Activities

9:15pm 7th November

Despite our own best efforts these last two days, Ness and I are very much alive and well. Aching, but alive! Yesterday was the turn of our Shotover Trio: A combination activity including a jet-boat ride, helicopter ride and then white- water rafting. Another early start, we had to be waiting outside the information centre at 7.30am, not the easiest thing for us as you’ll no doubt know.

It was a short bus ride up to the Shotover Canyon — a deep canyon in which the Shotover river flows. Some parts of the river doubled as the River Anduin in Lord of the Rings; it’s a pretty impressive sight. The jet-boat was first. What an amazing device: two 750bhp ‘jet’ engines suck water from the underside of the boat and then spew it backwards at immense speed. The result is an amazingly fast and extremely nimble boat capable of travelling in only 10cm deep water. Not only that, it can do 360 degree doughnuts in the water. The guy driving it was a loony, he would repeatedly aim it at the sheer rock walls of the canyon only to twist and miss them by what felt like inches. We got a fair soaking in the backwashes as he did doughnuts — great fun.

After we’d clambered out of the jet boat we were ushered into the adjacent rafting building to get suited up. Another day in a wetsuit! In addition we also had a crash helmet and life-jacket too. All suited and booted we were driven to the helipad and ushered into a 8-seater helicopter. The pilot was a quietly-spoken fairly oldish chap (complete with white beard)…but he also was an utter loony. The ride up to the top of the white water rafting place was fantastic, and the pilot antics along the way made it like the most extreme roller coaster I’d ever been on — tops! all over too quickly, only took us a few minutes to make the journey. The buses carrying those who hadn’t elected to pay the extra NZ$60 for the helicopter took about another quarter of an hour to turn up.

Then it was time to get into the rafts. Our guides were excellent; briefing us and drilling us with military precision with all the things we’d need to do once we got into the rapids. I was at the front, which meant a fair amount of physical effort — of course a you all know this comes easily to me. My rippling muscles were a joy for those behind me to behold as I bravely paddled us on…not. This is the main reason I’m aching all over even now, 40-odd hours later!

Once trained up, we were pushed off into the river and began our 2 hour trip. Three sections of rapids with plenty of nice scenery-filled gaps in between. As we’ve come to expect, the surroundings of this beautiful gorge were, well, gorgeous. All the scenery-admiration and banter with the 4 others in the raft with us ceased abruptly once we neared our first rapid. For the first time I realised that unlike in a Disney attraction, if we buggered up the instructions and paddled the wrong way, or didn’t hold on tight enough then we’d be flung out into the raging rapids. Although people occasionally get thrown out of the boat and are fine — indeed the rafts capsize occasionally — but there had been fatalities on that stretch. Scary beans!

The rapids came and went so quickly. With military precision our guide barked orders and we just got on and did what we were told, and we were rewarded with an exhilarating experience of aqueous madness! Being at the front of the raft I got absolutely drenched; it’s a miracle I was still wearing contact lenses by the end of it! We all got pretty wet; those wetsuits really do work — the water temperature was only 8 degrees C but we happily spent two hours battling the raging forces of nature without so much a worry of being cold.

That being said, the sauna and shower afterwards were much-appreciated and enjoyed too! We were mugs and bought both packs of photos (the jet-boat and rafting), so I’ll try and get them scanned/uploaded sometime. A fantastic day spent out.

After all the excitement the worst thing (apart from the aches) was that I ended up with a bit of an upset tummy, I think from a slightly dodgy green-lipped mussel I had for lunch. Even now I’m not 100%, which made me worry a bit at that time that my need to be near a convenient convenience might preclude today’s activity…

But luckily not! This morning, despite my tum, I felt fit and able enough to get myself (and Ness) down to the pick-up point for… my skydiving adventure! It had taken me an awful lot of guts, I had chickened out of it in Rotorua and Taupo but I was determined to give it a go. I’ve always fancied it and being in New Zealand, home of extreme sports, it seemed utterly rude not to.

The clincher for me, bizarrely, was the advertising campaign of NZone (the company I jumped with). They used a passage from Frank Herbert’s Dune book (of which I am overfond) — the Bene Gesserit litany on fear. Having seen that; I had to go with them!

They were excellent. From the moment I turned up nervously to book (a couple of days ago), right through the training to the jump I honestly can’t fault them! The jump I did was from 12,000ft and was a tandem, which meant I basically did nothing but rode on the belly of a trained jump master. I lied a bit about the training — there wasn’t much really other than ‘fall’ which I found pretty easy. Amazingly I didn’t feel any fear until the last few seconds as I realised it was my turn out of the plane, balanced on the edge then 3…2…1…

WOW.

They’d said it didn’t feel like falling. It really honestly didn’t. It felt…other worldly — like floating on a cushion of air. At a height of 12,000ft the snow-capped mountains were well below me (in fact, 6000ft below). The beautiful lake around which Queenstown is built looked amazing — from that height it looks like a pristine mirror reflecting the beautiful mountain range. Everything looked stunning.

The free-fall lasted around 45 seconds (it felt like 0.45seconds!) and then we had a fantastic few minutes of parachute descent during which I could really enjoy the scenery.

Skydiving is amazing! If the dolphin experience was my natural-world “religious experience”, then this is definitely my more science-y “religious experience”. Seeing everything from up there (and not through the crap little porthole of a plane) really was tremendous.

I have the whole experience on photo and a DVD — thankfully! It was over so quickly and I don’t want to forget it — we’ve just watched the DVD and it really helps cement the whole thing into my mind. Truly breathtaking.

Tomorrow Ness and I are off to Milford sound for an overnight cruise on this beautiful fjord. I imagine I’ll need some new superlatives for that too!

Filed under: New Zealand Trip
Posted at 23:20:12 GMT on 7th November 2006.

About Matt Godbolt

Matt Godbolt is a C++ developer working in Chicago in the finance industry.