Following a trip to beautiful Costa Rica trying everything from bungy jumping to rappelling down the side of a waterfall, I was looking to go one better and do something even more exciting and adrenaline pumping.
I decided there was only one way to do that. Jump out of a perfectly good plane, of course. And I chose to do it in New Zealand’s adventure capital, Queenstown.
Skydiving had been high on my bucket list for a long time but I wanted to do it somewhere special – somewhere with unparalleled views and where I knew I was in good hands.
Queenstown proved to be just the place on a brilliant summer’s day. As deep blue skies lit up over Queenstown without a cloud in sight and not a breath of wind, I knew luck was on my side and I had picked the perfect day to skydive.
As I headed out to the NZONE Skydive dropzone from Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu shone a brilliant blue with the Remarkables mountain range towering majestically above them. I couldn’t wait to see them from above.
The NZONE Dropzone is located about 15 minutes out of townf. You have a choice of jumping from 9,000, 12,000 and 15,000 feet. On a budget but wanting to have a reasonable amount of freefall I opted for the happy medium of jumping from 12,000 feet, which has a freefall of 45 seconds.
You’re quickly suited up with your jumpsuit and goggles and introduced to your tandem skydiving partner. There’s not much time to back out before you jump on a plane and up you go, flying over the lake and the Remarkables. We got up to an altitude of 9,000 feet and one person jumped up. We climbed a little higher over the next few minutes, and then it was my turn.
Swinging my legs over the side of the plane, balancing precariously on the edge as the wind rushes past, and knowing any second I was going to be falling through the air was probably one of the scarier moments of my life (I think bungee jumping was worse because it’s up to you to take the leap but this was pretty close).
You’re on the edge of the plane for about 10 seconds and then your tandem guide pushes you out and you’re falling. Scary but thrilling at the same time – words cannot totally describe the feeling.
In about two seconds after your body settles into the skydive and you don’t have that stomach in your throat feeling, you actually feel like you’re floating through the air. It doesn’t feel like you’re falling – just casually hanging out a few hundred metres above Queenstown.
The freefall feels like it lasts longer than 45 seconds – and it was a surreal feeling seeing Queenstown from so high up – getting unspoilt views of the lake, mountains and city itself.
I became so relaxed with the falling bit that I was surprised when we shot up as the parachute opened and then continued our descent down to the dropzone. An absolutely amazing experience and one of my favourite adventures to date.
If skydiving isn’t enough adventure for you, then you can bungy jump from various heights across Queenstown depending on if you want to swing above a canyon or right in the centre of Queenstown. Seeing as I’d done bungy jumping about a month earlier, I opted instead for whitewater rafting down the Shotover River.
Spring is meant to be the best time of year to do whitewater rafting in Queenstown as snowmelt and rain brings river levels up. But if you’ve never done whitewater rafting before, it’s a good introduction to do it in the summer months on the Shotover River. These rapids are graded 3-5 or there’s also 2-3 grade rapids on the Kawarau River.
The water is a clear blue turquoise colour and the road getting into the departure point is an adventure in itself as you drive along a narrow dirt road with sheer cliff drop offs into Skippers Canyon.
It’s a bit of a workout as you paddle down the river and in and out of the rapids with names such as the Squeeze, Aftershock, Toilet, Pinball and Jaws. Towards the end, you go through a 170 metre tunnel and out onto the Cascade Rapids.
You don’t need to worry about wearing enclosed shoes or bringing any special equipment with you. Full wetsuits and booties are provided as well as lifejackets. Each raft is manned by an experienced guide.
I did my whitewater rafting excursion with Queenstown Rafting. You can combine the rafting with the Canyon Swing, a 134m bungy jump, or a jetboat ride to add even more fun to your New Zealand adventure.
If you’ve spent most of your money in Queenstown on adventure activities, wind down with a few cheaper and free activities within walking distance of the city centre.
Starting from $A45 you can get a return trip on the Skyline Gondola as well as rides on the luge. I paid $A45 for the gondola and two luge rides, but for a couple of dollars more you can purchase a few more rides.
On a clear day, the 1.5km gondola ride provides a great view of the river and you’ll have the chance to watch the paragliders take off and glide around the hillsides.
The luge starting point is adjacent to the gondola where you grab a helmet and head up on the chairlift up to the track. Your first ride is on the scenic route, then you can go on the main track.
The luge track is only short and will take only a couple of minutes down, but is good fun for children and big kids alike.
For a free activity during the summer months and to work off the Fergburgers you’re very likely to consume in Queenstown, follow the signs from the gondola to the Ben Lomond track, which winds to the left of the gondola.
You don’t have to walk all the way up to the Ben Lomond summit for spectacular views – but if you’re keen, expect the return trip to take between four to six hours depending on how good you are going up steep mountain sides.
The track up is a narrow and often steep dirt track that is very exposed in places so bring plenty of water and sunscreen. It’s also popular with mountain bikers so keep an eye out.
If you don’t want to go the whole way, about halfway up to the saddle is a couple of hills which offer expansive views over Queenstown.
After working up a sweat on Ben Lomond – there’s always the opportunity to really cool off in Lake Wakatipu. Even in summer, the lake temperature sits around a chilly 10 degrees.
If swimming in cold water is not your thing, then you can just kayak or paddleboard on the lake, or just sunbake. Kayak and paddleboard rentals are offered lakeside for $A23 for 45 minutes.