New Zealand Tour: Free Fallin’

 

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I woke up on the morning of our last day in Queenstown with a mix of nervous excitement and a headache from the previous night’s drinking. For some reason, tequila always seems like an excellent idea at the time, not to mention jager bombs and skittle bombs, all of which contributed to my very mild hangover. I felt a little groggy, now when most people feel a bit worse for wear after a few bevvies, they take some Nurofen, go for a walk in the fresh air or go to Wetherspoons for a cheeking £2 Carlsberg at 8am. My hangover cure however was a little more extravagant. Apart from the Nurofen, I still took that, I’m not superman.

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When I arrived for check-in at my bungy jump, there was already a queue of pretty nervous looking people there. I spoke to a couple of guys from America who had decided last minute that they wanted to do the bungy while they were in Queenstown and neither looked particularly keen. The common consensus among the jumpers was that they were doing it “to say they have,” which in fairness is one of the big reasons I decided to do it.

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AJ Hackett is a company synonymous with bungy jumping. The owner of the company (who has the same name, funnily enough) popularised the extreme sport in 1987 when he jumped from the Eiffel Tower and founded the first commercial bungy site in New Zealand in 1988. The highest bungy jump in New Zealand is just a ten minute drive out of Queenstown some 134m above the Nevis River, and of course this was the jump that I decided to do.

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Being the only one brave stupid enough to do the jump from my tour group, I took my seat and played on my phone as to distract myself from what I was about to do. When I looked up, I saw another nervous looking jumper sitting opposite me contemplating their life choices. I got talking to Sandra, a Danish girl from Copenhagen who, after a brief chat, I figured out was thinking pretty much exactly what I was thinking.

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We talked about the jump, and our techniques for not bottling it. She was also brave enough to bring a GoPro, something I wouldn’t have dared to do out of fear of dropping it. When we got on the bus, we were greeted by Carlin, a hilarious New Zealand guy who kept us calm and entertained on the way up the horrendous dirt track that took us practically vertically up the hill towards the bungy. He reminded us several times that we are there for the staff’s amusement and that the more we freak out, the funnier it is. Determined not to be that guy, I swallowed my fear as we made it to the spot.

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Sandra and I took a quick look at the platform that was suspended by pretty flimsy looking steel cables. It was then we realised that it was a cabin car that would transport us to the cliff-edge to the platform so that we could get roped up and ready for our jump off the ledge. Someone coming back from their bungy experience told me not to look down, so obviously I completely ignored their advice and stared directly below me for the entire cable car ride. I just spent $275 to get the shit scared out of me, I wasn’t going to let them rip me off by being a little bitch about it. I wanted the full experience.

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Then, just as I was expecting the most terrifying few minutes of my life, I stepped into the platform and was greeted by a party atmosphere. Janet Jackson’s “All for you” was blasting, an upbeat early 2000s nostalgia track that got me immediately smiling and doing a  little jig. And just like that, I wasn’t nervous or afraid anymore. I just wanted to jump. This was cool! How can anybody be scared of anything while Janet’s happy little love song bops joyfully in the background? As soon as they asked the three of us who wanted to go first, my hand was the first to go up.

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Let me walk you through what I was feeling. It was just complete and utter eagerness. As soon as he started strapping me up, I wanted to jump. Not to get it over and done with, not because I was afraid that I wouldn’t jump, but because I realised that this was the last thing on my list. When I came out to Australia, I had three major things on my bucket list: To Scuba Dive at the Great Barrier Reef, which I did in November, Skydive, which I did in December and bungy jump. Out of all of them, this was the one I was the most nervous about, but when I was on that ledge, I just felt accomplished. As soon as he started counting down, I was already gone in my head.

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Then I jumped.

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And wow. What a feeling. Like skydiving, there is the initial lurch in your stomach, but then you are freefalling, and it feels insane. This is probably the closest I have ever felt to flying. You see, with skydiving, you have no perception of height or distance, but with a bungy, you are so close to your surroundings that your brain can more accurately understand what’s happening. I remember the image in my head as clear as a painting. I remember the green of the leaves, I remember the lines on the rocks and I remember how blue the river looked as I dove head first towards it from well over one hundred metres.

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After the freefall, which feels much less than 8.5 seconds, you get three bounces. Each one leaves you feeling more weightless than the one before, as if you were in zero gravity just floating in mid-air. I was disorientated, delirious and completely filled to the brim with adrenaline, but in that moment I felt completely high. There is no other word for it. It was so peaceful that I could have stayed in that state for the rest of the day.

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Once I was back on the platform, I was simply just happy. I wasn’t overly talkative or energetic like I usually am after something like this, I just felt completely calm and content having experienced something that I’d been dreaming about for a long, long time. After the jump, we did some posing with our certificates and played giant Jenga until the bus was ready to leave. My day was far from over though, because we still had the canyon swing to enjoy.

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Unlike the bungy, the Shotover Canyon Swing is more of the fun novelty factor, but don’t let it fool you, as fun as this activity is, it still requires a fair amount of bravery. The South Island Friends (Oh friend!) banded together to tackle this one as a team, each doing a different type of jump that was terrifying in its own way. Julie and I decided to go backwards as we were told this was up there with the scariest ways of falling (after doing it I can tell you they’re not wrong, but what they didn’t mention was that it was also the most fun!) Miles did a perfectly executed pin drop jump (probably the most difficult jump), whilst Kelsey and Chloe did a tandem cutaway, and completely fell for the distraction techniques of the staff so they were pretty surprised when they let them go without warning.

This was a fun little bonus that I hadn’t planned on before the trip. It also gave me more time to enjoy the views, especially the mountain goats on the side of the cliff, as I’d never seen those before either.

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By the time we got to the bus towards Wanaka from Queenstown, I was shattered. It had been a busy couple of days with Milford Sound just a day before and two adrenaline fuelled activities in one day. It was so worth it. I absolutely adore Queenstown, the people, the nightlife and the crazy shit it allows you to do. It sums up the NZ attitude in one awesome little part of the world. It was sad to leave it behind, but we were onto even more beautiful scenery and even more incredible activities. I’ll be back tomorrow for a blog about my Wanaka skydive and what it was like doing tricks in a stunt plane!

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Thanks for reading!

Goodbye and face your fears

IG: malzjames

SC: jamesinaus

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