Saturday, May 28, 2011

Swan Dive Like a Flying Kiwi

Of all the adrenaline activities I have chosen to engage in since my arrival in this country filled with caffeinated daredevils, very few of them have actually made my stomach plummet to the ground ahead of my body. On the last day of my tour with Flying Kiwi, it was time to change that fact.

We woke nice and early, and I spent some time sorting through my belongings to pack them in a more transportable form (rather than small bags and piles of things in various spot on and under the bus). I was leaving Queenstown with the Flying Kiwi bus, but hopping off an hour or two into the day’s drive. We joked about how I’d have to have all my stuff together so they could just slow down and push me out. After I was a bit more organized, it was time to catch a shuttle bus out to the Kawarau Bridge.

Kawarau Bridge/Gorge/River, Queenstown

The Kawarau Bridge is a historic suspension bridge that attracts tourists on its own accord. It sits above the Kawarau River and has a nice old-fashioned-looking structure to it. It is also famous for being the home of the world’s very first commercial bungy jump.

I might have been a bit excited...

The Kawarau Bridge Bungy has been in operation since the 1980’s and the jumping company, AJ Hackett, reportedly have a perfect safety record! The bridge is 43 meters high and you are asked before you jump if you’d like to take a dip in the water, touch the water with your hand, or skip the wet part altogether.

I'm not sure Holly was actually that nervous.

There were two other Flying Kiwis, along with our two guides who came along to jump off the bridge too! Brett, one of our guides, went first and went off the ledge backwards. He was so nervous that I don’t think he even waited until the Jumpmaster finished counting “three, two, one, jump!” 

Brett, getting ready to go.

The backwards jump!

I also watched Holly, who knew the Jumpmaster quite well. She did a crazy start that required her to crawl out to the edge of the platform and hang off of it from her hands with her knees on top of the platform but her head down towards the river. The Jumpmaster then lifted her weight and lowered her so she was hanging by her feet on the edge of the platform and had a straight drop down towards the river!

Holly learning what the Jumpmaster had in mind for her.

Heads up! (Or down...)

Hanging by her toes!

Straight drop down!

After watching some others, including a lady who was terrified and wound up backing out directly ahead of me, it was finally my turn! I was excited, but worried all the money I spent would again fail to deliver the proper stomach-dropping, adrenaline pumping, exhilaration that I expected.

When asked if I wanted to be dunked in the water, I decided it was a bit cold so preferred to lean toward the dry end of things, maybe slapping the water with my hand as I came up to it. I told the Jumpmaster that I wanted to do the jump that would provide the biggest rush and since I hadn’t done a bungy before, she recommended a “big-ole swan dive.” She instructed me to push out a bit when I jumped and just go for the biggest dive I could.

Photo credit: AJHackett Bungy

And so, I followed directions.

Photo credit: AJHackett Bungy

At the Kawarau Bridge Bungy, they still use the original technique of wrapping your ankles with a towel and weaving a strap between your ankles to secure the bungee to your feet. There is also, of course, a back-up safety cord attached to the harness (which sits on your waist like a climbing harness). When instructed to walk to the edge of the platform, I remember asking the Jumpmaster how I was supposed to walk with my ankles bound together. Before she could answer I grabbed on to the railing on either side of me, lifted my feet, and placed them on the edge of the platform. (I guess I didn’t feel like emulating a penguin like everybody else seems to do).

Photo credit: AJHackett Bungy

“Three, two, one, jump!” And I leapt. My toes were hanging off the edge of the platform a bit, so jumped up and pushed out as hard as I could. There was a brief moment of suspension before I began descending toward the water, but it felt as if I were simply diving into the water (from 43 meters up!) Then, it hit me. The rocky gorge surrounded me and the rushing blue water below approached quickly. My initial “wahoo!” turned into a proper squeal of delight as I lost my bearings and my stomach decided to meet me at the bottom.

Photo credit: AJHackett Bungy

By the time I got to the full extension of the rubber band, I had totally forgotten about reaching out to try and touch the water! Before I knew it, I was headed back up again and had collected my thoughts – and stomach – enough to notice the spectators above.

Photo credit: AJHackett Bungy

It was exhilarating.

Photo credit: AJHackett Bungy

After a few bounces, the dingy guys came out to the middle of the river to fetch me. They reached up with a long pole for me to grab onto, and pulled me down to their boat. One detached my harness while the other pulled us back to shore and I laid there in contentment, smiling ear to ear. I disembarked and began the long climb up the staircases back to the launch point, smiling with delight the entire way.

Photo credit: AJHackett Bungy

Of all the rollercoasters I’ve ridden and climbing falls I’ve taken, I have never felt a buzz so thrilling! It lasted a few minutes more before I faded back into my happy self. I was told my camera battery died (first important time this has happened on my trip!) but there was a friendly Scottish couple there who got a snap and offered to email it to me. After I saw the professional shots, however, (that were all nicely printed and bundled together for me) there was no way I could go without buying them. I argued with the guy at the photo counter about how they tricked my green-conscious-self into buying the pictures because they were already printed. I watched my video and was also tempted to purchase that, but decided we would have to settle for prints this time. It was nice, however, to hear the Jumpmaster in the background audio saying “Awesome dive, Kirstin! Beautiful.”

Photo credit: AJHackett Bungy

After everyone in the group had jumped, we all headed back to town to find the rest of the Flying Kiwi group. I showed off my pictures and was recruited to join a group for Fergburger (for the second day in a row of the ginormous burgers). We then ventured over to Patagonia (an amazing “home-made” chocolate and ice cream parlor) and eventually hopped on the bus and headed north to Wanaka. 

Flying Kiwi tentmates: Kirstin and Sophia!

I gave hugs and said my goodbyes during the hour’s drive through the mountainous scenery, then Holly stopped at a tourist attraction a couple kilometers outside of town where I met the owner of a hostel for a ride to his backpackers. My time with Flying Kiwi had come to a close and it was time to start my Wanaka adventure!

Holly was my driver twice, sweet as! :)

Overall I got to know three different transient groups of Flying Kiwis. Although all quite different and each having a different dynamic, for the most part people are there for the same reasons and with the same interests. I've described it as a group of "instant friends" but it really felt more like a family atmosphere. We might not all be "friends" in everyday life, but we found a way to interact and engage with one another to make each of our adventures comfortable and memorable!

Part of one of my Flying Kiwi families.

[On a slightly different note, to add a shameless plug…]

Upon reflecting on my Flying Kiwi tour, I chose a picture to enter into their annual photo contest. The entries are posted on the Flying Kiwi Facebook page and they encourage each contestant to enter their best shot, write why Flying Kiwi is the best way to see New Zealand, and then “get as many friends as possible to ‘like’ your image before the competition closes 31st May 2011.” Well, that date is coming up quickly (a day sooner than it’ll hit the states!) and I need your help!

First, you have to “like” Flying Kiwi Adventure Tours [CLICK HERE]. Then use my photo link [CLICK HERE] to "like" my picture and get me one step closer to winning the contest! I very much appreciate it if you take the time to do this!!

1 comment:

  1. so glad you got your ultimate thrill! Congrats! Awesome pictures, of course!


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