Stepping onto the ledge, looking down beyond my naked body, a yellow raft eagerly awaited my descent. 43 meters below, the Kawarau River glared back at me, seemingly taunting my nerves. I wore only a pair of socks and my New Balance trainers; the towel had been removed from my waist, baring all, and a lengthy bungee cord had been attached to my ankles.
No turning back now.
I did not experience the fear and distress I had been anticipating for over a year. I was enthused! This was to be my first bungee jump and the lovely staff at AJ Hackett had somehow talked me into jumping nude. “Better get your soldier angry!” Regan exclaimed. “No, maybe just a bit annoyed!” It was far too cold on this winter morning to attempt to show off.
“Look over there!” the other man on the ledge shouted as the camera man clicked the shutter. Shoot. I forgot this was being recorded.
The three second countdown passed far too quickly and, as the word “jump” departed his lips, I spread my arms and fell forward in a beautifully orchestrated swan dive. As the surface of the water plummeted towards my face I found myself reaching! I wasn’t scared. I wanted more! I was thrilled, disoriented and in complete and utter shock. I did it, and I loved it!
As I swung from the rope I screamed in exhilaration, intoxicated by the adrenaline. The man in the raft, who had now maneuvered his way underneath me, looked at me and said “mate, you better cover that thing up!”
I was lowered into the vessel, brought back to shore, and brazenly begun my ‘walk of shame' to the front desk where Kate was holding my clothes hostage. Men, women and children stared at me in horror as I ran past, covered by nothing but my own two hands. This was supposed to be a family show! Too late for that.
I retrieved my clothes, dressed, and sighed with relief. As I stepped into the foyer I was greeted with a DVD of my jump and a number of very unflattering photos. I tucked them away and joined the rest of the group outside as a spectator.
I had not known what to expect on my first bungee jump, but the staff at AJ Hackett, namely Myriam and Regan, the leaders of our group, had instilled excitement and a sense of calm into most. Others still wavered, fearing the jump, imagining what would surely become their demise. Everybody at AJ Hackett was obviously well-versed in relaxation techniques as a number of people in our group needed some cautious reassurance. It was well received and everybody completed their jump.
The Nevis Bungee
134 meters above the Nevis River, a small “room” is held in suspension by a set of cables attached to the cliff’s edge on either side of the river. The Nevis Bungee, at 134 meters (440 feet), seemed far higher than I had originally imagined, but I was filled with vivacity. Of course, as I approached the ledge, I second, third and fourth-guessed myself. This is the second highest commercial bungee jump in the world! Being the risk-taker that I am (some just call me stupid!), and after a few deep breaths, I jumped with minimal hesitation. It occurred to me that the longer I were to stand there, the more I would frighten myself.
Who cares anyway? This is what living is all about!
The eight second freefall felt like an eternity at the time yet, upon its completion, felt like it was over in less than that.
The Nevis isn't so much about fun as it is conquering one's fears and overcoming self-doubt. Don't get me wrong–it's definitely fun. But the other jumps are a bit more lively and feel a bit less serious. One member of our group, though able to jump the Kawarau Bridge that morning, could not force herself to take the plunge. It's all personal preference, though, and if you can't do it, you can't do it. Nobody's making you. For me, though, the Nevis was an exhilarating experience; it was a once in a lifetime materialization of panic, anxiety, veneration and reprieve.
The Nevis Swing
After lunch we walked our way across the bridge to AJ Hackett’s latest creation–the Nevis Swing (a.k.a. Nevis Arc). This here is the highest swing in the world, sitting level with the mountain-tops at 300 meters above the river. As some hip-hop mash-ups played in the background, one very excited man and one hysterical woman clipped themselves in.
The interesting bit about the swing, which makes it far more attractive to those less willing, is the release mechanism. Rather than jumping by one's own volition, a staff member (or devious friend) can press the button, dropping you 70 meters before transitioning into the swing portion of the fall.
The man on the ledge reached out to the woman and cried “oh wait, I forgot to clip your harness!” At this very second, he also pressed the big green button, instantly dropping the couple out of my sight. I tried to locate their position within the massive valley but I was unable to find them. It's just that big.
Next to “drop” was myself and Roy, a friend in need of some convincing to harness ourselves upside-down and backwards. A few one-liners and a couple jabs at his masculinity unhurriedly reshaped his stance and we suited-up, locked in to the mechanism and let our hands go.
Sitting down hardly seems natural for 160 meters in the air. Roy struggled with a wedgie as we positioned ourselves upside down. Even with a three-second countdown, it's impossible to know the exact moment when that button will get pressed, hurling you into a 300 meter arc. The anticipation after the word “one” is massive. And then…
Blood rushed to my head as I was hit with numerous G-forces, hitting speeds of up to 150km/h. The ground came closer and I swear we just barely brushed it. As we hit the apex of the swing we relaxed, waited for the calm and flipped ourselves upright. Number three: check. And knackered.
With one jump left, though, the day isn't quite over. The Skyline Gondola, on the way to the top of Queenstown Hill, is furnished with incredible views of Queenstown from 400 meters above it.
One jump to go.
The Ledge Bungee
This bungee jump, at a comfortable 47 meter drop, gives the more experienced an option to jump freestyle. Fall from a handstand, ride a bike off the edge or do any sort of flip you might be able to muster. I chose the latter and went for the gainer!
As the man unclipped my harness from the safety line he looked at me and reassuringly asserted, “commit, then jump.” And that's exactly what I did.
What this man failed to realize, though, is that in just three words, he had just encapsulated the entire day. The whole experience was about commitment. Commitment to oneself, to overcoming fears, to letting go of everything we once knew and creating a new perception of ourselves.
These are the moments that change you.