Thursday, March 2, 2006 - Queenstown, Including Canyon Swing and Luge

Finally a morning to sleep late. That's the great thing about staying two nights in one place; you don't have to check out by 10:00 a.m. Having a king-size bed is wonderful, and the shower here has great water pressure. We only had a couple of things on the agenda today, so we didn't have to rush.

Earlier we'd made reservations for the Shotover Canyon Swing, and at high noon we met up with a small group, signed our waivers, and climbed aboard a van taking us to an undisclosed location. We were driven 15 minutes from town and walked five minutes through the woods until we came face to face with a cliff-mounted platform 360 feet above the extremely shallow Shotover River.

The Shotover Canyon Swing is the world's highest swing, an insane 200-foot free-fall before entering a pendulum swing at 90 miles per hour. I was intrigued from the first time I'd seen their Website.


No worries, Shotover Canyon Swing

We were each weighed, fitted with a harness, then one by one we stepped to the edge. The guys that work the Swing make ridiculous small talk while hooking you in. Tom thought they were being polite, but I think it's a psychotic mind game to get you to stand at the precipice as long as possible in order to heighten the experience when it's finally time to jump. When the guys decided I'd stared into the abyss long enough, they told me to go ahead and jump. Well, by that time I'd come to my senses. "I'm not doing it," I said in a panic, as I backed away from the edge. "Yes, you are," said crazy guy 1, as he pulled me back toward the chasm. "Jana, do it," said Tom, as he waited for his turn. So, not wanting to look like the coward I'd suddenly become, I turned and jumped.

Free-fall, it turns out, is way easier than the initial jump, and before I knew it, I was swinging in a gentle arc over the river. That was great! What was I so worked up about? After all, the whole contraption seems to be held together by Velcro. What could possibly go wrong? They winched me up to the platform, and I giddily walked away on wobbly legs.

It was Tom's turn, so I ran to a good viewpoint. He didn't even scream! I couldn't believe it. He was so far away by the time he reached the bottom that I could only make him out as a tiny blue-jean speck. I took a movie of him falling, but you can't even see him on the image. That's how freaking far you fall!


Tom on the edge

The first jump is NZ$139. If you choose to go again, subsequent jumps cost only NZ$39. It just seemed economically sensible that I should do two! They have ten different styles of jumping, rated on a scale of one to five underpants, one underpants being the mildest and five being the scariest, (and thus soiling the most underpants. Get it?) Perhaps I should have known better than to pick the Pin Drop, with a rating of five, for the style of my very first jump, but having survived that one, I certainly couldn't go down in underpants for my second jump, so I chose the Backwards Jump, also a five. Besides, this way I figured I wouldn't have to look down first...

I stepped to the edge of the platform and got in position, precipitously balanced, with crazy guys 1 and 2 making more small talk. They told me to look over the edge toward my right. "No way." You have to, they said, because there's sharp rocks you need to see so you can jump far enough to avoid them. Great, like blunt rocks wouldn't be bad enough. So I looked, jumped anyway, and it was awesome! This time I was in the zone. I laughed and screamed all the way down. Now I know why Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world!


Jana jumps

Like everywhere else, pictures of the event were available afterwards, expensive of course, but I got some anyway. On the forward-style jumps all you could see was the back of our heads, but when I jumped backwards, the photos were great. I paid up for the pics, and we loaded back in the van. I was exhausted. I don't know why; all I did was take two little jumps. I guess all the adrenaline really takes it out of you. "Gravity is a toy, come out and play..."

Returning to Queenstown, we elected to ride the Skyline Gondola to the top of Bob's Peak to ride the Skyline Luge. The gondola carries passengers up 450 meters (about 1,500 feet) above Queenstown, giving an outstanding view of the town, Lake Wakatipu, and the Remarkables. At the top there is an additional ski lift to take you even higher, where a luge ride is available for an extra fee.


Queenstown, Kelvin Peninsula, and the Remarkables

The luge is essentially a little, plastic, three-wheeled cart you ride down a winding concrete track at ludicrous speeds. This is great fun and we bought five rides each. There are two tracks, scenic (i.e. beginners) and advanced, each lasting 800 meters. Everyone is required to do the scenic track for their first ride to get used to the carts.


Skyline Luge track

Tom and I both did the scenic track twice and the advanced track three times. The advanced track has some fairly steep drops, banked corners, and even a small tunnel. The luge is pretty safe if you keep control and quite dangerous if you don't. As we were getting on the ski lift to go up for our first ride, we saw two girls leaving the area with blood dripping from their hands and arms. You'll be happy to know Tom and I behaved ourselves and left with everything intact. This was an absolute blast!


Skyline Gondola

In the late afternoon we drove to the historic 1880 Kawarau Bridge outside of Queenstown, site of the world's first commercial bungy jump in 1988. We got there just in time to see a bloke plunge 43 meters (140 feet) face first into the river. They had the tension set perfectly so that he was dunked exactly to his waist. The jumper was then lowered to a boat in the river and brought to shore, where he had to walk 43 vertical meters of stairs back up. It didn't look so high after this morning's Canyon Jump, and if someone else would have paid the fee, Tom and I would've gone for it, but we weren't going to pay NZ$130 for the honor. They could at least winch you back up!


Kawarau Bridge bungy


Kawarau River

After watching the bungy, we drove over to Kelvin Peninsula, which we'd had a great view of from Bob's Peak, then we inadvertently drove to Kingston, at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu, almost running out of gas in the process. The gas station in Kingston was closed when we arrived, but they had a credit-card pump for after-hours petrol. After a slight struggle, we were quite relieved when we finally got it to work. When we returned to Queenstown, we stopped for some refreshments at Beaver Liquor.


Get the t-shirt

We had a fantastic dinner at Golden Elephant Authentic Thai. I had the phad khee mao with prawns. Delish! I ordered it medium spicy, and it was just the right amount of too hot. Tom loved his meal, too. We had Canterbury Draught to drink. An excellent meal.


Continue to Day 19

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