Could this be the world’s most adventurous place? We’d put money on it…
Not many people come to New Zealand in order to try crocheting or basket-weaving: this epic country and its dramatic geography attract adrenaline-junkies, explorers, hikers, divers, cyclists and other thrill-seekers. That’s not to say you have to spend your time here with your heart permanently a-flutter: the landscapes are as suited to hobbit hunts, leisurely strolls, star-gazing and paddleboarding as they are high-octane thrills. Here are some suggestions…
Bungy jumping originated in Vanuatu in the Pacific – nothing was lost in translation when it hit New Zealand. In the 1980s, AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch set up the world’s first commercial bungy jump from Kawarau Bridge on the South Island. If you’re here to conquer the highest plunge, head to Nevis Bungy, a 134m drop in Queenstown; if you want a cooling dip post-jump, opt for the Taupo Bungy, 47m above Waikato River: your post-jump bathtub.
Dedicated spelunkers (cavers) may already have dreamed about the labyrinthine Waitomo Caves in the North Island’s Waikato region. The caves’ cavernous curves were carved over thousands of years by the pressure of underground streams pushing on soft limestone. Stalactites mushroom from the walls, floor and ceiling, lit softly by galaxies of glow-worms, twinkling like constellations in the darkness. How you tackle the caves is up to you: go gently with a guided walking tour, or turn up the ante by abseiling, zip-lining or black-water rafting: crawling, swimming and floating through the caves on a tube. (If you like the sound of the latter, try the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company.) Over on the South Island, get your cave-kicks at Nelson, Fiordland or the West Coast.
There’s a flexible approach to the word ‘road’ in New Zealand, where gravel or dirt tracks – even sheep’s trails up hillsides – are all considered fair-game. The country’s rich agricultural history has spawned a tangled tapestry of rural tracks and paths: you could be racing across sand dunes in Northland, juddering around a quad bike farm in Waikato, speeding past sheep on a Marlborough sheep station or traversing snow-capped foothills in the Southern Alps.
New Zealand’s landscapes look pretty stunning from ground-level; they’re even better 12,000 feet above ground. Lake Taupo on the North Island boasts the world’s largest commercial dropzone, plus splendid vistas of volcanoes, forests and lake; Queenstown and Lake Wanaka skydiving sessions come with jaw-drop views of mountains, lakes and the Central Otago high country. If you want to whoosh over geothermal waters, opt for a dive on the Bay of Islands.
The Mackenzie Basin – near the centre of the South Island – has been scientifically proven to have the clearest, darkest and most spectacular night skies in New Zealand. Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is the southern hemisphere’s first dark sky reserve; it’s also the world’s biggest, plus it’s gold-rated (thanks to pollution-free skies).
Dip your toes in by floating gently down a grade-one mountain river for a few hours, or dive in (not literally) on a grade-five white-knuckle adventure. The North Island’s best rafting spots include the central and east coast: Lake Taupo (Tongariro River has three sections of white water), Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay; on the South Island, Queenstown, Christchurch and the wild West Coast offer adrenaline-packed aquatics.
Jet-boating was invented in New Zealand, when a clever farmer worked out a way to navigate the shallow waters of Canterbury River; local adrenaline-junkies quickly realised he was on to a good thing. Vroom through narrow canyons and gorges at 85km per hour near Queenstown and Canterbury, or try North Island’s Rangitaiki, Whanganui and Waikato Rivers.
Like jet-boating, zip-lining started off as a practical solution to a problem: how to achieve fast transportation across hostile canyons and hard-to-reach rivers. Modern adventurers can focus on transporting themselves – spending three hours zipping through Rotorua’s wilderness; soaking up Auckland Harbour views from Waiheke; going by gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak in Queenstown, then flying past the Remarkables mountains and Lake Wakatipu; combining zip-lining with river-tubing on Auckland’s West Coast.