Whether you call yourself an adrenaline junkie or an ardent explorer, New Zealand lets you try out adventures on your own terms. By Phorum Dalal
Before I begin to narrate all my daredevilry in New Zealand, it is pertinent to rewind the clock to 2016 and enter the waiting room of a local hospital in Stockholm, Sweden.
My right hand rested on the left one like a sleeping baby. Around me, there were patients with broken legs, jaws, and arms. It was Christmas cheer of a different sort. “Swedish doctors are known to be great bone setters, for there are so many people who injure themselves in snow activities,” Lotta Anderson, my local contact in the city, said, trying to pacify me. When it was my turn to see the doctor, I had nothing to brag about—no skiing, ice skating, or dog-sledding expedition. I had fallen flat on my face while posing for a picture by the light installations in the city square, where snow had solidified into an icy floor.
Fast forward to the summer of 2019. From the moment I landed in Auckland, New Zealand, adventures lined up to greet me. “Have you jumped from the Sky Tower?” I asked my driver. “I am not that crazy,” he smirked, “That’s for you tourists!” And true to his words, the trip did turn out to be one crazy ride. Here’s a lowdown of all the adventures
that transpired on the tour:
SKY DIVING IN THE BAY OF ISLANDS
Throughout the 20-minute minivan drive from the Bay of Islands airport to the skydiving arena, we keep hoping the weather will be too cloudy to skydive. But the sky is clear, with nary a cloud in sight.
Skydiving is the shortest and quickest route into the ‘adventurous person’ category. Our serious questions are met by jovial answers. “What if I panic mid-air?” I fret. My six-foot-tall Estonian tandem diver replies cheekily, “What if I panic?” He grins, slapping my back and asking me to take it easy as I get into a red jumpsuit, which he fixes in place with safety clasps, buckling the harness that will be attached to him and the parachute. Butterflies turn into roaring tigers in the stomach as we huddle into the seats and the plane takes flight.
Once up to 2,743 metres, your tandem does it all: he slides you to the edge of the exit door, gives you a thumbs-up, and jumps head first, taking you along on a freefall, as you try to squeeze in a scream or catch your breath. Once the parachute flares up, you get to steer the turns and gawk at the vast landscape that looks like an Impressionist painting. From up above, everything seems doable and anything is possible. Life on Earth is waiting to be lived!
PRO TIP: Remember to take a big gulp of air before you leap. Keep your eyes open.
COST: INR 13,402 (2,743 metres with 20 seconds of freefall)
SIGN UP: skydivebayofislands.com
SANDBOARDING AT TE PAKI SAND DUNES
With jumping off a plane ticked off my bucket list, I was sure the rest of my trip would be a smooth ride. The next day, we sign up for a bus tour around the Bay of Islands from Paihia to Cape Reinga. It sounds like the usual sightseeing affair, but turns out to be anything but that. We drive on the 90 Mile Beach, one of the few beaches in the world that allows you to drive along the waters—and turn into a dead-end. Before us sit the Te Paki Sand Dunes, the largest of their kind in the Southern Hemisphere. With surfboards under our arms, which our guide forbids us from using as shafts, we begin our clumsy ascent. At the top, he tells us to lie flat on our ‘boogie boards’ and glide down.
Belly on the board, I place my feet, which will act as brakes, on either side, and use my hands to paddle forward. To take a leap of faith, without the tandem, needs courage. But once I do it, the slide down is exhilarating. With the wind in my hair and sand in my mouth, the board takes its sweet time to halt a few metres short of a bush of mangroves.
PRO TIP: Make that treacherous climb up for a second round.
COST: INR 5,110 (child), INR 6,947 (adult)—included in the day-tour ticket
SIGN UP: newzealand.com
Adrenaline rush is a great confidence booster, but by now, I had learnt not to take activities in New Zealand lightly. One day, we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of a picture-postcard landscape of Queenstown. After a quick check-in, we drive to the base of Queenstown Skyline and take a cable car ride up for an uninterrupted panoramic view of the azure Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables (mountain range). With pleasantries exchanged, we walk up to Bob’s Peak for a Twilight Ziplining tour. Registered, buckled up, and donning safety caps with headlights, we follow two guides into the dark. Much of what you can’t see is at the centre of the thrill in Twilight Ziplining. Surrounded by an alpine forest, my eyesight gradually adapts to the darkness as I stand on the steps of a treehouse, 20 feet above the valley floor, for my first plunge. The ziplines are gravity-fed, so there is no way to rein in the speed. By the second zipline, I’m dunking my head and raising my feet like a child on a swing. The last one is vertical, challenging you to take a leap of faith à la Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, except you land on soft safety beds.
DID YOU KNOW? A 2012 survey conducted in South Island revealed that it offered 220 adventure activities.
COST: INR 4,258 (for two lines and one vertical drop)
SIGN UP: ziptrek.co.nz/tours
KAYAKING IN A FJORD
With some adventures under my belt, I’ve successfully shed the rookie tag, so a cruise on Lake Manapouri does not sound adventurous enough. It sounds like the kind of luxury tour where one makes new friends over lavish meals and loiters on the observatory deck looking for bottlenose dolphins and penguins. The team that looks after the 72-passenger Fiordland Navigator thinks otherwise. A three-hour drive from Queenstown takes us to Te Anau, where we board a small boat that takes us to the Navigator, our cruise liner in the Doubtful Sound Fjord, which has an old-world charm about it. We are onboard by afternoon, and our first activity on the cruise is kayaking (and swimming, if one chooses to)! Draped in wet suits, we stumble into wobbly kayaks to explore the beautiful fjord, with massive mountains and the tranquil silence of unperturbed nature for company. On board the Fiordland Navigator, a hot cup of black coffee awaits our return.
PRO TIP: Be mentally prepared to ignore the sand flies.
COST: INR 13,851 (quad share), INR 21,740 (twin share), INR 39,132 (single cabin)
SIGN UP: realjourneys.co.nz
BRAVING AN ANTARCTIC STORM
The last leg of my trip in Christchurch has some unique experiences on land. Gawk all you want at the rescued penguins and huskies, but the real test begins when you zip up and enter Storm Dome at the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch. The Dome is a room that simulates the experience of weathering a snow storm in the Antarctic—at –5° Celsius. Wearing warm boots and suits, we walk into the controlled environment, thinking: “How cold can it be?” Everything is calm, until a –18° Celsius gale slaps my face. For the first few seconds, everybody is in shock. I’m unable to decide where to seek refuge from this simulated disaster. We look at one another and spontaneously decide to huddle together. Every second on the clock seems to last forever, and sharp needles prick the entire body. A loud siren goes off and the storm finally abates. I may not have been to the Earth’s extremes, but I’ve come close enough.
PRO TIP: Look for the igloo or huddle up.
COST: INR 2,644 (adult)
SIGN UP: iceberg.co.nz
HAGGLUND FIELD TRIP
Outside the centre, the sun feels good on the face and my blood flow stabilises. After bracing the ‘storm’, we try out the Hagglund ride. Nine of us climb into the all-terrain amphibious Antarctic vehicle driven by an officer, who plays his part by telling you just how treacherous the route can be as the vehicle is built to conquer rough icy terrain.
Scientists have used the vehicle to travel up and down hills, over crevasses, and through water—to find answers to the most baffling questions in one of the harshest environs on the planet. The track here is built to give you all the jolts, bumps, and bashes of the real thing. We grip the holders tight as the vehicle glides around a circuit built with gradients, deep slopes, and water hurdles that make us scream and giggle at once. On my last night, I sleep like a baby knowing that when I take the flight back home the next day, I will have a newfound adventurous streak to boast of back in India.
DID YOU KNOW? The vehicle is used by scientists to reach the coldest corners of the world.
GETTING THERE: Singapore Airlines flies from 10 Indian cities, including New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, and Hyderabad, and connects to three New Zealand gateways: Auckland, Christchurch, and Wellington. Air New Zealand offers excellent connectivity within the country.
Hilton Auckland is a quick walk from the central business district and Quay Street. From INR 15,000.
BAY OF ISLANDS
Crowne Plaza Queenstown offers sweeping views of The Remarkables mountain range.
From INR 8,000.
The George overlooks the picturesque Hagley Park and the River Avon. From INR 16,000.