When I told my mom I was planning a story on adventure tourism through New Zealand, I reassured her that bungy jumping was out of the question. Why would I want to leap off a platform tied by my feet like a fish on a hook? But in Queenstown, rightly known as the adventure capital of the world, bungy jumping has a cult-like following. On the streets, backpackers sport black and yellow shirts that tell anyone with eyes that they’ve just completed the storied Nevis bungy, a 134 metre dive off a cable car suspended over the Nevis Canyon. When travellers bump into each other on the street, the first thing they ask is “have you done a bungy jump yet?” as if your trip to Queenstown would have been for naught unless you take the plunge. Peer pressure aside, I was still skeptical.
Just like hundreds of thousands of other people’s I’ve watched the viral Youtube video of 22-year-old Australian woman hitting the shark-infested water of Victoria Falls in Zambia after her bungy cord snapped in late 2011.
But posted on the wall of the sprawling AJ Hackett bungy headquarters are the safety commandments that put most fears to rest. This is New Zealand, which has some of the highest safety standards in the world, not Zambia. The bungy ropes are tested every morning and jumpmasters are required to complete 2000 hours of training before being given the job.
So I decided to give in to the bungy cult and, in keeping with the adrenaline junky manta, “go big or go home motto”, I chose the Nevis, the third highest bungy jump in the world.
Myself and five others, all in their late teens and early 20s, are harnessed up and transported to the cable car via a suspended trolley with a see-through grated metal floor, just to remind you how far up we are. Rock music blared inside the cable car as four fast-moving jumpmasters tied straps around our legs. The efficient well-oiled machine operation they have going in there means it’s only minutes until I’m leaning back in a barber-like chair as the bungy chord is strapped to my legs. I shuffle to the edge of the steel platform, grabbing onto the wrist of the jumpmaster as he counted down from five. I dove off the platform before his count hit one, knowing that the longer I looked down at the shallow water trickling over sharp rocks, the harder it would be to take the plunge. The eight second freefall felt like an eternity as I waited for the chord to snap me back up to safety. I unlatch the ankle strap and am held by the harness at my waist. I have time to scan the desert-coloured slopes and I’m reeled back into the cable car, giggling uncontrollably, my legs like jelly. I’m feeling like there’s nothing I can’t do.
AJ Hackett dominates the bungy market but a rival competitor in town is the Shotover Canyon Swing, which puts a fun and wacky twist on throwing yourself off a 109-metre high ledge. You can swing across the Shotover canyon in one of 70 ways; backwards, strapped to the chair of death, a kids tricycle, even with a bin over your head.
One American 27-year-old put it this way: “A bungy is scary but the Canyon Swing is fun. They really mess with your head.”
Many backpackers opt for the ultimate combination, the Nevis bungy and the canyon swing. AJ Hackett also runs bungy jumps off of the Kawarau bridge, where the company first introduced commercial bungy jumping in 1988, as well as the ledge bungy overlooking Queenstown. There, jumpers are attached by a harness at their waist, meaning they can jump in the craziest way possible, from handstand flip to a flying Superman jump down into the trees.
After my bungy, I received a tweet from the fine people at AJ Hackett Bungy challenging me to do the world’s highest bungy off the Macau tower just outside of Hong Kong; a harrowing 233 metre plunge to the city below. Guess it’s one more thing for the bucket list. Sorry, mom.