By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Itinerary

Travel to Australia and New Zealand from Europe or North America, and you might be tempted to lump these two countries together. Experience them both, however, and you will see that the similarities don’t extend much past funny accents. Case in point: we spent last weekend on an Australia road trip taking in the east coast beaches; this week our New Zealand road trip will involve Whitewater Rafting, and a hike across a glacier!

Our local guide Dene suggests we go easy on our Friday morning breakfast, although he’s promised us “a calm morning white water rafting“. We’re not sure how that could possibly work, but at 8.15am we find ourselves on the banks of the Kawarau River, which is much easier to navigate than the Shotover River we took the jetboat through yesterday.

Rapido Rapido

And this is the beginners guide to Whitewater rafting New Zealand! Photo by Queenstown Rafting, Licensed under Creative Commons

(Lord of the Rings fanatics will observe that the Kawarau looks a lot like the River Anduin that flows parallel to the Misty Mountains.)

With Queenstown Rafting we actually spend a couple of hours cruising the river, and it is an ideal experience rafting for beginners – though the heart rate does pick up as we plunge into the 400m long Dog Leg Rapid. The hot shower and sauna at the end are welcome, and some of us probably wish we could stay here when Dene let’s us in on the next destination…

…Bungy Jumping off Kawarau Bridge!

He seems to be enjoying that!

Bungy Jumping is safe – just scary as hell! Photo by Los viajes del Cangrejo, CC License

Bungy jumping – now available all around the world – actually began on this bridge in 1988. We’re not sure what possessed AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch to jump off a perfectly good bridge, but we’re glad they did! Now can we muster the confidence to follow in their footsteps. (To be fair – it’s not even a footstep – lean forward and let gravity do the rest!).

Any second thoughts we have drop away when we see the person in front of our group calmly step over the edge … completely naked! And if you’re not sure you could do the same, Queenstown’s only tandem jump means you can hand that decision over to another person and leap together.

You don’t really have time to get nervous. Without much fuss you, too, are strapped into a harness and then, quite suddenly, you’re standing up on the platform and there’s nothing in front of you but air. That’s when your heart starts beating faster and your grip tightens on the pole, which is all that anchors you to earth.

Three, two, one, JUMP!

Everything in your body prevents you from jumping, every instinct says no, and yet…

It happens in fast forward and slow motion, the sky, the ground, the river, then SPLASH! Your head is soaked, you’re smiling like a maniac, and you’ve done your first (and maybe last?) bungy in New Zealand.

Going, Going, Gone!

Going, Going, Gone! The first two photos are Adam Selwood; the splashdown photo is by Mat, CC License.

Beautiful Lake Wanaka

View of Lake Wanaka. Photo by Edwin, CC License

We use New Zealand’s long summer twilight to make the short drive out of Queenstown to the town of Wanaka. Plenty of New Zealand tours spend a few nights among the scenery here – we get stuck into “Her Majesty’s” pizza at The Cow Restaurant, before a sleepover and a Saturday morning drive towards the Franz Josef glacier on New Zealand’s west coast.

Some people are hikers, and full day treks across the glacier are available. Some people are more sedate, preferring to experience the 12 km (7.5 mi) long glacier and the nearby Mount Cook from the air. Dene has never seen the point in limiting our experience, so we’re doing both (it’s called heli-hiking)!

There’s a beauty to the scenic helicopter flight across the glacier, but there’s real danger here as well. Unstable ice cliffs mean many hiking tracks are now off limits, and the Maori name for the glacier is Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere, which speaks of a tale when Hinehukatere’s lover Wawe was swept to her death here by an avalanche.

Helicopter view of Franz Josef Glacier

Helicopter view of Franz Josef Glacier. Photo by Greg Hewgill, CC License.

It’s hard not to think about those stories as the helicopter drops us off (and disappears over the horizon!). But during the 2 hour hike back to the town of Franz Josef our guide keeps us amazed with the scenery, and also demonstrates the tangible evidence that climate change is having on this World Heritage Site.

Hiking Franz Josef Glacier

Hiking the Glacier. Photo by Edwin, CC License

It is summer, but increasingly the walk is over rock formations carved by the glacier as it recedes under global warming.

The adventure portion of our New Zealand trip is closing, as Dene fares us well. Sunday will be a relaxing day, a four hour drive through national parks to the city of Christchurch. But to help us sleep tonight, and to reward our bodies for the stress of navigating rapids, jumping off bridges, and trekking in crampons across a glacier, we head for an evening at the Glacier Hot Pools.

That’s right – you can immerse yourself in New Zealand’s natural beauty without needing to check your travel insurance first! Now who has the first massage …?

Want to go? Need to know!

  • Queenstown Rafting offer twice-daily adventures on the Kawarau river
  • We always felt that bungy jumping was a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience; and if you’re going to do it once, do it where it all began
  • The most popular helicopter experience in New Zealand is to the top of Mount Cook, allowing you to walk around up top without having to do any climbing. Most of these depart from Glentanner Park, NOT the Franz Josef town (www.helicopter.co.nz/mtcook.asp)
  • The drive from Franz Josef to Christchurch is longer than it looks – it’s due east as the crow flies, but you have to drive 90 minutes north before the road actually turns inland through Arthur’s Pass
What is a Crampon?

Crampons! Photo by Edwin, CC License

Have you toured New Zealand’s South Island? Got your heart rate thumping? What are your memories – Let us know in the comments below.