Bungee jumping Near New York
WHEN a 50-year-old waitress in Queenstown told us that she went rock climbing every day, my brother, Seth, and I became inspired to find something uniquely exhilarating to do on our vacation there last December.
We tried bungee jumping, but that was hardly the wilderness adventure we were looking for; after our jumps, we watched a young German woman during her free fall as her shirt rippled up around her neck, revealing more than a pink tummy, while bus tour groups stood on the side of the bridge gasping and laughing.
Consulting the wall of the Queenstown visitors center, which featured brochures describing an array of outdoor sports, we came upon a lone leaflet advertising ''Let's Go Canyoning!'' It declared: ''We will descend into the canyon, plunge into pools, cascade down chutes, and swim narrow passageways.'' Since we had never heard of canyoning, we assumed that those on the bus tours hadn't either, and we booked ourselves on the next morning's trip.
As the sun turned Lake Wakatipu pink early the next day, a white van rolled up to our hotel, driven by a plump man with a 5 o'clock shadow and then some. Accompanying him was a muscular fellow with sunglasses on top of his head, holding his shoulder-length black hair off his angular face. Seth and I were duly introduced to the long-haired Cliff by the unshaven Craig, who sat behind the wheel.
''This is Cliff. He's part Maori.''
''And this is Craig. He's a real pie eater.''
''I am battling anorexia and winning, '' retorted Craig.
We curved around 15 minutes' worth of mountain roads until Craig pulled the van down a dusty hill and into a clearing. By now the sun was high, and the lake looked like a techno-colored Ansel Adams photograph, but three days into our visit to Queenstown, we were used to it.
Craig and Cliff gave us wet suits, booties, life jackets, harnesses and helmets out of the back of the van, and we geared up on the tarp that served as the changing room.
''Each of you has a helmet now with a name on it. Jessica, yours says 'Vinnie, ' Seth, 'Moza.' The names on your helmets will be your names while we're out today, '' Cliff shouted like a drill sergeant. As I looked at my urbane brother - dressed in a skin-tight wet suit, a black harness and matching booties - I could contain my laughter only by reminding myself that I was wearing the same thing, except that my harness was cherry red.
We were heading for the Few Creek section of the Twelve Mile Delta, about 12 miles north of the city. During a 10-minute hike in head-to-toe neoprene, Cliff explained that canyoning - the sport of descending into canyons and climbing, swimming, abseiling (what Kiwis call rappelling), and jumping your way through them - gained popularity first in Switzerland sometime around the early 1990's, and is becoming increasingly popular in New Zealand and Australia as well as in the United States, where it is called canyoneering.
I volunteered to go first down the 30-foot vertical rock that would be our entrance into the canyon.
Cliff hooked a rope to the metal clasp in the middle of my harness - the other end was tied to a tree - and stayed above to get Moza ready.
I took my first step down, leaned back, held the rope, and let myself fall into my harness. As I did, my toes touched the rock, and I inched my way downward in a sitting position.
''Just relax and sit like you're in a chair!'' Craig screamed encouragingly at me from below. He had already shuffled with effortless speed down the vertical decline and was now standing on a flat rock, looking up. He held the excess feet of the rope I was attached to, using it to help control the speed at which I was making my descent.
''No worries!'' Cliff bellowed from above.
Needless to say, any tourist groups observing would have been amused at my clumsiness, but they were nowhere near.
In the hour and a half in the canyon, Craig and Cliff set up ropes and hooks and kept us leaping and climbing, as we descended boulders, waded through churning rapids, and jumped over waterfalls.
After one particularly enjoyable eight-foot downward jump into the river, Craig looked at us and said, ''Let's do that one again.'' We were like toddlers in the kiddie pool, but this was real and true New Zealand adventure, made metro-tourist-friendly by Cliff and Craig.
Later, at dinner, the rock climbing waitress asked what we had done that day. We told her we had gone canyoning.
She said she had always wanted to try it.Photos: Canyoning at Routeburn Canyon, part of the Twelve Mile Delta. (Photographs by Queenstown Canyoning)