Monday, November 20, 2006

When in Rome...

Since I left the UK I've been trying to follow a policy of agreeing to do things that I would never consider back home. So when I arrived in Queenstown - NZ's playground and a backpacker mecca - the sky was the limit (literally). When I got to the hostel I asked the guy on reception to recommend a couple of options - and he obviously misjudged me for a different person entirely and signed me up for the most extreme of extreme sports.

Obviously this would include a bungee jump. Queenstown is the spiritual home of bungee jumps, so it had to be done really. Sadly my friend at the hostel signed me up for the biggest and most daunting option: the Nevis jump. A 134 metre (440 ft) dive off a rickety cable car/gondola, suspended high above a desolate canyon. It could have been the evil lair of a Bond Villain. While I had a few cold rushes the day before I was surprisingly calm during the build up to the jump. Right up to the moment that the rope was attached to my ankles, when I quite seriously thought about chickening out and would have embraced the easy option of derision from my fellow jumpers. Thankfully the staff keep things moving forward so quickly you don't get a chance to have second thoughts.

Somehow I dove (or fell forwards with my arms barely outstretched). You would not believe how fast you travel. You would not believe how long it feels (although it really takes only a few seconds). And you would not believe how loud I was roaring (there's no other word for it. I'm surprised you didn't hear it in the UK). I've had more fun doing other things on the trip, but this was uniquely memorable. I've never really been interested in this sort of thing before, but now I think it's definitely one of the highlights of the trip. (Pics below. I do have a dvd as well, but it's too big to upload, unless people have any suggestions) .

During this week of activity I also went kayaking around the fiords of Milton Sound and white-water rafting down the Shotover River (near Queenstown). I'd been relaxed about the rafting as my mind had been preoccupied by the bungee-jump. However, that soon changed on the bus ride to the river. The female guide was a Hitchcockian-expert in ratcheting up tension. "We cannot guarantee your safety, as this is not a Disney ride. We have lost people in the past, and it may happen today. Please fill in this 4-page indemnity form for our insurers. Remember if you fall in the river, which will happen, to not stand up in the water as your feet will get trapped in the rocks and the water will push you forward face down in the river so you drown. If you are lucky your legs will snap and you float onwards leaving your feet behind." And so on, during the one hour journey up the narrow, winding, miners pass.

I was actually getting freaked out by this well-honed pitch - not least as I can't really swim. In the end I really enjoyed rafting, no least as the power of the river carries you forward so you don't have to do so much of that tiring paddling. After about 5 minutes we had a moment of high drama when one of the other rafts capsized, and we had to rescue a body floating down the river. (There was much discussion as to whether it was a man or a woman. Personally I wasn't sure either way). Shortly after this I made some quip about how we would have better stories to tell if we capsized - a suggestion which didn't go down well with my team-mates.

Naturally enough, very shortly after this I fell out and had to be dragged back into the raft during the worst section of rapids. (I fell out at the 'Oh Shit' rapids, which as you know is in between the 'Toilet' and the 'Pinball'). Just before this there was a section where we had to 'Paddle Hard' for what seemed like an age, and as I was acting like someone who knew what they were doing I was perched up quite high on the side of the raft. Needless to say I lost my footing, started grabbing at thin air (as if in a Tom and Jerry cartoon) and slowly fell backwards into the torrential river. Thankfully I managed to grab onto a rope and got pulled unceremoniously back into the raft. I'm particularly proud of the fact that my sunglasses stayed on during the whole trip...

  • Cool, Calm and collected - or false bravado?
  • Now someone looks nervous. Perhaps it was false bravado.
  • A Prayer before Dying?
  • Yes - that it me at the end of the rope (made up of surprisingly small elastic bands).
  • Nearly safe (well relatively)



At 6:08 am, Anonymous Dan Wilson Craw said...

Hi John! I'm off to Queenstown tomorrow and signed up for the Ledge. I did a sky dive in Taupo but the bungee's still scaring the shit out of me...


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