"Are you nervous?" she asks me. The teenage girl is white as a sheet, trembling. “Not really,” I tell her. And that’s true, until I shuffle to the end of the gangplank, nothing but thin air between me and the turbulent water 130 feet below. Heavy-metal music blasts as a burly hairless bloke with silver horns in his nose wraps a cord around my legs. OK, now I’m scared. Am I really going through with this — my first bungee jump?
Fear and I go way back. As a kid, while my older brother pounded waves off Southern California, I just poked through the tide pools. I wanted to surf but lacked the nerve. Later as a high-school lineman, I studiously avoided any contact. And I was the guy standing at the back of the gym too terrified to ask girls to dance. So now I’ve come to New Zealand to test (or find) my courage amid all the new adventure sports the Kiwis have concocted since the late 1980s — bungee jumping, cave rafting — the list goes on. This may be the best place on earth to conquer my fear.
I’ve nearly bungee-jumped twice before but backed out with excuses about a bad back. This time a dozen people — including the teen girl and the guy with the piercings — watch and point cameras at me from a bungee pod suspended beneath Auckland Harbour Bridge. If I chicken out now, it will go on my permanent record. I step into the void and tumble downward, eyes closed at first then popping wide open as the water races toward my face.
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By Joe Yogerst
From the ISLANDS Best Travel Guide: New Zealand
Day 1: Bungee Auckland Harbour
Fly Qantas to Auckland. At the airport, rent a car that has GPS. Check into the Hotel DeBrett, with its retro ’50s decor, but don’t linger for long — adventure awaits. Plunge right in with a bungee jump off the Auckland Harbour Bridge, and then take the surprisingly scary SkyWalk around the top of the 630-foot Sky Tower.
Day 2: Black-Water Rafting
Depart Auckland early and drive a couple of hours south to Waitomo Caves for an afternoon of black-water rafting deep underground. The only thing you’ll need is a swimsuit — all other gear is provided. Afterward, drive east to the shores of Lake Rotorua and cozy Hamurana Lodge.
Day 3: Get Offbeat
Start by globe riding down a hill in a Zorb — a huge, translucent plastic ball. Next, take a jet-boat cruise or try Schweeb racing at Agroventures park. Hop a Skyline gondola up the side of Mount Ngongotaha, and race back down in gravity-powered luges through the redwood trees.
Day 4: Check into the Rainforest
At the Rotorua airport, fly to Hokitika on the South Island (via Christchurch). Pick up another rental car and drive south along a wilderness coast reminiscent of Alaska — snowcapped peaks, rocky beaches and wild rivers. When you reach the hamlet of Franz Josef, check into Te Waonui Forest Retreat, a brand-new hotel almost lost amid the rainforest. Walk the trail to the base of Franz Josef Glacier, and watch the late-afternoon light play off the valley walls.
Day 5: Heli Hike and Glacier Hot Pools
Book a “heli-hike” at Franz Josef Glacier Guides. A chopper whisks you up the valley and onto an icy landing pad right atop the glacier. Slapping on crampons, a guide leads a trek through crevices, ice caves and other frozen formations on the glacier surface. Then head back to town for a massage and soak at Glacier Hot Pools.
Day 6: See the Southern Alps
Drive a couple of hours south to Queenstown, the birthplace of Kiwi adrenaline sports. But don’t forget the roadside scenery that’s along the way: a twisting route that cuts straight across the Southern Alps with views of Mount Cook. Waiting at the end of the road is the super-chic Rees Hotel on the lakeshore.
Day 7: Sky-Dive over Queenstown
Summon your courage for a tandem sky dive at the NZONE. No previous experience necessary — just the guts to jump out of a plane at 15,000 feet. And, yes, those tiny white dots far below really are sheep. Celebrate survival by splurging on dinner at Saffron Restaurant in Arrowtown. You’re an honorary Kiwi now.