Editor's note: SmarterTravel.com Editor Molly Feltner is currently traveling around New Zealand and reporting back to us about her experiences in the "Adventure Travel Capital of the World."
New Zealanders'—or "kiwis" as they like to call themselves—believe their country is the "Adventure Travel Capital of the World." As a lover of adventure travel, I've journeyed more than 8,000 miles from Boston to determine whether this is true or not.
My first stop is the very epicenter of adventure travel, Queenstown, a town of about 14,000 people right in the middle of "Lord of Rings" country on New Zealand's South Island. Glaciers carved a myriad of canyons and valleys through the region's mountains and then melted, leaving behind Caribbean-blue lakes and rivers that still gush with the remnant ice's runoff. The conditions are perfect for hiking, rafting, kayaking, mountain biking, and many other traditional adventure activities.
But Queenstown is known for taking things far beyond the traditional. After all, this is where kiwi extreme sports addict AJ Hackett opened the world's first commercial bungee jumping operation in 1988. His company's great success (it now runs jumps from three different spots in Queenstown and even has a "Secrets of Bungy" history tour for those who'd rather not take the plunge), spurred others to jump on the adventure sports bandwagon, and now the town seems to offer any kind of adventure you could imagine.
Just looking at all the brochures in the airport is overwhelming. Maybe you've heard of heli-sking or heli-hiking, where a helicopter takes you up into the backcountry so you can ski or hike from a remote location. Well here they have those plus heli-mountain biking, heli-white water kayaking, and even heli-fishing, for the extreme trout fisherman. There's also canyoning, river boarding, jet boating, hang gliding horse trekking, rock climbing…the list goes on and on.
I had just arrived in New Zealand after two days of flying but it was only noon so I decided to skip napping and try out one of Queenstown's more unique adventures. After asking for recommendations I came across something I'd never seen anywhere before: Fly by Wire. Basically, the experience entails flying a sort of miniature personal jet that's attached to a wire around a canyon. The jet's wire is fixed in the center of a cable that spans the width of the canyon, allowing you to fly in figure eights, swooping up and down the canyon walls, without smashing into them. That sounded unusual and fun. And maybe it would cure my jet lag.
I was a little scared about my ability to fly the thing at first (I'd just come off my first experience driving on the left side of the road), but the instructors where very encouraging and offered clear instructions. Upon launching I was surprised by how smooth the ride was and how fun it was to be flying on my own. The ride was only a few minutes, but the rush lasted hours.
I can hardly wait to see what tomorrow will bring…