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Sara Savage is a freelance writer, editor, broadcaster and jack-of-a-small-handful-of-trades…
Though renowned for its picturesque, Hollywood-worthy vistas and its inhabitants’ reputation for being chill as (bro), New Zealand has also long been known as one of the adrenaline capitals of the world. The founding home of commercial bungy jumping (the first permanent commercial bungy site in the world was at the Kawarau Bridge near Queenstown, which still operates today), New Zealand is known for its ‘extreme’ activities like the 134-metre bungy jump over the Nevis River; or the more than 50-year-old Shotover Jet, which takes participants on a fast-paced jet boat ride through the narrow canyons of the Shotover River; or the numerous skydiving options available for those willing to jump out of a plane and plummet to their death parachute over some of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes. But what are some of the lesser-known ways for adrenaline junkies to get their fix in the Land of the Long White Cloud? Check out our top suggestions below.
If you love the snow but skiing and snowboarding aren’t for you (or even if they are), snowmobiling is a great way to soak up New Zealand’s world-class mountain ranges. A number of snowmobiling tour operators in the South Island take participants to otherwise hard-to-access mountaintop locations, many of which are accessible only by helicopter – which means snowmobiling is often a double whammy of adventure in the one package. Queenstown Snowmobiles flies participants by helicopter over the aptly named Remarkables Mountain Range, the Hector Mountains and across the Nevis River Valley before landing at the base of the Garvie Mountains – where you can then fang it skyward on your own mean snow machine to a whopping 1800 metres above sea level. Catch your breath on the scenic helicopter ride back to town.
(Photos: Fat Tyre Adventures)
Are you a cyclist who hates riding uphill? (Do leaves grow on trees?) Heli-biking solves this problem by dropping mountain-bikers at the top of a mountain by (yep, you guessed it) helicopter, and letting thrill-seekers navigate their way to the bottom. Best enjoyed in summer, there are a number of locations around New Zealand where heli-biking is available, with Queenstown being the obvious choice because of the number of mountain ranges in such close proximity. Fat Tyre Adventures offers a range of full and half-day trips for mountain-bikers of all experience levels, from a 2900-metre day-long ‘double descent’ at two locations, starting at a whopping 1800 metres (not for the faint-hearted), to a more forgiving and incredibly picturesque half-day trip starting at Crown Peak.
#3 Flying a stunt plane
Aspiring pilot without a license? U-fly Extreme in Motueka allows even the most inexperienced aviation enthusiasts to take control of an open-cockpit Pitts Special biplane and fly over the stunning Abel Tasman National Park in the far north of New Zealand’s South Island. In an incredibly personalised experience, a friendly instructor prepares you for flight using a model plane to explain what will happen when you’re up in the air. Once in flight, participants take control of the plane and follow the instructor’s directions to not only fly the plane, but to do a series of rolls, loops and crazy turns – if they’re game!
It only makes sense that ‘Zorbing‘ – that is, rolling down a hill inside a transparent, cushioned ball – was created in New Zealand. So where better to try out the Flaming Lips-esque ‘human hamster ball’ than Rotorua, the town in which it originated? Since its inception more than 20 years ago, Zorbing has branched out to include a few variations on the original experience. Those seeking extra thrills can try the ‘Zydro’ ride with added water inside the ball (don’t worry, they use warm water in winter) or the newer ‘Zurf’ experience, which is like the Zydro ride but with an added surfboard contraption inside the ball. Zorbing prices start at around $39NZ, or more for tandem and triple rides.
#5 Black water rafting
Forget white water rafting – black water rafting is where it’s at. A term coined in New Zealand, black water rafting is actually quite different to white water rafting, and usually involves floating through caves on black tubes (so actually, there aren’t any rafts and the water isn’t black, though you’re in the dark so it certainly appears that way). Those not content with the usual dry tours through the Waitomo Glowworm Caves (which is an incredible experience in itself, the caves lined with thousands of tiny phosphorescent ‘glowworm’ creatures that resemble a starry night sky) can opt for black water rafting experiences through the waters of the Ruakiri Cave, where you can check out the glowworms while navigating your way through the cave’s depths. Waitomo Adventure‘s ‘TumuTumu Toobing’ tour takes participants on a four-hour expedition combining blackwater rafting with walking, climbing, swimming and tubing through distinctive sections of the spectacular TumuTumu Cave.
#6 Sand boarding
Just past Kaitaia, New Zealand’s northernmost town (about a four-hour drive from Auckland), you’ll find the mammoth Te Paki sand dunes, which merge with the well-known Ninety Mile Beach. Go for a DIY-style adventure by renting toboggans or boogie boards from local businesses in the area, or if you prefer to have your activities conveniently mapped out for you, join a tour. Sand Safaris and Harrison’s Cape Runner both offer day-trips via bus up the full length of Ninety Mile Beach that include stops for fast-paced sand boarding down the Te Paki dunes and a drive through a quicksand stream. The best part about sand boarding? It’s cheap! While Queenstown activities are notorious for being on the pricier side, sand boarding will set you back just $10–15NZ (for rental costs) or around $50NZ as part of a day-long tour.
(Lead image: U Fly Extreme/Facebook)
Ready for the ultimate New Zealand adventure? Let Contiki take you there with 8 unique trips through the best of this amazing country – the hardest choice you’ll have to make is whether to throw yourself off the bridge or not (bungy cord attached obviously). From zorbing in Rotorua, heli-biking in Queenstown, glacier climbing and more, there’s enough action here to satisfy the most adventurous of souls. Find out more here.
Sara Savage is a freelance writer, editor, broadcaster and jack-of-a-small-handful-of-trades currently based in Singapore after eight years spent living and working in Melbourne, Australia. She is originally from New Zealand and grew up in Singapore.