by Jeremy Hainsworth, The Associated Press, February 24, 2015
QUEENSTOWN, New Zealand (AP) — For travelers wanting to take in the mind-bogglingly stunning scenery of New Zealand's South Island while getting a high-octane shot of adrenaline, Queenstown and the surrounding Fiordland area are bucket-list must-dos.
Queenstown is not only an adventure tourism capital, but it's also home to an important place in bungee-jumping history. In November 1988, from Queenstown's Kawarau Bridge, bungee pioneers A.J. Hackett and Henry van Asch launched one of the world's first commercially operated bungee jumping sites. More than 27 years later, Kawarau Bridge Bungy remains renowned as one of Queenstown's most exhilarating activities.
While a 141-foot (43-meter) jump might sound insane, not to mention fear-punching and adrenaline-driving, there are those who want more. The region also offers a plethora of other buzz-filled activities sure to knock the complacency out of any travel-weary adventurer. On the list of activities to consider are skydiving, jet boating, kayaking, whitewater rafting and rainforest trekking. And Queenstown can provide it.
When it comes to skydiving, jumpers leave the planes operated by NZONE Skydive Queenstown at more than 16,000 feet (4,900 meters) above sea level, well above peaceful Lake Wakatipu and the 2,319-foot (707-meter) heights of the craggy Remarkables mountain range that rivals western Canada's Rockies in magnificence.
There are few, if any, other places in the world where you can do some scenic mountain sightseeing while plunging at a velocity of 124 mph (200 kilometers per hour) for 10,000 feet (3,050 meters) of free fall. In 60 seconds.
There are several jump options but my friend Andrew Benson and I went all the way and chose 15,000-foot (4,570-meter) jumps with experienced tandem skydivers. If you've never fully experienced being totally present in the moment, skydiving is the only way to go. Nothing else is happening as you plummet earthward before the canopy opens above you.
"Do it with someone whose smile gives you joy," Andrew said.
NZONE also provides skydiving photographers to capture your jump for an extra fee. We took them up on the offer and wound up joining hands with our photographer in mid-air.
The mind-blowing rush of the free fall lasted 60 seconds after which we enjoyed five minutes of sailing through clear skies under the chutes' canopies.
Next, a short bus ride from Queenstown's center took us to Shotover Jet's Shotover River launch site. There, we donned black water slickers, emptied our pockets and strapped in for the speedboat ride. The half-hour trip took us at an exhilarating 75 mph (121 kilometers per hour) through the river's twisting narrow canyons.
We could almost reach out and touch canyon walls as the driver took hairpin bends and did 360-degree turns at high speed.
"Keep your arms inside the boat," driver Mike Topp warned us.
Indeed, passengers are warned to alert staff if they suffer from a back or neck conditions.
Then, a Real Journeys cruise took us through a howling gale through Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Area, and out onto the Tasman Sea. As the three-masted Milford Mariner turned to re-enter the sound, waves blasted the side of the boat. We got soaked but Andrew was dancing with glee like a little kid as I howled and grinned.
Around us, mist-embraced mountains poured waterfalls thousands of feet into the sound's waters.
While most enjoy a more sedate cruise on sunnier days, we leaned at angles approaching 45 degrees on the bow in winds approaching 70 kilometers an hour (43 mph).
It had been our intention to fly in by helicopter and kayak the sound with some hiking through the coastal rainforest. We went for the cruise when the weather dampened the original plan. Either way, we were going to get wet - and we didn't care.
Another option for the sound is the four-day hike of the Milford Track, reputed to be one of the world's best hikes. Next time!
In all, we spent two weeks in New Zealand, exploring the Coromandel Peninsula's beaches, skirting Tongariro National Park to see Mount Ngauruhoe, which was used as a stand-in for the fictional Mount Doom in "The Lord of the Rings" films, and watching little blue penguins tumble out of the sea at night onto the beach at the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin.
However, it was Queenstown with its high-octane thrills that captured our hearts and leaving us gasping breathless for more.
Or, at the very least, lying on the grass after we got our skydive suits off gazing at others descending and muttering, "Man, what a ride."
If You Go:
QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND: Adventure activities are offered by numerous companies around Shotover and Camp streets, where the visitor information center is also located. If you arrive by camper van, use a designated campsite as you can be fined for camping in an unapproved spot. Shotover Jet, http://www.shotoverjet.com/ . NZone Skydive, http://www.nzoneskydive.co.nz/home . Real Journeys Milford Sound Nature Cruises, http://bit.ly/1sB8CMX . Queenstown is a year-round destination but transforms into a ski resort during the winter (June, July and August are the coldest months there).
GETTING THERE: International travelers typically fly to Auckland, New Zealand, and from there to Queenstown.
This article was written by Jeremy Hainsworth from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.