Need a little adventure in your life? Of course you do. We all do. That's why we go traveling. There's nothing better than a change of scene to escape the doldrums of regular routine, and there's nothing like a shot of adrenaline to charge up a vacation to adventure level. No matter your age, expertise, or that you travel alone, when it comes to adventure, New Zealand has a thrill styled right for you.
Affectionately known as "Kiwis," New Zealanders are well known for their can-do spirit with a special bent for wild and whacky experiences. After all, it was a Kiwi who thought it would be great fun to leap off a bridge into thin air. Kiwis AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch brought bungy jumping mainstream with their first public launching in June 1987. That event happened at Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand. Since then, in locations around the globe, millions have been persuaded that they can toss themselves off bridges and other tall structures and emerge unharmed and exhilarated beyond belief.
Similarly, in New Zealand they have something called the Flying Fox, which you can try at Mokai Gravity Canyon. "Imagine," states the brochure, "being launched from a ledge 175 meters above a river canyon before racing down a 1-kilometer zip-line at speeds up to 160 kilometres per hour." I dare not imagine it myself, but I am assured that the experience "quite literally takes your breath away."
If these air-borne thrills seem overly death defying, perhaps abseiling would be less so – and quite easy to learn, so they say. With abseiling, or rappelling, you precipitate on a rope down a cliff, waterfall, or great big hole such as is found at Waitomo Caves.
New Zealand is also the home to zorbing. Invented by two Kiwis, Dwayne van der Sluis and Andrew Akers, zorbing involves strapping yourself into an inflatable, transparent ball. Then you roll and bounce down a huge, bumpy hill going about 40 km an hour.
With a whitewater rafting excursion you can at least select your fear level within a range of one to six. And, if you find slip-sliding over rapids a bit tame, you can go a step further and try blackwater rafting, also known as cave tubing. Alternatively, a wheeling and whizzing jet-boat ride gives the adrenaline rush while leaving the expertise in the hands of a trained driver.
A half or full-day hike on New Zealand's Franz Josef or Fox glaciers would certainly be a breathtaking experience. Wearing specially designed ice-hiking boots, you make your way up a pre-made trail carved into the ice and then into an ice cave, where the blue of the sky is reflected within the ice creating an ethereal retreat from reality.
Multi-day hikes, called "tramping" in New Zealand, are commonly enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Obviously solo travelers need to give a second or third thought to striking out alone on remote trails, although some intrepid types do so with adequate preparation and likely connecting with a local organization, such as the New Zealand Alpine Club.
In New Zealand, tramping isn't what it used to be it's better. Years ago, adventure travel meant forgoing life's little luxuries in order to connect with nature or create a personal test of courage. Nowadays, you can hike for days, staying in huts that have been specifically built on longer trails so that you don't have to carry a tent in your backpack.
Or, if you want, you can hike all day on a challenging trail, be picked up in the early evening by a boat that takes you to five-star accommodation with a hot bath and a glass of excellent New Zealand wine waiting. The following morning, after a fine meal and a good sleep, the boat takes you to the next part of the trail.
While one person's "adventure" requires pushing body, mind, and spirit to extremes, for another, a test of courage simply means stepping beyond one's normal comfort zone to try something out of the ordinary. For many, solo travel is something of an adventure in itself. Planning, organizing, and depending on oneself to familiarize unfamiliar circumstances and surroundings is escapade enough. So for those of you who love to see the world on your own but prefer more gentle activities, following are some resources for creating your own going solo adventure in New Zealand.
New Zealand is roughly the size of Britain or California, and about one-third of the country is protected in parks and reserves, so wilderness is never far away, although the wildlife is likely to be more mischievous than ferocious. As Africa refers to its "Big Five" fierce animals, New Zealand refers to its "Small Five" unique creatures: the iconic and flightless kiwi bird; Hector's dolphin, distinguishable from others by its small round dorsal fin; the yellow-eyed penguin found only in New Zealand waters; the tuatara, a sole survivor of an ancient order of reptiles called Rhynchocephalia, and the cheeky kea, the world's only alpine parrot.
Tourism New Zealand, working with the Department of Conservation, wants to promote awareness and conservation of the country's special wildlife. Details of sanctuaries, organized tours, and a 10-day, do-it-yourself, fly-drive tour that visits conservation areas are posted online at NewZealand.com.
A multi-day Scenic Rail Pass allows hop-on, hop-off access to major towns and attractions, a comfortable, economical way for independent sightseeing. The cost of a 7-Day pass with one ferry crossing is NZ$409 (14 days NZ$517).
>> The Overlander: A 12-hour journey between Auckland and Wellington. Highlights include Tongariro National Park and an engineering masterpiece called the Raurimu Spiral.
>> Cook Strait: A three-hour, picturesque ferry ride from Wellington North Island to Picton South Island.
>> TranzCoastal: Picton to Christchurch. The Kaikoura Ranges rise steeply on one side and opposite, the Pacific Ocean sweeps over a rugged coastline. Seals and penguins can often be seen on the rocks. The route passes through 22 tunnels and crosses 175 bridges. With a rail pass, you can stop over at the town of Kaikoura and go for a whale-watching safari.
>> TranzAlpine: This line takes a four and a half hour overland journey from Christchurch on the east coast to Greymouth on the west coast. Highlights include the Staircase viaduct, Arthur's Pass National Park, and the Otira tunnel.
For day tours, flexible passes, and hop-on, hop-off tour services that
stop at tourist spots and hostels, you have no shortage of transportation
choices for traveling independently over the whole of New Zealand. To name
only a few operators:
>> Inter-city Coach Lines covers the entire country.
>> Kiwi Experience and >> Magic Bus are two well-known companies that provide hop-on, hop-off service with twenty or more different options available.
Information: maps, attractions, accommodation. New Zealand.
Money: C$1=NZ$1.41; US$1=NZ$1.42.
Climate: North Island temperature ranges average a few degrees warmer than South Island. Conditions are quite changeable due to maritime influences. Summer (December, January, February) highs average 25C/77F in the northern Bay of Islands and 18C/65F in Invercargill at the southern end of South Island. Winter (June, July, August) averages are 16C/61F in Bay of Islands and 11C/52F in Invercargill.
Social Events: The Company Company. Outdoor activities, dinners, parties and balls in and around Auckland. Membership fee: Yes.
Tipping and Service Charges: Gratuities are not expected but acceptable for outstanding service. Service charges are not automatically added to hotel or restaurant accounts.