Canyon Swing!

Trip Start Feb 17, 2005
Trip End Feb 27, 2006

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

As usual, my bus to Queenstown departed early the next morning...7.30am to be exact. I had mixed feelings about this leg of my journey. On one hand, I was excited to be going to the adventure capital of New Zealand...finally! But on the other hand, I'd built up a picture of it in my mind, and it involved lots and lots of tourists all crammed into a small town...not my kind of thing at all.

Unfortunately, my first impressions weren't great as I was dropped off right in the middle of the chaos. I quickly trundled to Thomas' Hotel only to find that my room wasn't ready, so I put my main back pack into storage and headed to the nearest gardens for some respite.

Thankfully the Queenstown Gardens were lovely, situated right on the peninsula with a mountainous backdrop. I think I'd just got out the wrong side of the bed that morning as I was in a grumpy mood, but a gentle stroll helped to clear my head and I was determined to enjoy myself...I was only there for 2 nights afterall.

I spent most of the afternoon wandering around the shops, and to be honest it wasn't as hectic as I'd built it up to be. I obviously went into the Information Centre to have a look round, and one leaflet in particular caught my eye - 'The Shotover Canyon Swing...The World's Highest Swing.' Just how can you resist that?? Actually I've always wanted to do this ever since I saw Helen's photos in Taupo, but I still needed to convince myself that it was worth the money. I eventually came to the conclusion that I'd regret not doing it, so I went ahead and booked it for the next day.

I was sharing a dorm with Charlotte and Gregg (Canadian and English) who had flown to Queenstown from Sydney for a bit of adrenaline action. They'd done a bungy jump earlier in the day but were less than enthusiastic about it. They had also booked to do the Canyon Swing, but they were contemplating cancelling it as they'd underestimated how it feels to throw yourselves off a bridge!

Despite their nervousness when it came to extreme activities, they were both really friendly and we spent the evening chatting and making balloons (they had a balloon making contraption for some reason!). I popped over to the liquer store for a few beers, while they enjoyed a bottle of wine each. Charlotte was a real chatterbox, while Gregg was more deadpan, but they made for entertaining company.

I took the gondola up to the top of Queenstown Hill the next morning, and spent a couple of hours relaxing in the sun and enjoying the views. I did the 30 minute loop track that brought you to an impressive lookout, with The Remarkables overlooking Lake Wakatipu. It was a nice, easy start to the day...

I knew that things would change later when I hurled myself into a 100m deep canyon, but I was gradually psyching myself up for it by listening to Definitely Maybe on my minidisc player (it always works!). I bumped into Charlotte and Gregg in the street at lunchtime and Charlotte was all smiles as she showed me her Canyon Swing pictures. Gregg was quieter though, and at first I didn't believe him when he said that he hadn't gone through with it. However, it was true. Apparently he'd got harnessed up, got to the edge, and in his words "felt sick." He said that the ledge was so much higher than on the previous day's bungy jump...and he was right of course!

I went to the bakery for a quick bite to eat (although not too much after hearing Gregg's story!), before making my way to the meeting point just before 3pm. An Essex girl, Louise, was also waiting and seemed petrified, but I could tell that she had the bottle to go through with it. I opted not to tell her about the myth (in my opinion) about someone's eyes popping out of their head on the Nevis bungy jump!

So, a 15 minute minibus journey later and we were at the site...well, nearly. We had to do a 10 minute walk that would have been enjoyable were it not for the fact that you knew what was around the corner...the walk of death! I'm being dramatic of course, and I didn't feel nervous at all really. Even a quick trip to the toilet which was decorated with previous participant's photographs didn't deter me!

Once we were at the site, there were gasps as we saw how high it was, but it was actually smaller than the leaflet made it appear. Still, it was high enough and we watched as a couple of people jumped off, one of whom chose to be suspended upside down before being released! I was more than happy to conform to the usual standards of diving forwards.

We each got weighed before making our way down the final set of stairs and onto the actual ledge. I wanted to be first if at all possible, as I remember being a nervous wreck in Taupo after the mammoth 90 minute wait! So I made sure I was near the front, and got harnessed up. There was the usual small talk from the guides, asking where you were from and such, but actually they were all really friendly and each one shook my hand.

When one of them asked who wanted to go first, I quickly said "me" to which he replied "brave man!" I didn't think like that though...I just wanted to get it over and done with!

This is the point where I started to get a bit nervous. A slow walk to the end of the ledge followed, where a different guide messed around with my harness and fastened me to the rops (each one capable of lifting 4 Subaru cars without breaking!). I think we talked about something else, but I can't for the life of me remember what, before I found myself grinning nervously at the camera above. A quick shuffle to the edge and for the third time, I was ready to throw myself off a bridge/ledge!

It's pointless delaying as it just makes it worse, so I just forced myself to jump, and for a split second there is a really surreal feeling, like time stands still...before you're suddenly falling towards the ground at 150km/hour! It was another amazing rush, and I definitely let out some kind of "aaargh!" but it wasn't as bad as in Taupo. In fact, I remember sitting upright all of a sudden as I swang backwards and forwards, thinking how amazing the scenery was. It was so peaceful, just me in a canyon with a beautiful river running through it...heaven!

Possibly the scariest moment came once they'd raised me up to the top again, as I was just dangling in mid air 100m above the ground. I felt sheer relief once my feet were back on the platform and I was released from the ropes. I was free! I was contemplating doing it again as second jumps only cost $40, but I refrained as it might not have been as good second time round, and I decided to pay for my photographs instead.

Everybody else did it without hesitation, including Louise who was without doubt the most nervous, probably because she went last. She really "needed a fag" afterwards, and deservedly so considering she was scared of heights!

After scanning and emailing my photographs back home, I returned to the hostel to swap stories with Charlotte (fortunately Gregg was asleep!). A new woman, Juliette from America, had just arrived and we ended up going to the Fish and Chip shop together. After explaing to Juliette just what a 'chip buttie' is, we took our food onto the fronts, with a stunning view out over the lake. It's great when you get on well with your room mates, and this was certainly the case with us four.

At 8.30pm, we all went to the cinema to queue up for The Chronicles of Narnia. It was the premiere and so it was really busy, and it had special significance for us because it was actually set in New Zealand.

It was quite a long movie, but I really enjoyed it as I remember reading the book when I was a child, and seeing the TV series. I enjoyed trying to figure out whereabouts a scene was being set, but it's difficult because the South Island especially has so much epic scenery.

It was nearly midnight by the time we got back, and I was concious of the fact that I had another early start the next morning. I felt very happy though because it had been a near perfect day, and it helped to banish my negative thoughts about Queenstown. On the contrary, I'd had a great time and squeezed a lot in to my 2 days. It's a place that's fun in the short term...but I wouldn't want to live there permanently!

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