Attention, thrill-seekers! Forget bungee - launching yourself from a platform 360ft above the Shotover River is the new way to get your kicks in New Zealand's adrenaline capital of Queenstown
I'm a thrill-seeker, always have been. I'd been dreaming about the thrills and spills associated with New Zealand ever since we'd decided to take the plunge to fly halfway across the world. My other half, however, had been having nightmares. I remember him, about four years ago, reaching the top of a Spanish waterslide, only to turn straight back round and, in doing so, being subjected to the snorts and sniggers of some 11-year-old girls on the way down.
I've been ribbing him about this ever since, so was intrigued as to how he would cope with the adrenaline capital of New Zealand. I had an inkling of how when we got to Lake Taupo; first destination, Taupo bunjee. The nearest he got was the car park - "sports injury" he said. Granted, he approached the skydive in Queenstown with gusto but the Shotover Canyon Swing was a different ball game altogether. It's a bungee jump with a twist - you freefall then swing into a 200ft arc. Sounded wicked. There are eight departures to the canyon each day and each trip is limited to 11 people. I was desperate to do it and there was one place left for the following day; I paid my $179 (£70) without hesitation. Ever since then, the husband's story goes like this: "I was well up for it but there was only one place left on the bus..." But I knew the truth: he wouldn't have gone anywhere near it. And with good reason.
The Canyon Swing won the NZ tourist award in 2008 as well as a whole host of other awards, and I had high expectations. I left our hotel (the gorgeous Nugget Point Boutique Hotel) and arrived at the canyon swing office in Shotover Street a 15-minute drive later. There's a build-up to what lies ahead from the moment you enter the booking office - the videos, the pictures, the disclaimers! I couldn't remember being quite this scared quite so early on in the proceedings before. We were transported to the Shotover Canyon by minibus, 'we' being me and a group of excitable American students accompanied by jovial driver cranking up the scare factor even more with his banter and, of course, the obligatory scary canyon swing movie to while away the 15-minute drive.
We arrived. The toilet was my first thought. Funny, that. What greeted me was a toilet/homage to David Hasselhoff - random, but different! Then onto the main event, and a platform 109 metres up greets you... a harness greets you... the jumpmaster greets you... heart in mouth greets you! It's not a question of just launching youself off this ledge but more about how you're going to do it. There are 10 different jumpstyles and the last thing on my mind is decision-making but eventually I do decide that if I'm going down, I'm going down in the scariest way possible. And how do I know what is scariest? The mightily amusing Y-front underpant rating given to each jump. I go for one of the '5-panters', aka 'backwards'.
I'm fourth in line and sufficiently bricking it by the time I step up to the mantle but the Americans lived to tell the tale and us Brits are made of stern stuff. That's before I looked at the sheer rock face below me. Security checks over, and Jumpmaster 'Pinky' tells me to look up and smile at the camera... I grimace... I am still bricking it. Pinky hams it up for what seems like an eternity, grabbing my harness and rocking me backwards and forwards, teasing me about what is to come. "I can't remember you keeping those girls here for this long," I say, looking over at the Americans. "Maybe I find you attractive," he retorts. My guard's down and then he lets go and there I am, mouth open, eyes wide whilst I freefall for over 60 metres at 150kph towards the river below me before the swing does its thing. I don't think there was even time for my brain to catch up with what was happening and all I could do was scream without taking a breath. It was mind-blowing.
A true attack on the senses - fun and fear, all mixed in. The fact that I was alive, and the euphoria of realising I was alive, meant I was invincible! Only one thing for it: I had a second go ($39 or £15). After being winched back up to the platform (none of that walking back to the jump site nonsense), I decided to go with the 'pin drop'. If there was a '6-panter', this would be it. It looked pretty tame from afar but, as I found out, was truly terrifying. My feet felt literally glued to the platform as I looked 360ft to the river below; my brain was telling me 'yes', my body was telling me 'no', but I stepped off eventually, aided somewhat by Pinky giving me a little nudge to help me on my way.
But what made this so special? This wasn't a jump; it was an experience from start to finish, and one I will never forget. I show my photos and video to anyone who steps over my threshold and shows a remote bit of interest in my exploits. It's happened, I've become a Canyon Swing bore. I'm sure there are plenty of them out there!
"Even my shit was scared" is the strapline. Think that about sums it up.
Shotover Canyon Swing: 37 Shotover Street, Queenstown, New Zealand; +64 3442 6990; www.canyonswing.co.nz.