Monday, December 17, 2007

Queenstown Activities: Bungy, River Boarding

Queenstown bills itself as the adventure activity center of the world or some such. So I sampled some of the activities.

1) Canyon Swing ($135)
I previously sent description and photos. Here is a little more detail.

Free Fall:
Once you jump off the platform, you fall for about 3 seconds before the device catches you. That 3 seconds seems like 3 hours. It is called free fall.

Anticipation: The Worst part
The prejump anxiety is brutal: all the hanging around on the platform waiting to jump, watching other people jump. Finally, it's your turn and they harness you into the device. With a bungy jump, you are trussed up by your feet. With the Canyon Swing, the harness attaches to your waist. Most people who did the swing, were shaking from the adrenalin rush for a while once they were done. A couple of people were unphased and did it multiple times. One middle-aged woman who came just to watch her husband, did it herself.

2) Luge ($32)
A ski lift takes you to the top of small mountain. You ride little go carts down a paved track. It was surprisingly hairy, particularly if you're a bad driver like I am. You get five rides and you can also watch people paraglide off the top of the mountain or watch a small bungy jump that operates on the same mountain. That jump is 150 feet or about 15 stories. The free fall, time before the bungy catches you, is about 2 seconds.

3) Nevis Bungy Jump ($176)
At 134 meter, 440 feet, or 44 stories, this is the fifth highest bungy jump in the world. According the the bungy staff here are the 5 largest bungy jumps in the world:

1) Macau (230 meters)
2) South Africa (213 meters, about 77 stories) I did this one in October.
3) Switzerlad (209 meters)
4) Nepal (196 meters)
5) New Zealand, Nevis (134 meters).

*Note: Abu Dhabi is supposed to be building the world's highest bungy jump.

The Nevis is particularly unpleasant because you are jumping from a cable-car suspended over a canyon. The jump platform is about the size of a bathroom scale, just long enough for you to take two steps before you're airborne. (The South African bungy was part of a bridge and you had a nice wide platform. The Canyon swing also had a wide platform. With the Nevis, you really feel like you are walking the plank by yourself.)

In addition, when the jumper reaches the end of his free fall and the bungy cord catches them, the whole cable car jerks, as if someone had just thrown a dead body over the side.

To make matters worse, we had a freak out: one woman was harnessed up, stood on the platform, and then couldn't jump. She was terrified and rattled our whole group. It is a contagious situation almost like when there is a group of young children and one starts crying and then the rest start to cry. The rest of us were ready to cry.

For me, the anticipation is lot like the anxiety I feel before public speaking. I'm just able to contain the churning in my stomach and the shaking of my hands. But once I go, I'm fine.

I got to the edge of the bungy platform, looked down at the rocks and river below. They looked far away. The platform attendent counted to 3, I jumped and screamed as loud as I could. (I always scream.) You plummet and hit a top speed of about 90 miles an hour and then the bungy cord stops you and you bounce back up toward the platform.

One thing for those number crunchers out there: On a cost per meter basis, the Nevis is quite the rip off when you compare it to the South African bungy.
South African: $80 for 213 meters or 38 cents per meter
Nevis: $176 for 134 meters or $1.31 per meter.

By the way, the woman who freaked out, eventually jumped. She waited till everyone else had gone and then she just got on the platform and jumped. She was the bravest of all. She had gone sky diving the day before and said the bungy was much scarier.

4) River Boarding ($111)
Most activities overhype and under deliver. This one was a pleasant surprise -- everyone who did it nearly drowned and was surprised at how hard it was. River boarding is like white-water rafting without the raft. Instead of sitting in a cushy rubber boat, you ride an oversized kickboard, commonly known as a boogie board, through the waves and roiling water. (This activity was on grade 3 rapids, which is so mild as not to be not worth the bother on a raft. )

Why this was so difficult:
- the boards are hard to control in a swirling rapid filled river
- the participants were not strong swimmers (like me)
- like many activities, the guides spend a lot of time explaining the most obvious things , like follow us down the river, don't fall asleep on your board, don't pee in your wetsuit. But they don't discuss some of the more complex things. For example, at one point, a French guy, who barely spoke English, and I had to be rescued by one of the guides. We were preparing to go into a more difficult section of the river and the guide, who was also a little shaken up, told us to remember to do a "duck dive" through the next set of rapids. I had taken a surfing class and knew that a duck dive was a very specific move. (Not that I could do it). The French guy may have caught the word "duck," if he was lucky. So, he and I got a 2-minute instruction on how to do a duck dive: stay on your board and try to go under the wave of water coming your way.

Anyway, the activity was strenuous but excellent. The scenery was nice. The water was drinkable. I spent the last 20 minutes of our ride on the river, relaxing on my board and peeing in my wet suit.

- a middle-aged woman ripped open a previously stitched up gash on her nose. She got the original gash doing the 12-foot water fall on the white water rafting trip on the North Island. In her rafting incident, her boat went over the waterfall and bent in half. Her face hit the helmet of the guy in front of her. She had to go to the hospital where she received 7 or so stitches. She said her nostril was just hanging like a flap of skin. She also got a black eye. A guy on her boat broke 2 ribs. (When I did this waterfall, a woman in another boat had to be carted off. We don't know what happened to her.)
- lots of sore, cramped calf muscles.