Monday, December 05, 2005

The Perfect Drug

About a 20 minute ride outside of Queenstown is the Kawarau river. Looking down at the gorge and the impressive turquoise blue water, you can see the rocky, narrow cliffs where they filmed the "Pillars of the Kings" in Lord of the Rings. I didn't think I'd be one of those Tolkien nuts and check out all the locations, but I couldn't help myself.

Just around the next bend, atop the gorge, is the Kawarau Bridge. In 1988, a Kiwi speed skier and all-around nutcase by the name of AJ Hackett started the first bungy site in the world here. It's the original place to get your ankles tied to a bungy cord, count down, and throw yourself off - and if you dive correctly, get a nice dip in the beautiful blue river. This is strictly for nutjobs.

I am now one of those nutjobs.

Logic is thrown out the window in Queenstown. There are just too many adrenaline-pumping activities for even the most weak-kneed of people to pass up. Whether it's jetboating, luging, bungy jumping, skydiving - it's all here, at a cost. Sure, I was going to relax and take in the scenery in New Zealand. But I had more than a full day of that at Milford Sound. And when you're at the birthplace of bungy jumping, how can you possibly say no?

Standing on the 43m bridge and watching others do it is good fun. You see the adrenaline junkies who yell and hoot all the way down. You see the ones who cry like a bitch before eventually taking the plunge. You see busloads of Japanese tourists who make their way up there just to be the peanut gallery and give you more pressure to perform. I was last in my group to jump, so after seeing the Geronimos and the bedwetters, it came down to the very end to see which I'd turn out to be.

I have a fear of heights. I have a fear of falling. I don't know how to dive. Bungy jumping is the last extreme sport I ever thought I'd bother with. But with a psych-up soundtrack of Nine Inch Nails in the background, I got geared up, put my toes on the edge of the platform, and the guy said "3... 2... 1... Bungy!"

Skipping my usual urge for hesitation, I dropped forward with my arms outstretched, went into terrifying freefall for a couple of seconds, and tucked my head in to perform the picture perfect up-to-the-shoulders dip. The groundrush of watching the stunningly blue river accelerate toward my face jacked my senses into another dimension. The cold splash of going under was refreshing and an extreme rush. The huge bounce back up was balls-out scary, considering how close I seemingly was to the canyon wall, but I was screaming with joy the whole way. By the third bounce, I was pulled into a raft at the bottom and climbed back up to the top, where I got a nice ovation from the camera-happy Japanese. It turns out bungy jumping is a performance sport, and you get style points for going down with form, and more for getting in the water. Who knew?

Diving the Reef a couple of weeks ago was a sensory transformation that I will never forget. Diving head-first off the Kawarau bridge is a sensory rush that ranks right up there with it.

Not a bad start to my last day in New Zealand.

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