Friday, April 13, 2007

NZ - Bungy jumping in Queenstown

After spending a few days relaxing by the lake in Wanaka, we drove down to Queenstown. This is a stunning location on the edge of a huge blue lake, surrounded by alpine mountains with the first touches of the winter snow. It's an outdoor activity mecca and you can basically do any sort of extreme sport here. There is adrenalin for sale on every corner in the form of bungy jumping, paragliding, skydiving, jet boating, canyoning, climbing...and the list goes on....

Queenstown is the home of the bungy jump...where it all started almost 20 years ago. I'd never done one before, so if I wanted to do it then this seemed like the right place...and I wanted to do one! On the way into town I stopped off to view people bungy jumping off a bridge . Getting nervous just watching these people and this was the shortest jump at 43m. The biggest jump was called the Nevis Highwire and is 134m, providing 8.5 seconds of freefall, and this was the one that I decided to sign up for. There was a 2 day waiting list, which certainly builds up the nerves as you have paid to do it, but must get through 2 troubled nights first. I must say, I really did have trouble sleeping...
The day of the the jump comes around and I go down to the office to check in and get weighed. They mark my hands, one with blue marker for the jump I am booked on, and my weight in red on the other. The weight is important as the heaviest person in the group must jump first (at 75kg this wasn't me though!).

The jump is on private ground outside Queenstown and it takes about 40 minutes to drive there. Over the prow of the hill we spy the bungy pod, which resembles a large cable car and is suspended by cables high above the gorge, with the Nevis river running below. The fear sets in as we step off the bus...It is incredibly windy and I'm not sure if I am shaking due to the cold or the fact that I am scared stiff. Probably a bit of both. We go to a viewing ledge and watch another group jumping. It looks horrendous as they plunge so far that they are out of sight for a few seconds. Now I am really wound up as I go to get fitted with a safety harness. They also weigh me again just to check, I read a one page instruction sheet on what to do and sign an non-indemnifier (i.e. if something goes wrong they are not responsible...).
The first 6 people are taken out to the bungy pod via a small gondola with a grid floor, so you can see everything as it shakes its way across the chasm. You can also see and hear the other jumpers as they scream and hurtle downwards into the abyss. I am with the next group, so we clip on and take the ride across... By this stage I really am shaking and I'm fairly certain it's not the cold weather.
Again I am forced to wait in the pod as they harness people up by weight. The pod has a part glass floor and you can now see the peole jumping right below you. Oh God! Then my name is called and I get the foot straps put on me. I move through the safety gate and sit in a dentists chair next to the jump ledge. I am feeling quite good considering, and am very eager to get it done. While strapping me up the jumpmaster quipps - "everything ok, bro?", to which I answer -"yeah, just fine thanks"... to which he replies- "you sure? You're looking pretty white". So obviously I wasn't doing a good job of hiding my fear. Harnessed up I shuffle my way to the ledge and have a small moment of inner panic..."why am I here? What am I doing?!?!" Now I am standing with my toes right on the edge and peering down into the gorge. It is a ******* long way down I think to myself.... Then comes the countdown : Five...Four...Three...Two...One...JUMP!!!! To my astonishment I don't hesitate and I push myself out and forward, diving off the ledge like I am going for a swim. Suddendly I am airborne and the ground is rushing up at me VERY VERY FAST. The wind is so strong that I can't even hear myself scream. After 8.5 seconds of freefall and almost touching the river, I'm pretty convinced it's not stopping. Suddenly the bungy has reached it's maximum extension and I slow down about 15m above the river. Ahhhh...relief....hold on...what the?...I am catapulted upwards again at high speed. Everything is spinning and I can see the cliffs around me, the pod and the sky above me and the river below...but not necessarily in that order. Wow, this is absolutely incredible I think as my heart pounds, the blood rushes to my head and the adrenalin surges through my veins. After several bounces it slows down and the safety winch is lowered with a loud bang. Finally I am taken back up to the safety of the bungy pod. It takes a while to register what I have just actually done. From a complete nervous wreck to elation within a few seconds. All there is left to do now is get back to land in one piece, via the shakey cage. On the way back into Queenstown "the jump" is the only topic of conversation on the bus.
Very glad I made the jump, just to prove to myself that I have the guts to do it. Face my fears, fight my demons and all that. However, I'm not sure if I would need to do it again in a hurry ;)