Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Home of Adventure Tourism

Many, many people have told me that while in New Zealand I absolutely must jump off of something, whether attached to a rope only to be ripped back up by my ankles moments from crashing into the rocks below or by jumping out of a plane to freefall for a minute attached to some guy I do not know until he deems the time worthy to pull the cord and allow the parachute to open. My answer? NOT ON YOUR LIFE!!

But there is no denying that New Zealand is the adventure tourism capital of the world. From bungy jumping to sky diving to jet boating and ziplining, this country has something to offer anyone who needs insanity to get a kick out of life.

On Monday, another Fulbrighter and myself hopped into a car in Wellington with our only instruction being to return the car with 48 hours in Auckland.  (From Wellington to Auckland you can rent a car for free because so many people take them the other way. How cool is that?) We decided to spend a day at the Waitomo Caves about ¾ of the way between the two cities.

I would have been perfectly happy taking the walking tours of the three caves to see the cave formations and the glow worms, but my travel buddy said she wanted to do the whole experience, including repelling, ziplining, and hiking through the crazy current that runs 200 feet below the earth. I obliged.

So what did we do? We abseiled (in the US, we call this repelling) 37 meters into the cave. Alone on a rope, we inched our ways down, and yes, I freaked out halfway through. Then, without warning, they had us turn off our lights, and one by one attached us to a flying fox (aka a zipline), and let us go. To add to our amusement, they smacked pots on the other end to make it sound like some of us slammed into rocks. I went last – NOT a good idea. ;) Both were awesome, though. The zipline was probably one of the highlights, and the only adventure tourism I might repeat in the future.

Next they sat us on a cliff overlooking the water and handed us hot chocolate and cookies. It was cold down there. Then they handed us innertubes and said jump. Ok, I can fly through the air attached to a cord and fall 100 feet into a cave, but I am absolutely not jumping off the side of a cliff to land in water. I neither like swimming nor jumping into things, and the combination seems absurd. I climbed down the side of the rock (luckily I was not the only one). From there, we grabbed a rope and hauled ourselves upstream while sitting in the innertubes. And that is when we saw the glow worms.

People come from all over to see the glow worm caves. They are beautiful when it is dark and peaceful, and the glow worms light the top of the cave. So what are they? Maggots, really. Yup, they glow to attract other insects, including their own kind, and then release little strings, much like a spider web, though not webbed, and then unsuspecting insects fly into them, get stuck, and become lunch. Then the glow worms turn into flies, whereupon they have one task – mating – and then they die. But they must be the most beautiful maggots in the world!

After pulling and paddling upstream, we took a leisurely (though getting very cold) float back downstream right back to the site of the jump whereupon we started hiking back upstream, with a little stop for chocolate and hot tang. Ok, this requires a stop . Normally I would not touch Tang, I would not smell Tang, but when you are freezing at the bottom of a cave, and your body needs the sugar, in any form, and you do not have a nice hot cup of tea and honey, you take the Tang. No judging!

Then came the part they left out of the brochure – the swimming and climbing up waterfalls. Yes, we did what they lovingly call the drunken stumble upstream. This entails attempting to walk over rocks you cannot see through black water against the tide. Then we swam, crawled our way through the rebirthing channel, so small I barely fit through, and then climbed, yes climbed up a waterfall, with a little waterslide thrown in there for good measure.  Did I mention that I have a huge phobia of water in my face?

So we climbed up two waterfalls and made it back to land, where it was sunny and beautiful and in a land full of trees, and they took us back, gave us showers, and gave us soup and bagels. I warmed up by the evening, and as I write this the next morning, most of me is not sore, except my wrist, my ankle (still a bit sore from a 3-month-old sprain) and right where the helmet attached to my head.  But I do not mind that particular pain – I banged my head many, many times, and that helmet was always there to lessen the blow. Thank goodness!

So, that is my experience with adventure tourism in the adventure tourism capital of the world. I failed to jump off anything, but I faced some fears, swam, got water in my face and come on, I repelled into a cave and lived to tell the tale! I deserve some credit, right?

I do not have a lot of the photos, but here is a before shot of me freaking out. You cannot tell, but I was about ready to die. The other photo would not upload, and I must get going, so this is all you get, sorry!

Thanks for reading!

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