WORLDROMPER

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Helen Keller


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The NEVIS Bungee in Queenstown, New Zealand

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 “Nevis.”

The word is bounced around backpackers in the South Pacific in a whisper of reverence, with a tremor of fear and a frisson of wonder. The Nevis is the ultimate bungee jump in the Land of Bungee, New Zealand. In a country where every other person is throwing themselves out of planes, jumping off cliffs, diving with monsters of the deep, and tying rubber ropes around their ankles, the Nevis is the animal that inspires the greatest amount of wide-eyed ‘whoa’.

It was in Auckland where AJ Hackett performed the first modern bungee jump off the Harbor Bridge, inspired by the natives of Vanuatu. After jumping he was promptly arrested and then repeated his stunt a few weeks later from the Eiffel Tower, gaining worldwide notoriety for the new extreme sport.

Today the AJ Hackett Bungee World Headquarters is located in the middle of Queenstown, New Zealand, the adventure sports capital of the world. Here you can sign up for your choice of bungee experiences. Some choose The Ledge and jump out over the mountain village (a puny 47 meters), and some choose the world’s first commercial bungee jumping site at the Kawarau Bridge (only 43 meters, bring out the kindergartners). But for the real hard-core chicks like me there is only one option: The Nevis.

The 4×4 ride out to the jump site along cliff-clinging dirt roads would be enough thrill for most normal people, as would the see-through grating on the floor of the cable car that pulleys you out to the jump pod. High above the rugged river in the windy canyon you wait, hard rock music blasting, heart thumping, knees shaking over the Plexiglas floor, the words of your mother pushed to the very back of your mind. One after another your siblings in insanity fling themselves out of the pod, returning a few minutes later with an open-mouthed I-understand-the-universe-a-little-more-now look on their blood-rushed heads. Finally, it is your turn. Your ankles are bound together, your harness is triple-checked, the ropes are attached, and you shuffle out to the jump platform like a dead man walking. Soak up the amazing view of the open canyon walls and tiny little river hundreds of feet below, and remember that swan dives looks best on the DVD you will buy as proof of your courage/lunacy. Take a deep breath, and give a final wave to the camera for posterity.

 3…2…1…BUNGEE!


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New Zealand: Top 10 Views to Blow Your Mind

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  1. Cape Reinga overlooks the northernmost tip of New Zealand where the Tasman Sea and the South Pacific meet in a swirl of crashing waves.  The blue-soaked view is unparalleled and Cape Reinga is also sacred to the native Maoris, so no picnics or smoking please.  Look down far below and you will see a single, centuries-old pohutukawa tree growing that is the gateway to the netherworld.
  2. Cathedral Cove: From Hahei on the Coromandel Peninsula you can hike about thirty minutes past small bays and farmland to Cathedral Cove, a spectacular beach duo separated by a mighty rock cathedral through which you walk to access the second beach. Cathedral Cove is also only accessible two hours either side of low tide.
  3. Tongariro is a steaming, flat, volcanic landscape dominated by the 2796-meter Mount Ruapehu (Tongariro and Ruapehu are perhaps better known as Mordor and Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings). The Tongariro Crossing is part of a Great Walk and is a popular day hike which transverses the steaming lunar landscape dotted with gem-like turquoise lakes
  4. Cape Farewell overlooks the northwestern corner of the south island; soak in the view and then take a small hike (30 minutes) across hilly farmland and sand dunes to spectacular Whahariki Beach, where you will only be able to take your eyes off the majestic scenery to watch the dozens of seal pups frolicking in the waves just meters away. Along the way don’t miss the hundreds of black swans that live on Golden Bay.
  5. The road to Glenorchy from Queenstown is insanely spectacular, following the lake as it curves through the mountains. If you are brave, from Glenorchy continue on to Paradise (a.k.a. Isengard) on a gravel road criss-crossed with streams that leads to the start of the Routebourne Track through fields of sheep, rocky mountaintops, and a tangible sense of isolation.  From Paradise you are only about 50 km as the crow flies to Milford Sound, but the drive takes about five hours!
  6. The Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki are amazing rock structures and stone towers carved by millions of years of pounding waves. Around high tide the blowholes are raging and you will feel the energy of New Zealand’s wild West Coast surge around you.
  7. The Franz Josef Glacier and the Fox Glacier are two of the most popular and easy-to-reach glaciers in New Zealand; each has a white river rushing from its mouth and is set in an incredible carved rock valley edged with cascades.  Franz Josef is larger and steeper than Fox, which has a more accessible terminal moraine and slightly lower prices on heli-hiking, sightseeing flights, etc.
  8. Nugget Point.  Don’t let the narrow gravel road deter you: the lighthouse overlooking huge ocean boulders being pounded by the surf is absolutely awe-inspiring and one of the most-often photographed views in the country.
  9. North of Dunedin are the Moeraki Boulders, strange, almost spherical boulders of all sizes along the beach that have emerged from the cliff side and exist no other place on earth. Just south of the boulders is a penguin colony where you can observe yellow-eyed penguins in the wild, one of the few places in the world outside of Antarctica (the Ice) where you can see penguins in their natural habitat.
  10. The drive into Milford Sound is rated one of the top ten on earth by National Geographic, and after passing through a tunnel which took twenty years to dig, the road twists and turns through the glacier-topped sheer rock walls of the ancient landscape, ending with the incredible Mitre Peak.  Sleeping and eating options are extremely limited in Milford Sound, the keas (the world’s only alpine parrots) will eat your hiking boots, and the flies are ridiculous; however the stars are ridiculously bright and the beauty of this remote wonderland is worth any number of slight annoyances. It rains three hundred days out of the year here, so bring your wet weather gear.

Hundreds of other amazing sights and experiences await you in New Zealand!


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Ah, Auckland

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Auckland is the largest Polynesian city in the world, a swirling international metropolis where people from all over Asia and the South Pacific meet and mix with the native Maori traditions, British influence, and a bit of shoulder rubbing (and ribbing) with the Aussies. Combine the unique culture that results with the laid back, inclusive vibe of the New Zealanders, and you get a pulsing heart in the middle of a country of rugged isolation and incredible natural beauty. Continue reading


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New Zealand Black Water Rafting

The brochure did not mention the eels.

2007-waitomo-cave-rangirua-020I signed up for underground rivers, rappelling down a deep, dark, hourglass-shaped hole in the earth, green constellations of glowworms, squeezing under waterfalls along the cave wall, ziplining to rock ledges, the lingering spirits of Ruakiri and the ancient Maori chiefs, water up to my neck and the cave roof mere inches over my head, inching my way through holes with names like “Birth”, and climbing up waterfalls to find a way out- but eels? Eels? There are two things in the world I fear: the dentist, and eels. I had even avoided the proudly advertised “tame eels” in random restaurant/eel petting zoos around the country. Welcome to New Zealand.

2007-waitomo-cave-rangirua-023But as I wade chest-deep through the flowing river two hundred feet below the surface at the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves on the north island, I begin to doubt my decision to sign up for the most extreme Black Abyss Adventure with the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company. Why couldn’t I have gone skydiving in Taupo, jet boating in Queenstown, or hang gliding in Christchurch? New Zealand is so full of adventure sports options, you must prioritize your adrenaline rushes and pick and choose how you will experience the Land of the Long White Cloud. Though I had selected black water rafting because it was an experience unique to New Zealand, I had also literally submerged myself in the only option that would truly make my heart squirm with fear.

2007-waitomo-cave-rangirua-026I try to brush away the hideous thought of the cave eels (much as they were brushing along my thighs) and concentrated on my ‘cave snack’ of chocolate and steaming hot orange juice, which is surprisingly comforting when surrounded by the apple green glow worms- though cave insiders know what they are really admiring on the cavern’s ceiling is actually phosphorescent maggot feces. The term “glow worm” is just so much more romantic. The three hours spent underground in Ruakiri Cave are unlike any others in my life. This is no walk-through, look-at-the-stalactites caving experience. This is raw, cold, exhausting, and you might just look up that waterfall to the cave exit and doubt you can climb up through it. But you will, and you will emerge back out of the earth changed forever. Beware though: the brochure does not mention the eels.