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5 Amazing Adventure Activities in New Zealand

Updated on January 16, 2012

In 2005 I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks traveling around both the North Island and South Island of New Zealand and I got to take part in some amazing adventures. It was June, and as a typically ignorant American, I had assumed that New Zealand was so close to Australia it would also have a warm climate all year-round. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that New Zealand was in the depths of winter! I didn't let that stop me from having a great time, though. So here are 5 Amazing Adventure Activities in New Zealand, in no particular order...

  1. Jumping from the Auckland SkyTower
  2. Hiking the Tongariro Crossing
  3. Heli-Hiking Franz Josef Glacier
  4. Skydiving over Fox Glacier
  5. Cruising Milford Sound

Auckland SkyTower Jump

Since I didn't get a chance to go bungee jumping (I was severely hung over the morning I was planning on that one!), I decided instead to jump off of New Zealand's tallest structure (and the tallest free-standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere), the Auckland Sky Tower. The 630 foot drop from the top is a 53 mph, cable-controlled descent designed to mimic the free-fall experienced while skydiving.

It was a drizzly weekday afternoon, and I was the only one willing to make the jump at the time, so there was no waiting! After donning a stylish jumpsuit that barely fit my generous frame it was off to the observation level. With the folks in the observation lounge looking on, I stepped up to the edge and let myself fall. The view on the way down was stunning, and the fall felt like it took a lot longer than it actually did. The hardest part for me was actually the landing - the platform at ground level was slick with rain, and my rubber soled shoes got zero purchase as I slid right onto my bum for an inglorious landing - just imagine the sight of a fat man falling from the sky in a jumpsuit and sliding across the rubberized floor! The jump operators were apparently bored that day, because they ended up offering me another jump for free, if I was interested - I was, and so I did it again!

Though these photos aren't ones of my jump, you can still get an idea of what's involved in these pictures of another jumper taking the leap not long after I did

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Mt Tongariro
Mt Tongariro

Another crazy idea I had was to hike the Tongariro Crossing, one of New Zealand's more famous "tramps". In New Zealand hiking is a major pass-time for both locals and tourists, and Tongariro Crossing is considered one of the most beautiful and challenging New Zealand hiking trails, or "tramps" as the Kiwi's call them. It's an all-day, seven hour trip and is recommended for fit travelers.

The hike up Tongariro Crossing
The hike up Tongariro Crossing
The view from the top
The view from the top

As you may have figured out by now, I wouldn't quite call myself "fit", but at the time of this trip I had been traveling around the world for several months and had gotten accustomed to walking around for 6 or 8 hours a day, so I figured I'd be up to the task. Well, it turns out I was a tad over-confident. Since the Crossing traverses Mt Tongariro, it's not possible to drive from the entry point to the exit point - instead, you take a bus from town to the entrance, then as you cross through the pass the bus circles around to the exit point to pick everyone up. By the end of the day I was worried that my ride might have left me behind!

The first part of the trek, which is considered by many to be the toughest, was actually the easiest for me. It was all uphill, but I was feeling good and managed to keep up with the rest of our group all the way to the summit. Since it was winter, we were provided with crampons to strap to our boots once we reached the snow-line. After a few minutes' adjustment, I was comfortable enough to walk uphill on the snow and ice. At the top we stopped for lunch and took in the amazing views. On the way down from the summit I actually got myself in a spot where I couldn't move on the ice - my legs and feet were at a weird angle that prevented me from going anywhere, and I had to call to a guide for assistance. And so began the hardest part for me - the walk downhill!

The view on the way down
The view on the way down

By about the 5-hour mark I had run of water, and my legs were feeling like rubber. We stopped at a small hut for a break before proceeding down for the last leg of the trek. This last part was what really killed me - the path consisted of crude "stairs" carved into the soil, no two of which were the same height! This caused a painful jarring of the knees and ankles, and it as during this torture that I was passed by the guide who was supposed to be bringing up the rear. From there on out I was on my own, weakened and waterless, but I pushed on. The last bit of the trek passed through a lush forest - a complete change from the volcanic alpine ascent and the snow-covered peak. When I finally emerged from the woods I was relieved (and almost shocked) that the bus was still there waiting for me!

All in all a major challenge, but one I won't soon forget!

Clouds over Franz Josef Glacier
Clouds over Franz Josef Glacier

New Zealand Helicopter Hiking

In New Zealand helicpoter hiking, or heli-hiking, is one of the best ways to explore those areas that are not easily accessible by other means of transport. For those who aren't familiar with the term, "heli-hiking" is just what it sounds like - you fly in a helicopter to your destination, hike around, and then fly back down! My next memorable day in New Zealand was meant to be a day of heli-hiking on Franz Josef Glacier, located on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. This was a shorter and less strenuous undertaking than the Tongariro Crossing I detailed in Part One of this hub, but it still required wearing crampons on my boots, as well as a bit of agility to traverse the icy glacier.

The group assembles
The group assembles
Hikers in the distance
Hikers in the distance
Amazing shades of blue and brown in the ice
Amazing shades of blue and brown in the ice
The helicopter on Franz Josef Glacier
The helicopter on Franz Josef Glacier

The group I was a part of consisted of a local guide and about 10 travelers. The group consisted of some British folks that I'd been traveling with for a few days, plus a family of American travelers - a fifty-ish couple and their college-aged daughter. Throughout the hike people were slipping and sliding and occasionally taking a spill, but I was surprisingly agile for a guy my size and hadn't actually fallen at all. I was near middle of the pack most of the time, with the other three Americans behind me. The group overall was easy going and we were all having fun as we marveled at the amazing beauty around us, and every time one of the Brits fell or did something goofy, we all had a friendly laugh and moved on. In an attempt to be a nice guy, I regularly offered my hand in assistance to anyone who seemed like they might need it, but the older guy behind me constantly refused any assistance, even though he was obviously struggling. When I eventually lost me footing and landed on my rear end, we all laughed again, and my countryman wasted no time in expressing his utter satisfaction that I had finally fallen on my ass!

Not long after my little spill the guide received a call across his walkie-talkie - was there a guy in his group called Eddie? That was me! Turns out that the skydive I had scheduled for the next morning had been pushed up, and there was a car headed toward base camp to pick me up! A new guide showed up out of nowhere, asked me if I was comfortable on the ice in my crampons, and we proceeded to race down the glacier to an approaching helicopter. I managed to summon my inner mountain goat and was able to keep pace with the guide as we dashed down the slope to the landing pad where the chopper was waiting for me - I just hope the American guy was watching me and cursing my name for my goat-like agility!

Skydiving in New Zealand

Getting ready for the jump!
Getting ready for the jump!
View of the mountains as we ascend
View of the mountains as we ascend
Fox Glacier seen from the plan
Fox Glacier seen from the plan

Skydiving is one of the more popular activities in New Zealand, and for the most part it is much more affordable there than it is here in the United States. It was something I'd wanted to try for most of my life, and I had heard so many exciting stories from my fellow travelers who had tried it that there was no way I was going to leave New Zealand without giving it a shot! I hadn't counted on it coming at me as a surprise, though...

Once back at base camp, I was loaded into a waiting car and driven a short way down the road to an airstrip for my skydive over nearby Fox Glacier. Everyone was standing around waiting for me, including a young British woman already outfitted for the jump. After a brief safety overview I found myself once again cramming my girth into an ill-fitting jumpsuit and it was time to board the plane. I'd never flown in an airplane smaller than a commuter jet, and was quite surprised at just how small this thing was - narrower and shorter than an average minivan, and not much longer than one. Inside were the pilot, plus the two jumpers with our tandem partners sitting on the cold metal floor. The two jumpers were strapped to the professional skydivers from behind, and the British girl was going to be the first jump, so my guy and I were crammed all the way into the back of the plane.

Once we reached 12,000 feet, the Brit and her jump-guide scooched on their bums to the open door. Once they were ready to jump, the pilot literally tipped the plane to the right and dumped them out the door! My jump-guide told me that we weren't going to be doing that - turns out the other guide had twisted his ankle and wasn't able to stand up and jump from the plane, so they had to be dumped out the side instead. When it was finally my turn we made our way to the door, leaned out with our legs dangling until we were standing on the small ledge outside the door, then pushed our way out of the plane. It was a thrilling feeling to fall freely through the sky, and the noise surrounding us was deafening as the icy air hit my face. The view of the glacier below was stunning, and before long it was time to deploy the chute. After the initial jolt as the chute opened, we seemed to just hang in the air as we glided over the world. The rest of the dive was beautiful and peaceful right until the landing, which my jump-guide pulled off perfectly.

My only regret about the whole thing was my lack of fear! Every single other person I've ever talked to about their skydiving experience felt a rush of fear and adrenaline that made the jump exciting - my only concern was that I was firmly attached to the jump-guide's harness, and once I was sure of that I had no fear at all. Seems strange, but I find myself feeling jealous of those other folks who were so scared during their jump!

Easily the most adventurous day of my life!

Cruising Milford Sound

Finally, I'll cover a much less adrenaline filled but equally beautiful adventure - a boat trip through Milford Sound. Part of Fiordland National Park on the west coast of the South Island, it is one of New Zealand's most visited sites. Despite it's remote location, over half a million folks visit the Sound each year. I signed up for a leisurely cruise through the Sound, and was treated to some of the most beautiful coastal landscapes I've seen. There's not much to say about this place - the pictures can tell it far better than my words could...

Milford Sound - Click an image to enlarge

Click thumbnail to view full-size


So I hope I've inspired you to try some of these activities in New Zealand if you ever get the chance to travel to that magical land!

All text and images copyright ©2010 by the author. All rights reserved.


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