Quick Bungy, Then On the Road Again
Trip Start Mar 08, 2011
84Trip End Jun 11, 2011
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After 2 nights in a hotel and almost 2 days without stepping foot in Britzy Spears we were beginning to miss her. Luckily, we had our longest drive of the trip up in front of us. We got up bright and early so we could do as much of the drive during daylight as possible. Before leaving Queenstown, there was one small stop we had to make right on the outskirts of the city, AJ Hackett Bungy at Kawarau Bridge. We had stopped here on our way into Queenstown but it was an unplanned stop and no one felt like jumping on the spur of the moment. I need to know a couple days in advance exactly when I’d be jumping in order to prepare myself and get in the right frame of mind.
Queenstown is the home of extreme sports with bungy (bungy is the New Zealand spelling) jumping being the most famous activity. The Kawarau Bridge jump is done off the historic Kawarau Bridge which was built in 1880 and is 23KM from Queenstown. It opened in 1988, and was the world’s first commercial bungy jump. The jump is 43 meters over the Kawarau River. AJ Hackett is the king of bungy and has opened up jumps in several countries. In Queenstown, in addition to the Kawarau jump, he also runs the Ledge Bungy jump which is a 47 meter jump atop of Queenstown’s gondola and the Nevis Highwire jump which a 134 meter jump from a pod suspended over the Nevis River.
Amy had made it clear that she was not even considering jumping. Dave was on the fence all week on whether he would jump or not. He wasn’t nervous, he just wasn’t sure it was worth the money ($180 NZ) because he never had an urge to do it. He also thought that he could find a jump for cheaper when he went to the North Island. For me, bungy jumping was always something I wanted to try and I couldn’t think of a better place to do it than the original. Since this jump was over a deep river and 43 meters isn’t as high as many other bungees, this one seemed less scary. In addition, since I wasn’t going to the North Island, it was now or never for me.
We got to the jump site at 9:00am and I went to check-in. They made me sign my life away and weighed me and wrote me weight on my hand (I wish I weighed in pounds what I weigh in kilograms). They told me jumps don’t start until 9:30 so I should head out to the bridge around then. I asked if there was an instructional or training video or class I needed to go to and they said no, just report to the bridge at 9:30. Since we had some time to kill we went to the souvenir shop where they had lots of clothing to buy. I think this is the real reason Dave and Amy wanted to go. Amy bought a couple t-shirts as gifts and Dave and I both found a hoodie we liked. We tried it on and it was unusually small so we asked someone who worked there if they had any bigger sizes and were informed we were trying on a woman’s hoodie. We eventually found another one we liked that came in men’s sizes and got that.
By the time we were done shopping it was 9:30 so I made my way out to the bridge. I hung out in the background at first because I did not want to be the first jumper of the day. I wanted a couple people to go before me to test the cord to make sure it was working. 2 people went in front of me and nothing bad happened to them so I decided to step up. I put on a harness and then sat down on the platform. A friendly guy who looked a little extreme wrapped a towel around my ankles, attached the cord to my harness in 3 places and tightened everything. I asked him how many times he had done this jump and he only said 7 or 8. He told me he was new and hadn’t been working there that long. I thanked him for telling me this as I was putting my life into his hands. He finished and it was time for me to move to the front of the platform. I had to hop over because my ankles were wrapped together. I will admit I was nervous. I think part of the experience that you pay all that money for is the nervous anticipation before you jump. I don’t think you would be normal if you weren’t a little scared for your first jump. What helped was knowing that there had been over a million jumps at this site with no incidents. I did have to push out of my head that they were probably due for a problem if they hadn’t had one in over a million jumps. I also had been skydiving so that helped a little too although I believe bungee jumping is more frightening than skydiving because you can see the ground before you jump when bungee jumping and there is no back-up parachute like you have when skydiving.
In any event, I was all harnessed up and had paid my money so I was jumping. I got to the edge and the guy who was working told me that if I push off and dive straight down I would probably end up with half my body in the water. It was cold out and I’m sure the water was freezing so I told him I would prefer not to get wet. He told me to jump straight out and not down. The only other instruction he gave me was to put my arms up and go head first. The 2 people who went before me had to be pushed off and looked like they stumbled off the ledge. Being the extreme man that I am, I told the guy I wanted a countdown but would jump on my own and did not need to be pushed. Right before he started counting he told me to look at the crowd watching where they were filming me and wave. When I looked back at the DVD of the jump I saw I had the most terrified look on my face that I have ever seen. He gave the countdown and when he got to 1 I did a big swan dive out. Amy and Dave told me they heard people compliment how graceful my dive looked. All those years of swimming had finally paid off. It was about a 2 second free fall where I think I screamed a little but fortunately not loud enough to be heard on the DVD. Before I even had a chance to worry about the cord snapping, I bounced back up and then proceeded to bounce up and down a few times. I didn’t come close to touching the water. Despite what everyone thinks, it does not hurt when you bounce back up after the initial fall and I got no whiplash. Once I stopped bouncing some guys in a raft came under me, had me grab a pole, and pulled me into their raft and undid the harness. I then had to walk up 43 meters of stairs back to the top where Dave greeted me. Not a fun walk but I felt like I was floating at that point so it didn’t bother me. I did buy the professional pictures and DVD which was an additional $80 NZ but they were well worth it. Thinking back on the experience, the best way to describe how I felt is by comparing it to how I felt growing up when I used to swim competitively. Before each race I would always feel very nervous, but as soon as the gun went off and the race began the nervousness would all disappear, my mind would clear, the adrenaline would kick in and I would just enjoy it. That exactly how I felt as soon as I left the ledge.
It was 10 by the time it was all over and we were anxious to get back on the road. Dave and I decided we would trade off driving Britzy throughout the day but that it was probably best to let him drive first since I was still amped up on adrenaline. After about an hour of driving we made our first stop in Tarras to visit a general souvenir store. The store had lots of very nice merino wool clothing from local sheep. Amy bought a pair of merino slippers (called Toasties) that looked extremely comfortable. She said it was to help keep her warm in the chilly nights we spend in Britzy Spears. There was lots of really nice clothing and we had to pull ourselves away to keep from buying more things. I almost bought some hokey pokey ice cream which is the main flavor of ice cream in New Zealand. It is vanilla ice cream filled with nuggets of crunch golden toffee. I was able resist because it was still morning and a little chilly out but vowed to get some before I went home. After picking up some free packets of placenta face cream (not made from real placenta…I think) we were back on the road.
We drove for a few hours straight this time right up through the center of the country. We drove through amber mountains on very windy roads. We were able to take it as slow as we wanted to admire the views because there was almost no traffic. We would drive for miles without seeing another car. Approximately 20KM outside of Twizel we pulled over to a small picnic area and made lunch. This was a very special lunch because it was the first time we turned Britzy’s gas on so we could turn the oven on. Dave made grilled cheese which he and Amy seemed to enjoy. After another 20 minutes of driving we made a quick stop at Lake Tekapo so we could see Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain. After taking a few pics we drove a little farther along Lake Tekapo and stopped at a little church called the Church of the Good Sheppard. This church is one of the most photographed spots in New Zealand and is one of the most popular places to get married. The church has an altar window that has a spectacular view of the lake and mountains. Next to the church is one of New Zealand’s best known public monuments, a bronze statue of a New Zealand Collie sheepdog.
After we finished with Lake Tekapo it was time to start making our way to the East Coast. As we got closer to Christchurch we experienced something we hadn’t experienced our entire time in New Zealand so far, traffic. It was close to rush hour time and Christchurch is the only place on the South Island that can be considered a city. We made a quick pitstop at a gas station to refuel Britzy and buy some snacks. I bought a soda called L&P that is unique to New Zealand but supposedly loved by Kiwis. It stands for Lemon & Paeroa and is a sweet soft drink made by combining lemon juice with carbonated mineral water from the town of Paeroa. I thought it was just so-so.
New Zealand has very few traffic lights and uses roundabouts at intersections, kind of like New Jersey. Dave did an excellent job of maneuvering Britzy around multiple roundabouts to get us through Christchurch. Because the traffic slowed us down, we realized we probably wouldn’t be able to make it to Kaikoura that day which is where we needed to be by mid-morning the next day. We started looking for campervan campgrounds in our guidebooks where we could stay that night. We eventually found one in Cheviot, a small town about 60km from Kaikoura.
Before checking into the campground we decided to stop for dinner. There wasn’t much open, but we found a little takeout seafood shop called Wholly Fish. The woman who owned the shop and was cooking up the meals there was extremely nice, friendly, and helpful and very patient with us. She told us her husband is American so she understood our American tourist ways. Dave got a hamburger with nothing on it which disturbed the owner. She asked him if he wanted a pickle and Dave said no and then she realized that as an American he didn’t realize pickle meant something else in New Zealand. In New Zealand pickles mean spicy fruit relishes so Dave likes pickles here. Amy and I both had fish and chips. Amy had a cod-type fish and I had the special of the day. The special was a Maori named fish (that we can’t remember the name). The owner described this type of fish as a bold and manly fish that was usually only eaten by men. Between bungy jumping and eating this fish, today was probably my manliest day of the trip. For dessert, Dave and I both had Magnum ice cream popsicles. Mine was hokey pokey flavored so I was able to cross that off my list.
We finished dinner and drove to the Cheviot Motel Campground. The facilities at this place were not quite as luxurious as the previous campgrounds. There is a brand of campgrounds throughout New Zealand called Top 10 Holiday Parks. We stayed at one of these the first night we slept in Britzy. The Top 10 Holiday Parks are like the Ritz Carlton of holiday parks. The one we stayed at in Cheviot was more like a Motel 6. Since we were only sleeping there and had gone to summer camp it didn’t really bother me or Dave and Amy was a trooper and made it through the night. However, Amy and Dave did decide that they would only be staying at Top 10 Holiday Parks for the remainder of the trip.