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

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The NEVIS Bungee in Queenstown, New Zealand



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.



New Zealand: Top 10 Views to Blow Your Mind

2004 Milford Sound 2 to Taupo 1 106

  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


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. 

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Hokitika Wild Foods Festival: Worm Sushi and Seaweed Smoothies

Have you ever wondered what wildflower fudge might taste like? How about a bunny burger? Venison tongue? Larvae ice cream? If you like to taste your adventures, you live to eat, and you have an iron-clad stomach, then get thee to Hokitika, New Zealand for the annual Wildfoods Festival.



Hokitika is a tiny, beautiful town in the middle of the wild, cold, wet, and did I say wild? West Coast of the southern island of New Zealand. Billed as the “Greenstone (New Zealand Jade) Capital of the World,” the oceanside town is not much more than a few cute espresso shops and a beach reputed to wash up jade along the shore. But every spring over 15,000 travelers, tourists, locals, and freaks descend upon the village to put their mouth where their money is and eat all manner of cuisine from the forests, farmland, and ocean waters of New Zealand.



The crazy festival (any festival in on the South Island is going to be straight crazy) is not only a celebration of the bounty of the land, but also a festival of libation and a shout-out to the pioneering spirit of the land. Had the early gold-rushers and Maori before them not eaten huhu grubs and paua (abalone) fritters, the West Coast may not ever have been settled and Hokitika might not exist.

The Wildfoods Festival takes place this year on Saturday March 8; besides all manner of food flora and fauna there will also be plenty of music, activities for children, cooking demonstrations and live performances. The real attraction, though, is the menu. How many would YOU try?

                lamb’s tails

                whitebait fritters (whitebait are very small fish, sold in pint jars) 

                horse, bunny, and dolphin burgers

                elderflower champagne

                grilled mutton bird (a New Zealand sea bird)

                worm truffles

                deep fried crickets, wasps, beetles, and grasshoppers

                eels on lettuce with cream cheese

                mussel kebabs

                fish eyes

                Viagra slushy (a wild food? perhaps)

                duck giblets

                crocodile and kangaroo

                huhu grubs (New Zealand grubworms)

                deep fried shark

                rose petal wine

                mountain oysters (sheep’s testicles)

How many would you try? Here from behind my lovely laptop screen I say I will try them all- but find me in Hokitika and see how gustatorially brave I am then!

Hokitika Beach

Hokitika Beach


Hokitika is a great stop along the west coast any time of the year- in fact, I would definitely recommend staying in Hokitika over Greymouth, Westport, or at Punakaiki (the Pancake Rocks). It is a much more interesting town with better restaurants and the best shopping for Greenstone along the west coast. Enjoy the beach and keep an eye out for New Zealand jade!

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Sightsounding: New Music Adventures

Adventure is new music.

When you travel around the globe you come across all kinds of music; people tend to associate vacation with the visual sense, sightseeing, but sightsounding is just as enriching if not more so. Fresh music exposes your ears to new aural vistas just as your eyes take in the new mountain scene or rolling landscape. Whether you stumble upon a local jam band ragin’ it in a tiny French village or beat drums on the Masai Mara in Africa, musical adventures will ring in your ears long after your return flight.

Golden Bay, South Island

Golden Bay, South Island

When I arrived in New Zealand I had absolutely no idea what an insane reggae scene is going off on those islands. It makes perfect sense though; reggae is island music for chillin’ out and New Zealand is made up of two beautiful islands scattered with the very laid back Kiwi people. The heart of the reggae world in New Zealand is the Waikato region and the city of Wellington, the cultural capital of the nation. An awesome reggae industry means a killer dub and dubstep scene as well, and all over New Zealand people are dancing and jamming to amazing music that 99.9% of most Americans have not heard of. I am about to induct you into the .01%. Get ready to bounce.

Rangitoto from Waitemata Harbor in Auckland

Rangitoto from Waitemata Harbor in Auckland

Fat Freddy’s Drop is the most well-known of all New Zealand music artists and skanks it right with a totally unique reggae and dub sound. They lay down thick swervy bass beats with an easy, ambulatory nature that creeps along purposefully under the smooth vocals of lead singer Dallas. His voice is like a bell, open and with an all-encompassing tone that pulls you in, and they have one of the best female rappers around. This Wellington band dropped big time in 2005 with stellar album “Based On A True Story.” Fat Freddy’s song Cay’s Crays is named after a crayfish (NZ lobster) stand on the South Island that you will most certainly drive by if you are road tripping around the country (such is the beauty of New Zealand’s many one-road towns).

Lake Matheson, South Island

Lake Matheson, South Island

Katchafire is a smokey-sweet reggae band named in tribute to a Bob Marley song with a leader singer whose voice will make you swear you are listening to Legend. On Revival they exhort you to bounce, skank, giddy up and get away. Katchafire’s edition of Redemption Song is a hopeful, uplifting recording and their song Collie Herb Man has been mixed and remixed by just about every DJ in New Zealand, and you can find a version of the song under whatever electronic music style you like, from house to drum and bass to dubstep.

Punakaiki "Pancake Rocks," South Island

Punakaiki "Pancake Rocks," South Island

Salmonella Dub throws dance beats down from Cape Reinga to Bluff. A sassy mix of electronica, jazz influences, and shaky reggae stomps combines with uplifting lyrics to post Samonella Dub at the top of the list for Kiwi music. Dancehall Girl is an ode to the shakers on the islands and Slide just makes you want to sit back down, breath deep and savor the kickin’ mountain scenery of New Zealand for another hour or two.

Moeraki Boulders aka NEW ZEALAND ROCKS

Moeraki Boulders aka: NEW ZEALAND ROCKS

Other New Zealand reggae and dub bands to check out include Kora, Pitch Black, The Black Seeds, Trinity Roots, Shapeshifter, Herbs, and Cornerstone Roots. Go on a new music adventure and experience the inspirational qualities of New Zealand’s finest artists. I will see you on the dance floor.