Three planes, one day flight, nine different time zones and here I am in front of the big statue of Gimli from «Lord of the Rings». Auckland airport is welcoming me.
“Do you have any food or tourist’s stuff like hiking boots?”
I shake my head. I have got only few t-shirts and a summer jacket in my bag. It is October, but New Zealand is at the door of summer.
“What is the reason of you journey?”
“Silence and meditation in the land of «Lord of the rings». And pictures like in the National Geographic!” I assume the customs officer heard this phrase thousands of times. Everyone here is willing to see the Middle East from the book.
“Oki-doki, but silence it is not about us”.
I was surprised.
I haven’t known yet that this country is a land of extreme sports.
“And we want to skydiving too!”
I was staring at Nils with great surprise. I don’t want to jump. Not even with an instructor. No way.
After two weeks of my new silence life in New Zealand I got an invitation to join my classmates in the trip to the city of hot springs and mud pools Rotorua, that located in 2.5 hour drive from Auckland.
“Hot springs it is not an adrenaline?” said my friend. “You will remember nothing!”
“At least I will be alive”.
According to Nils I had the wrong idea of my trip. New Zealand is a paradise of extreme. If you are not alpinist, a biker, a skier or not interesting in kayaking or hiking with camping you don’t have flight to the other part of the World just because it is beautiful. All this stunning landscapes after couple of weeks will become boring.
Nils is German and he wanted to try everything in this country. He was sure – you have to come to New Zealand to feel enjoy a sense of adventure and to feel the adrenaline pumping through your veins – something to make you feel ‘alive’. And New Zealand is the perfect place for it. Just look through the list of available activities – zorbing, bungy jumping, white water rafting, jetboating, caving and canyoning, sledging, zipping… I bet you have never heard about half of it before! Kiwi can turn an ordinary play into a serious activity with competitions and fun. It seems you can jump, bike, drive, fly, sledge anywhere in the country.
Back then we were arguing all morning. I wanted to see the Wai-O-Tapu – a colourful natural volcanic park with hot and cold springs, steaming ground, expansive vistas, huge volcanic craters and sinter terrace formations. People called it one of the most surreal places in the World. You can make great pictures. Like one in National Geographic.
“There are millions of this kind of pictures!”
After an hour I gave up and agreed to jump. Like Bilbo who was convinced by Gendalf to travel to the Lonely Mountain. But because of rain all jumps was cancelled though it was sunny all morning.
“Well then we will go for bangy jumping”, said Nils.
I have no choice.
We went to Agroventures Adventure Park that offers top five unique activities one can experience in New Zealand – the world’s only Shweeb (a human powered monorail racetrack), Agrojet (the fastest jet boat), Swoop (swinning from 40m towards the earth at 130kmph), wind tunnel and Bungy. We did first four in high gear. The Swoop, by the way, was scary, but cool. By the time for bungy jumping I had I high level of adrenaline and volunteered to jump first off a 43 meters platform. While an instructor was tiding the equipment at my feet, I was smiling and completely forgot about my desire to avoid any dangerous adventures.
“Do not look down. It is important. When I count to one, you have to jump”, said the instructor. “Just do not look down”.
Of course, I looked down. The endless green fields with grazing sheep swam before my eyes. Is this meditation I desired? The instructor had to start and finish the countdown twice. I moved away from the edge of the platform, sat on a bench for a while and then went back, and did this circle one more time. I looked down, then on the horizon, I cursed damn Nils and promised to myself that I would never do bungy again. How you can enjoy hanging on the rope upside down when the blood rushes to your head?
I stuck on a platform for 15 minutes, my inner stopwatch told me. In fact I stayed there for 5. Then I jumped. While I was flying upside down I did not think about anything. I did not care where I am and what a beauty surrounds me, even if it was from the pages of the National Geographic.
“What do you think?” Nils asked me on the way back to Auckland.
“I had no intense to do anything like that in New Zealand!”
“That’s because you have met me. It’s only the beginning”.
His words turned out to be all too true.
Bay of Islands
We are five – Nils, Martin, Elizabeth, Joana and I, – and one by one we are going to the top of Te Paki sand dunes on the North of New Zealand, grilling under the sun, to try the funny activity called sandboarding.
The send is everywhere. On the right, on the left, under feet, in ears, hairs and by the collar. It is probably inside of me after I had slid down the dunes. I bumped into Joanna and tumbled all my way down the hill. Martin was not so lucky. He decided to stand on the sandboard, but immediately felt down and stuck in the sand.
“We have to do it again!” said Nils. “I haven’t took a picture!”
Imagining that with all the bruises I have nothing to put in a Facebook, I docilely trudged up. All this time I could sunbathe on the 90-mile beach!
Few hours later we had fun together pushing our bus that got stuck in the sand. In spite of sign “drive at your own risk” at the entrance, our driver decided to try his luck. And also we.
“Do you know what we have to do next?” said Nils, shaking off the sand from his shirt. “We must do skydiving together!”
I spat the sand stuck between my teeth. That moment I hate my friend.
“We are going to do the coolest whitewater rafting in the world!” Nils said with overjoy.
Two months later we came for the second time to Rotorua. In 30 minute drive from the city was a seven-meter waterfall – the largest in the country from which you allowed to swim. And we were going there without any doubt.
Rafting in New Zealand is also very popular activity. There are rivers and lakes everywhere. Rivers are from the first to the fifth level of difficulty, tours can last from several hours to several days. On inflatable boats armed with oars brave ones overcome turbulent rapids and admire the subtropical and evergreen forests. This is called white water rafting. And fans of the underground rivers can try black water rafting in Waitomo caves, which are famous by its colonies of glowworms.
We wore wetsuits and lifejackets. I was promised that in the tropical jungle, which have been in on our way, I finally would have a chance to meditate in silence. Everything was going great. We were doing well on the boat and did have time to look around. But when we rapidly entered the waterfall and tons of water fell on me before I heard the signal to regroup, it became clear – something went wrong. Our boat had turned over, Joana and Nils fell overboard and Martin and I were helplessly lying on the bottom of the boat.
In general, the number of accidents at these attractions is minimal. Parachutes are disclosed, the rope are not breaking off and if someone drops out, they pulled out by the professional rescuers. No quickies from the instructors and tour companies.
Remember the moment from the second «The Hobbit», where the dwarves and Bilbo floated on the river in barrels? After the rafting I felt the same way. Nils was shining.
“It’s a real adventure!” Nils smiled.
The next day I found out two centimeters purple bruise six or seven in diameter on my leg. But it was the smallest of my problem.
We went skydiving.
The runway is located near the lake Taupo. We do not need to imagine what kind of view open at 4.5 kilometers – after a few minutes we will see with our own eyes.
“Remember, you do nothing. Enjoy the view, be good “bananas”, while a small pink airplane got attitude our instructors were fastened behind and checked all bells. Why bananas, no one could explain.
Flying at an altitude of 15 000 feet (about 4.5 km away and a minute of free fall) above the colourful fields, lakes, volcanoes and mountains will impress even the most cold-hearted person. I think New Zealand is a perfect place to do skydiving.
“Do you have a message for family and friends?”
“I’ve changed. Blame Nils for it”.
It was true. Two months after my arrival, I review an opinion about my perfect holiday in New Zealand. Now I desired to do crazy things. A lot.
The door of the aircraft was opened. The first instructor jumped out of plane with funny face, then two more tandems joined him. I was next. We were sitting on the edge of exit door when I looked down and realised it was it! The tip of the volcano could be seen among the clouds, the blue lake was glistering on the sun and hills were placing in the neat rows. It was it – the cover of National Geographic. If I only knew lots of synonyms for the word “beautiful” i could have described what i have seen! Magic. Flying in the sky on 15,000 feet with open door wasn’t scary at all. Here i found my meditation i was looking for so hard.
I was screaming all the way. Not because of fear of height but because the pleasure that came after i had understood myself as part of something huge, because of the victory of will over reason, the freedom of the body … From the fact that here in the sky i did finally realised what Nils meant when the was trying to convinced me to do this crazy stuff two months ago. Real New Zealand and extreme are inseparable.
Unfortunately, after the trip to Rotorua our brotherhood disintegrated. Nils went for a three-week bus tour to meet his adventures. Joanna with her husband rented a car and went on a long family trip through the country. Martin and I traveled by car from one island to another, trying to see all New Zealand’s beauty in nine days.
And then I was the first to propose the extremest activities – climbing on the Adrenalin forest somewhere near Wellington, surfing on one of the many beaches of Surfing highway, climbing over the fence in the closed park where “The Hobbit” was filmed and kayaking in the six-hour voyage around Milford sound.
But I would never do bangy jumping again.