South Island: Wanaka and Arrival in Queenstown (aka BUNGEE!!)

I’m glad we had such a relaxing night at the glacial hot-pools because we had to get up really early the next morning to get to Queenstown. It was really exciting to start this leg of the journey because Queenstown was our last big destination—it flew by so quickly! It was my day to drive and unfortunately I felt like death. A pretty ugly cold had been going around the vans and it was my turn to suffer through it. But, by some miracle, we managed to get up and on the road by 7:45 leaving plenty of time to grab a quick coffee to take along for the ride. Thank goodness Lent was over and I could treat myself to a cappuccino. For a little bit of a change, I had Jessie AND Greg up front with me helping to navigate and chat along the way. Again, the scenery was incredible but driving for 3 hours was a struggle. Greg made my day when he put on one of his own playlists and lifted up everyone’s spirits. By this point I was also feeling te nerves kick in for what was waiting for me in Queenstown: the Nevis Bungy Jump. Every hour or so Jessie would announce that we only had X number of hours left until we did New Zealand’s largest bungee jump… yikes! But Greg started playing songs like “Free Fallin” and I couldn’t help but laugh over the whole thing. About half way through the trip we stopped for a quick lunch and changed drivers. I immediately curled up in the back and slept for about 2 hours. Unfortunately I missed some pretty amazing lakes but I really needed the rest. I felt great when I woke up in Wanaka, just about an hour outside of Queenstown. It’s a quaint little seaside village that sported some pretty gorgeous foliage around the shoreline. We took a quick break here to stretch and soak in the sunshine before we finally headed to our bungee jump.

We arrived in Queenstown just in time for me, Jessie, TJ, Greg, and Dave (Katherine and Amanda were doing their own thing) to run to the AJ Hackett Bungee ‘headquarters’ and check in. There all kinds of deals you can do for more than one bungee jump. I originally was going to do the Thrillogy while I was in Queenstown, but with the other things I wanted to do it made more sense for me just to do two. The Nevis and Bridge jumps. Or so I thought. Jessie signed up for the Nevis Bungee, the Ledge Bungee, and also a thing called the Nevis Swing (the world’s largest swing!).… But more on that later. So after we did our bungee jumps she was going to do her swing and then the other bungees on a different day. Once we got weighed about 4 times each and then had that weight recorded on the backs of our hands… fun…. we had some time to get nervous before a shuttle would take us to the Nevis. There were computers available to se while we waited so I quickly popped on sent a couple of emails to let my parents know I was alive (but may not be for long) and made some sort of frantic Facebook status about jumping off a bridge.
Before I knew it we were being piled into a van with a bunch of other nervous faces and trekking down a very bump and steep hill to the top of a CLIFF. When we finally got to the top we went through another weighing process, this time with our full-body harnesses on, and then went out to a platform to wait to be taken to the jump site. Only a certain amount of people are allowed on the suspended platform at a time so we had to wait for the group that was out there to come back. Watching them jump was insane. Greg was hysterical, he kept saying he wasn’t nervous but h couldn’t stop moving. TJ were getting really excited and I think that Jessie and Dave we the calmest (at least on the exterior) of all of us. Finally it was our turn to take a little gondola to the platform. There was still a couple of people waiting to jump so I figured we would have a bit of time to prepare before it was our turn to take the plunge. Oh no. Since we were the last group of the day and the bungees were already set for the lighter people (your order of jumping is decided by weight. Usually they work their way down from heaviest to lightest but since we were last…) which meant that I was up. I had just sat down and had my ankle cuffs put on when the nice guy by the gate to get over to the open part of the platform was calling my name. Now, to clarify, a girl who was not from our group did jump before I did. Therefore, as I promised my mother, I did not go first. But I did go first for our group. After getting into the awkward chair and some odd banter with the bungee-guy strapping me into my bungee, I waddled my way over to the edge. And looked down 134 meters.

I don’t really think I could take in the extent of the whole situation, but I do know that in that moment I was not afraid. I had no idea what I was about to experience. I also don’t think my mind has ever been as blank as it was in that moment. After some quick instructions on form I was ready to go. – A side note here: As my mother has noted on many occasions (too many, really) I can have quite the potty-mouth. This is something I am quite aware of and working on. Now, even when I am in casual situations I tend to let the odd curse slip. Put me in a situation where my emotions are running hot—look out! So, fully aware that my bungee jump would be recorded for posterity, I planned exactly and specifically what I was going to yell on my way down. Just in case something else decided to slip out. This way I would avoid any expletives being screamed across my living room when I showed the evidence to my family and friends back home. If seen a few friend’s videos and a couple of movies with bungee jumps in them and it seems pretty common to simply yell BUNGEE after you’ve been counted down. So I stuck with that. You’ll have to watch the movie to see how well that goes for me. Note over.—I opened my arms out wide and took a big breath.

3!    2!    1!    BUNGEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

For the few first moments I was concentrating on my forming, arcing into a dive, and keeping my arms out. And then I was vertical. And then I was terrified. I only had enough ability to conjure up one thought; falling. In the most dramatic and comprehensive sense. I was falling. I couldn’t feel my cord at all. There was nothing stopping me. And no going back. After about six seconds of free fall—just long enough for me to contemplate my entire life—I felt my cord engage and I could breathe again. I was expecting a much harsher jolt when my cord extended but it was actually really smooth and quite fun. I got my voice back as there was no longer complete terror clutching my chest. On my second bounce I released my feet from the cord and was able to sit in my harness while I swung around the canyon. It was oddly calming, being alone with my heart pounding, surround by cavern walls, a blue sky, and even bluer river. They slowly brought me back up to the platform. I couldn’t believe it when I heard they were playing one of my favorite songs. Like the adrenaline hadn’t kicked in enough, right? TJ was waiting for my by the edge, anxiously waiting to hear my report of how it was. Like the true nerd that I am all I could say was, “It was awesome, man!” Next up was Jessie. She was over the edge before I could get unclipped from my gear so I missed her going down, but her face coming back up was priceless. Then it was Greg’s turn. By this time I had my camera poised and ready to go. He by far had the best, wildest, veracious scream. Ever. I was clicking away taking photos when one of the guys came over and asked me if I would go with Jessie so she wouldn’t be alone. Of course I would! I was still riding my adrenaline high. As we got into the gondola to go back to base to get her set up she looked at me and asked me to do a tandem swing with her. I hesitated a bit; it was quite a bit of money for something that I wasn’t planning on doing. But by the time the gondola reached the other side I was convinced. I asked the girl at the counter if I could do a tandem jump with Jessie even though I hadn’t booked it in advance and she enthusiastically told me I could and even gave me a discounted price for it. So, with perhaps a little too much confidence, I signed another waiver and headed to the other side of the canyon to partake in the world’s largest swing.

We went over to the ledge where two guys were waiting to get us set up, strapped in, and plummeting to the bottom of a canyon. Again, we were the last customers of the day so they were looking to have a little fun. One of the beauties of doing a tandem swing is that you get to pick the position that you and your partner are in. Of course the majority of them were oddly sexual and looked extremely uncomfortable, so we picked the least invasive one we could think of; back-to-back. The guys were not impressed with our “lack of adventure”. To which I replied, “I’m adventurous enough thank you very much”. So with me facing forward and Jessie strapped to my back we were lowered out over the edge. Now, to be honest, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into this time. I had never seen a swing like this since I had no intention of ever doing one. But it’s a swing, right? How scary could it be? Well, I’ll tell you! About ten times scarier than the biggest bungee jump in New Zealand! After a quick count-down we went from being suspended over the canyon to plummeting straight down into it. Meanwhile, and don’t ask me how or why this happened, it seems that as I was falling down Jessie was rotating upwards so that her head ended up on top on my head. Our friends could see us from the bungee platform they said it was the weirdest thing they had ever seen; Jessie’s feet, then head, then my head and feet in a vertical line, dropping like a rock. I can promise you I have never screamed louder, harder, or more genuinely in my entire life. FINALLY our cord extended and we started swinging forward instead of just down. After Jessie came slamming back down to my level we would up quite tangled and sitting side by side, which I preferred anyway.  And then we started going backwards. Terror, screaming, clutching of limbs. It was all a giant rush. After that first arch the swinging slowed down a bit and actually quite enjoyable. We were laughing, and eventually dancing all the way back onto the platform. We both loved it, but I think Jessie liked it a bit better than I did. The guys were still teasing us a bit and generously offered to let us go again, for free, if we went naked. I laughed, and then realized they weren’t joking and seriously said no. They almost had Jessie convinced, but not before I said “no, no” and carefully ushered her back to solid ground and reality.
Needless to say, Jessie and I did some serious bonding that day.

After our t-shirts and videos were collected we piled back into the van and headed to town. It was nice having a moment to catch my breath and re-live the craziness that had just happened. The other van had stopped and stayed in Wanaka for Skydiving. So we all met up and the famous Ferg Burger for some of the most delicious burgers I’ve ever experienced and swapped stories. We went back to the vans to get cleaned up before the next Queenstown-must; a bar crawl! You may recall I was feeling pretty sick that morning so by this point it was catching up with me again, hard. The thought of going out wasn’t very appealing but I really wanted to go to the Ice Bar. The Ice Bar is exactly what it sounds like, a bar made entirely of ice. They give you gloves and coats to go in, even Uggs to the girls wearing high heels so their feet won’t get cold. And for all of this you have to pay $30 just to get it plus the cost of drinks ($7-$8 each). This seemed a little outrageous for us college kids so we found this bar crawl, $25 for 6 bars and a free drink at each one, including the Ice Bar. Totally worth it right? Nope. It was probably my least favorite part of the trip. Everyone else who was on the crawl was already smashed (clearly they knew something we did not). And the free drinks were a pre-made mixed drink in a plastic shot glass that was the same at each bar. All this added to the fact that I was quickly deteriorating from the inside out meant that I didn’t last long. I stayed to see the ice bar, and of course bought a drink (no, there was no free drink here) so that I could cross it off my list and then decided to head home. I wasn’t alone either, 5 or 6 of us had had enough and just wanted to go to bed. I think the excitement of the whole trip to the South Island was finally starting to take its toll. Luckily the next day was all planned out and the only thing I had to do was show up. Thank God for Milford Sound.
But as I lay in bed, I had to smile as I looked back at that long 134 meter fall that I could still feel in my chest when I closed my eyes. It was an excellent day.

Fun Fact: Bungee Jumping originated on New Zealand, developed by AJ Hackett. It is based off of Vanuatu land divers who would jump off of wooden towers with vines tied to their ankles. Hackett was dubbed an international dare-devil when he illegally jumped off of the Eiffel Tower in 1987. It was in 1988 that he founded the world’s first commercial bungee jump off the Kawarau Bridge just outside of Queenstown. But more in the bridge later… =)

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