The Active Traveller's Guide To: New Zealand
From bungy jumping to fly fishing, Lucy Gillmore samples the outdoor life
Saturday 08 March 2008
I'm an adrenalin junkie. Will I get my fix?
Yes. Some of New Zealand's finest minds devote themselves to devising ever-more imaginative ways to rearrange your internal organs while scaring you witless. Think of bungy jumping, and the chances are that a vivid image of New Zealand's wide, open spaces and sheer vertical drops will flash across your mind. It was here that tying a big piece of elastic to your ankles and throwing yourself head-first off a bridge, building or cliff first became a commercial activity.
Nuts or not, bungy's popularity remains high and it's still a must-do on many holidaymakers' wish lists. However, there's much more to New Zealand; the country is a natural playground for thrill-seekers, and the Kiwi obsession with the Great Outdoors is infectious. There are mountains to climb, glaciers to pick your way across, raging rivers to ride and rocky trails to tramp. There is also a wide array of specialist activities on offer, from canyoning to jet-boating and heli-rafting to tandem skydiving, as well as more traditional (and gentler) pursuits such as fishing and mountain biking.
Queenstown (0800 478 336 [in New Zealand]; www.queenstown-nz.co.nz) in South Island is the recognised capital of adventure sports; poised halfway between the Equator and the South Pole, it stands on the banks of Lake Wakatipu, with a backdrop of the aptly-named Remarkables mountain range. Hop on the Skyline Gondola (00 64 3 441 0101; www.skyline.co.nz) to Bob's Peak from where you'll have amazing views and then descend on the Luge: hop on to a three-wheeled plastic cart and let gravity race you down either the "scenic" or the steeper "advanced" 800m track. The Gondola costs NZ$21 (8.75); add NZ$7 (2.90) for a Luge ride.
On North Island, Taupo (00 64 7 376 0400; www.laketauponz.com) comes an ankle-snapping close second. It is the gateway to the Tongariro National Park, with its three active volcanoes; and Lake Taupo, which is the largest lake in New Zealand at 616sq km.
Where can I experience life's ups and downs?
New Zealand's obsession with bungy jumping began after AJ Hackett, a Kiwi, jumped off the Eiffel Tower in 1987. He then set up the world's first bungy jumping operation just outside Queenstown at the Kawerau Suspension Bridge. (Today a jump here costs NZ$160/67.) There are now a number of AJ Hackett bungy sites scattered across the country. ("Two million jumps, zero deaths" is the boast.)
Wherever you try it, the idea is the same: three seconds after leaving the platform you are travelling head first towards the centre of the earth faster than you're allowed to drive on a British motorway: a terminal velocity of 75 mph. Then the strong elastic rope starts to take the strain, and after bobbing up and down you are hauled back to the platform or picked up by boat.
You can even fling yourself off the Harbour Bridge in Auckland for just NZ$100 (42). For more information, call 00 64 9361 2000, or see www.bungy.co.nz. From Auckland's 328m Skytower there's a variation on the theme. The Skyjump (00 64 9 368 1835; www.skyjump. co.nz) lets you throw yourself from the 192m-high observation deck and plummet towards the ground with a cable attached to your back, which slows you down gently at the bottom. You pay NZ$195 (81) for this privilege.
Bungy might give you an eye-popping adrenalin rush but tandem skydiving involves a slower release of endorphins. Strapped to an instructor you tumble backwards out of a tiny plane, then experience freefall with your arms out like a bird before your instructor releases the parachute and you float gently down to earth. Queenstown is a popular jumping area but Taupo has a growing reputation as one of the cheapest and best places to take the plunge. A number of companies, including Taupo Tandem Skydiving (00 64 7 377 0428; www.taupotandemskydiving.com), offer jumps over Lake Taupo from NZ$219/91.
The ultimate in high-velocity thrills is also on offer here. Taupo Tandem Skydiving is one of four companies that have united to offer the "4-Play" combo. The others are Taupo Bungy (00 64 7 377 1135; www.taupobungy.co.nz), Huka Jet (00 64 7 374 8572; www.hukajet.co.nz) and Helistar Helicopters (00 64 7374 8405; www.helistar.co.nz). The 4-Play deal comprises a bungy jump, a tandem skydive, a jet-boat ride to Huka Falls and a scenic helicopter ride over Lake Taupo, all in six action-packed hours at a price of NZ$492 (205) per person.
I prefer to stay inside my plane, thank you
Opt for a scenic flight over the South Island. One of the most popular is the trip from Wanaka to the Milford Sound, passing over the Southern Alps and the ice-sculpted landscape of Fiordland National Park (00 64 3 443 8787; www.flightseeing.co.nz). Prices start at NZ$380 (158) for a 90-minute trip, or $415 (173) for a four-hour trip, including boat tour along the Sound.
At ground level?
Going bush for a few days on a tramp is one of the most popular activities in New Zealand. Fourteen national parks are sprinkled across the country, all administered by the Department of Conservation (DOC, www.doc.govt.nz). They're criss-crossed with a network of tracks peppered with overnight huts. Most of these trails take between three and five days and pass through relatively untouched wilderness. The DOC highlights eight Great Walks including one that also features a river journey: a canoeing trip down the Whanganui in North Island. The three- to four-day Tongariro Northern Circuit crosses Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe, winding through glacial valleys and dramatic volcanic craters; if you don't fancy camping out, the Tongariro Crossing is one of New Zealand's most popular one-day hikes.
In South Island there's the Abel Tasman Coastal Track which meanders along golden stretches of sand and past craggy granite cliffs. At 82km the Heaphy Track is the longest of the Great Walks and passes through thick forest and along the coast of the Kahurangi National Park. In the spectacular Southern Alps there are three Great Walks: the Routeburn Track, the Milford Track and the Kepler Track. The southernmost of the eight Great Walks is the Rakiura on Stewart Island in the country's newest national park; it comprises a relatively easy three-day 36km coastal circuit.
Heading up beyond the snowline, there are also options for glacier hiking and mountaineering. One of the most magnificent peaks is the pyramidal Mount Aspiring near Wanaka. Alpinism and Ski (00 64 3 443 6593; www.alpinismski.co.nz) is based in Wanaka and offers mountain guiding, ski tours, ice and rock climbing and trekking. A one-day trek in Mount Aspiring National Park costs NZ$260 (109) for one person, NZ$195 (81) per person for two or more people.
Can I take to the water?
The coast offers excellent sailing, surfing (Raglan boasts one of the world's longest breaks and reliable swells), windsurfing, kayaking, diving and snorkelling, while inland on the rivers there is kayaking, canoeing, cave rafting and canyoning. One of the speediest options is Jet Boating. For this heart-in-mouth option, head to Taupo, where Huka Jet (00 64 7 374 8572; www.hukajet.co.nz) offers a 30-minute trip, complete with 360 degree spins as you zip downriver to the thundering Huka Falls. It costs NZ$95 (40) per person.
Kayaking along the coast is a calmer way to explore. The Marlborough Sounds' fjord-like inlets with their wooded slopes and turquoise waters provide an idyllic backdrop for Sea Kayaking Adventure Tours' (00 64 3 574 2765; www.nzseakayaking.com) single-day excursions and five-day expeditions including a half-day mountain biking on the Queen Charlotte Track. A one-day trip costs NZ$85/35 per person.
I haven't Gone Fishin' yet
In New Zealand, the traditional seaside "bach" or rustic holiday home goes hand-in-hand with a small boat trailing fishing lines and beachside barbecues. There is big game fishing to the north of North Island where you can catch shark, tuna and marlin as well as some of the best trout fishing in the world in Lake Taupo, and fly fishing in the country's rivers which are choked with trout and salmon. Sounds Connection (00 64 3 573 8843; www.soundsconnection.co.nz) offers fishing trips in the sheltered waters of the Marlborough Sounds. You can take your fish home for supper or you can catch and release. Trips start at NZ$79 (39) per person.
Who can organise an action-packed trip?
It's easy to tailor-make your own holiday but if you want an organised group adventure try companies such as High Places (0114 275 7500; www.highplaces.co.uk) and Exodus (0845 863 9600; www.exodus.co.uk), which offer small group trips such as a cycling tour of South Island and treks taking in the high country. Check out Tourism New Zealand's website (www.new zealand.com) for more information on the range of activities, and companies that offer them.
Additional research by David Orkin and Simon Calder
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