Some people call Queenstown, New Zealand, the adventure capital of the world. We think the entire country is one big adventure. New Zealand is the most exciting destination we’ve ever visited. Once you see the epic adventures you can do there, you’ll understand why.
Flying a stunt plane
If you want the adventure of a lifetime, make your way to Abel Tasman for the best flying lesson you’ll ever have. U Fly Extreme is a unique operation where owner Vincent takes extreme adventure-lovers on a flight in the open cockpit of Pitts Special S2A. What’s so special about this flight compared to other flying lessons? When you take the controls of the aircraft, you’re making your plane fly upside-down and all around. As soon as you start your steep climb into the air, Vincent hands over the controls and runs you through moving the joystick from left to right. Soon you’re doing spirals and loops in mid-air at 4,000 feet! When I did it, I couldn’t stop laughing and screaming with delight. It was the most exhilarating and exciting experience of my life.
Deb flew her own stunt plane in Abel Tasman; I jumped out of one. You can skydive in many places in New Zealand, including Queenstown and Taupo, but Abel Tasman is the only place where you can jump from 16,500 feet. I plunged to the earth in an 80-second freefall before the parachute was deployed. The first 10 seconds of the jump were disorienting and filled with chaos, but the next 70 seconds were mind-blowing. The amazing thing about skydiving is that you feel like you are flying. Reaching a speed of 195 mph put me at terminal velocity. It was the biggest rush I ever felt in my life.
Paragliding is the next best thing to skydiving. After we caught the Skyline Gondola to the top of a mountain overlooking Queenstown, we met up with G Force Paragliding to suit up and meet our pilot. Everything moves quickly when paragliding. Once you are harnessed up, you run off the side of a cliff, and let the wind take you high into the sky. It’s a spectacular feeling to ride the airwaves. If you are up for it, your pilot will attempt some hair-raising maneuvers too. When the timing was right, we began to swing in mid-air like a pendulum. The G-force held us in place as we spiraled back and forth, and upside-down. The landing was soft, but the thrill was extreme.
A thrill-lover cannot leave New Zealand without doing a bungy jump. The sport was invented in New Zealand by AJ Hackett, and if you ever have been confused as to whether it’s spelled bungee or bungy, look no further. If the inventor spells it bungy, it’s bungy.
Viewfinder Tip: New Zealand weather changes quickly, so pack layers and rain gear for your visit.
There are several places in New Zealand to jump. If extreme is what you want, you must give Nevis Bungy a try. The 40-minute drive from Queenstown takes you up a winding mountain road. When you reach the top, you catch a ride on a tiny cable car to the center of a 440-foot high gorge, where you jump from a dangling gondola. The music is pumping and once you cross the non-safe zone there’s no turning back. It takes all of your willpower to jump but once you do, there’s no thrill like it on Earth. After the first plunge, the bungy catches and shoots you back up to the sky. Then you begin to fall again. You can’t forget to pull the rip cord at your feet on the second bounce; otherwise you’ll be stuck upside-down as they hoist you up. And that would just be embarrassing.
There are a lot of places in the world to go whitewater rafting, but few beyond New Zealand offer the chance to face Class 5 rapids. These are the highest navigable rapids. Riding them requires lots of skill. When you hear the rush of water ahead, your instinct is to turn the other way. Once you are on the approach, however, there’s no getting off. Listening the commands from our guide at Rangitata Rafts kept me focused and ready. I was terrified of flying out of the raft, but having the task of concentrating on my paddling strokes kept my nerves at bay. When I was tossed out of the boat, I remembered my safety briefing and tucked my legs up to keep from getting caught on any rocks. Within a few seconds I was back in the boat ready to face another set of rapids. It was scary and exciting all at once. But now I have bragging rights forever (and I lived to tell the tale right here on the Expedia Viewfinder).
There are so many amazing things to do in New Zealand, and these adventures barely scratch the surface. If you want to start with the most extreme adventures of them all, these are a good place to begin.
What is the most extreme adventure you’ve ever done on a trip?