My trip to New Zealand had one major focus – to fight my biggest fears while exploring the highlights of New Zealand.
Taking inspiration from the many crazy kids in the Southern Hemisphere who think nothing of throwing themselves of buildings and out of planes, I was going to attempt to knock the quintessentially British wussiness out of me. I was going to be ‘scared Britless’.
For six weeks, I threw myself off more ledges than I care to think about, and battled an almost constant nausea brought on by the prospect of the next stupidly scary activity I had planned. But somehow, I made it through. I wasn’t always elegant in the process. In fact, I looked petrified almost the entire time, but I take some solace in the fact that I didn’t throw up once! Score!
Here’s a run down of the adventure highlights of New Zealand, with a few unmissable cultural and sightseeing activities thrown in for good measure:
For me, the activities involving heights were by far the most frightening. Even though the safety precautions in New Zealand are second to none, my irrational fear of falling gives me wobbly knees every time, even when secured by three harness cords or walking over a structure as sturdy as the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
FLYING A PLANE
By far the most unique experience I had in New Zealand was flying a stunt plane in an aerobatic display. Perhaps because I had to concentrate the whole time, it also wasn’t quite as petrifying as I’d imagined. Lasting 15-20 minutes, I had time to get used to the sensation and I was disappointed, rather than relieved, when it was over.
The skydive I did from 15,000 feet was also moderately less scary than I’d imagined. Don’t get me wrong – flinging your legs out through the door of a moving plane is not a walk in the park, but having an experienced instructor strapped to you the whole way down helps ease the nerves. It’s exhilarating, but not so terrifying that you’ll ever regret your decision.
Bungy jumps were my nemesis. There is nothing more frightening than waddling with bound feet towards the edge of a protruding platform and willing yourself to jump head first into an abyss. For beginners, I’d recommend a jump of 50 metres or less. The Auckland Harbour Bridge was my first, followed by the Ledge Bungy in Queenstown, which you may find worse because it’s situated 400 metres up a hill, or you might find easier because you’re tied by the waist rather than your feet. I saved the Nevis Bungy till last. At 134 metres, it’s quite something!
OTHER FREE FALLING ACTIVITIES
In New Zealand, if there is a high structure, chances are, someone’s found a unique way to throw you off it. The Auckland Sky Tower is almost 200 metres high and you can leap off its top platform in a controlled base jump. Just check the weather first. It’s not ideal in gale-force winds and monsoon rain! Alternatively, you could try one of the canyon swings near Queenstown. The Nevis Swing is the biggest on Earth!
For something really special, and different, take to the Waitomo Caves in style. The Legendary Blackwater Rafting Company has a selection of assault courses, enabling you to make your way through underground passageways using zip lines, rappelling and ladder bridges. There is no doubt in my mind that the Black Abyss is their scariest option. Negotiating high cliff faces in the pitch black in a pair of wellington boots for three hours will really test your nerves. If you can’t face it though, their black water rafting options look like heaps of fun!
One activity that could fall within the category of height- or water-based fun is canyoning. Available on both the north and south islands, this activity combines a test of your willpower with a chance to get out in some spectacular natural scenery. Piha, near Auckland, is a great location to rappel down some huge, high-velocity waterfalls and to throw yourself into splash pools and slide down slippery rocks. A little scary at first, this is awesome fun once you have the hang of it.
The most interesting activity I tried in New Zealand was white water sledging. As part of a combo trip near Rotorua, which – for the record – also included rafting the highest commercially raftable waterfall in the world, we took to the river on plastic boards with handles. Propelled by fins and the sheer force of the river, we were sucked quickly down stream, over rapids and, at one point, under water for quite a significant amount of time! You should be comfortable with your swimming ability, but this is a relatively new sport you can’t help but get excited about.
If you’re into getting up close and personal with nature’s most incredible animals, a dip in the shark tank at Auckland’s Sea Life Aquarium is a must. It’s safe and they take great care to ensure you don’t disturb the tank’s inhabitants. You don’t need to be a qualified diver. In fact, it’s a great way to get your first taste of scuba diving if you’ve never done it before.
If you’re into sailing, it’s possible to take to the sea in an actual America’s Cup Yacht in Auckland harbour, and to get involved helping to rig the sails and even to steer it. It may not be a massively thrilling experience if sailing isn’t your cup of tea, but I can tell you I saw some nervous faces when the yacht was almost flipped on its side and speeding towards one of the nearby islands.
One of the best known inventions to have originated in New Zealand is the jetboat, and you really should experience a ride in one of these at some point during your time in the country. I did mine from Taupo, which combined an exciting ride with a close-up view of one of New Zealand’s most visited natural attractions, Huka Falls. The Shotover in Queenstown has a reputation for getting its passengers particularly wet.
For a more laid back aquatic experience, you can explore the gorgeous Abel Tasman National park on a kayaking trip from Motueka.
Kaikoura is a beautiful spot best known for its wildlife. While you might have to be lucky with the weather in order to get out on a boat and do the whale watching or swimming with dolphins, there is also an amazing little place up the coast where you can see seal pups splashing about in a waterfall and chasing each other through the forest!
SCENIC RAIL JOURNEYS
For the most incredible train journey, take the scenic Kiwi Rail service between Christchurch and Greymouth. Negotiating Arthur’s Pass and providing GPS-activated commentary the entire way, this trip enables you to learn about the geography and history of the region while gazing at the spectacularly diverse scenery in comfort.
My overall favourite Kiwi destination for exploring on foot was the thermal parks of Wai-O-Tapu and Waimangu near Rotorua. I spent a full day on a combo trip checking out geysers and brightly coloured pools and rocks.
CULTURAL AND SIGHTSEEING ACTIVITIES
While New Zealand is famous for its adventure activities and stunning scenery, there are a few things you can’t miss out on when you’re there.
First of all, I feel like it’s important to immerse yourself in the Maori culture as much as possible. Westeners have only inhabited New Zealand for about 150 years and they have drastically changed the lifestyles of its Maori tribes. Make an effort to learn some of the language and be respectful. While the Maori experiences are not very authentic, they’re still a great way to pick up some knowledge and give you an idea of how things used to be.
HOBBITON AND LOTR TOURS
No matter whether or not you’re a fan of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, you can’t escape it so you might as well embrace it. The more involved and silly you get, the more fun you will have. On the north island, you can visit Hobbiton and check out the only remaining film set from the movies. Further south, in Wellington, you can visit the design workshop Weta Cave and re-enact scenes from the movies on location!
It is also worth checking out Christchurch. It is important to appreciate the massive efforts that have been made to restore it since the earthquakes. Years later, the city is still devastated by the effects and tourism in the city and surrounding Canterbury Plains will help bring in money to the local economy.
New Zealand is, without a doubt, one of the most diverse and beautiful countries you are ever likely to visit, and the range of activities to suit any age range or sense of adventure is astonishing. It’s easy to navigate, has pleasant weather the majority of the time, and the people are some of the friendliest in the world.
As a solo traveller, it’s reasonably easy to meet people, but the crowd does tend to be younger than in some parts of the world, and there’s more of a focus on short-term trips as opposed to long-term travel.
This is probably in part due to the fact that New Zealand is a relatively expensive place in which to live and travel. Many people get around this by applying for a work visa and getting jobs in hospitality to fund their travels, but if you can’t take the time out, it’s worth all your savings!