence fills their place.
Shades of blue and green mottle the waters below as voluminous clouds scud across the sky above. I can see how the area takes its name from the assortment of rocky islands studding the bay. After a certain point I can no longer tell how high up we are.
I revert to small child – “Look, ma, I’m flying!” complete with airplane arms. Mom and I swing back and forth in our harnesses. I try and fail to turn upside down. We chat about small topics, lapse into broad silences.
Our 10-odd minutes expires too quickly as we’re towed back in, the line juddering a bit, to alight on our feet and back to the relative chaos of the boat jouncing its way around the bay.
I think if you ask her, my mom will admit that her favorite part of the trip was that brief but exulting experience as a human kite over the Bay of Islands.
I wasn’t much of a cartoon watcher, but I do remember this Rocket Power movie “Race Across New Zealand” on Nickelodeon. One of the events involved rolling down a hill in a ball, and 12-year-old Katie thought this looked pretty fun (as evidenced by the fact that I remember pretty much nothing else about that movie, except for something about Vegemite).
So naturally, 21-year-old Katie has to live out that childhood dream at Zorb Rotorua, the original site of this… er, sport. It looks absolutely ridiculous, giant orbs lumbering down the green, grassy slope.
It’s a hot day, so I opt for the water ride (as opposed to being harnessed in place) on the Zig-Zag course. Since it appears rather overpriced, I only purchase a single ride. A jokester kiwi guy takes a jeep full of us “Zorbonauts” to the top of the hill. My vessel for the return journey is two nestled spheres of soft, transparent plastic. A hose pumps in a layer of water.
“Here I go. I may need some help,” I tell the operator, since the previous person had gotten stuck climbing in and needed a nudge. I take a running dive that sloshes me all the way up the opposite side of the ball.
“Yeah, right,” laughs the guy as he hands over my GoPro and zips the portal closed. I can see the gates opening through the misty sides of the orb, then the sphere turns around me and my sense of time and direction are thrown for a loop. It’s a bit like a water slide whose turns you can’t predict, the rushing of water in your ears and the feeling of a smooth surface moving beneath you. As the ball meets the turns (glimpses of a green bank and wooden railed fence), I slide up one side and then another, giggling all the way.
By the end, I become all too conscious of the fact that my container is spinning, spinning. My giggles grow a little strained, echoing tinnily off the plastic walls. But then the Zorb rolls to a halt, everything settles back into place, and I emerge feet first in an expulsion of water, bedraggled as a drowned rat but grinning.
Yes, it’s another overpriced tourist activity, but Zorbing is more fun than meets the eye.
Kawarau Bridge Bungy
Down on the South Island, in Queenstown, I try another common NZ activity at the Kawarau Bridge, site of the world’s first commercial bungy jump. I must confess to being rather unconcerned about jumping off a bridge, especially considering the place’s perfect safety record and the fact that it’s a mere 43 meter (141 foot) drop. There’s even a rumor that an observer had once fallen off the bridge without a cable and survived.
Still, the general atmosphere of nervous chatter at the top makes for a great bonding experience. I can’t tell if people are shaking from the cold wind or from nerves. One man asks, “So, did anyone else imbibe A LOT of alcohol before coming here?” A woman replies, “No, I just didn’t eat at all.”
The view of the jump itself is mostly obscured, so I don’t know what to expect. They take us in order of weight, which means I go after a very nervous 12-year-old girl from Kentucky.
The friendly crew binds my legs together while giving me advice on how to hold my camera. The moment hobbling up to the edge seems much longer than it actually is. I glance over my shoulder to verify that it’s really okay for me to go, then lean forward and dive off the bridge with a shrill “Woo-hooooooo!”
My biggest concern is that the cable will jerk me back painfully, but I hardly notice the transition from the view rushing upwards to reversing downwards. I giggle lots, feeling like an inelegant yo-yo, and then the end of a pole enters my field of vision, held by two guys in a raft. I grab it on my second pass and they pull me in, making faces at my camera.
My mom meets me as I run back up the stairs carved into the hillside (an exercise you don’t really think about when you’re at the top) and we watch other people make their leaps.
One girl is so terrified that it takes around 7 false starts before she finally steps off, arms and legs pinwheeling like Wile E Coyote when the cliff drops out from underneath. I feel a stab of jealousy, because I bet that girl will feel so accomplished afterward, whereas I feel like I’ve dropped an incredible amount of money on a few seconds’ amusement park ride.
At least I have the bragging rights and another item off the bucket list, though if you want my advice, stick to parachutes (skydiving, paragliding, etc) for longer fun in the air.