My Adrenaline Day in Queenstown, New Zealand
By Michelle Garcia
I couldn't tell if my face was covered in snot, tears from the wind, or water from the Shotover River. I sat covered in a long, black coat -- basically a tarp -- and the puffiest life vest known to man, on a type of speedboat that could only be invented in Queenstown, New Zealand.
But this is the land of adventure and, well, liability waivers. You want to bungee jump into an ice-cold river? Climb through a cave? Hike through untended wilderness? Drive one of the scariest roads in the world? Skydive from three miles high? Swim in a deceptively freezing lake? Scale to the top of a glacier? Zorb down a hill like a gigantic hamster? Hang-glide over sheep farms? Jump out of a helicopter and snowboard down a mountain, 007-style? New Zealand is your place. Hell, I'm surprised Bear Grylls isn't on New Zealand's currency.
I had traveled to New Zealand with a group of journalists to cover the first day of legal marriage equality over there. Unbeknownst to us, a whole day of intense adventure had been planned. We started with a jeep tour. Well, I started with a tablet of Dramamine, and then proceeded to climb into the vehicle. About 82 seconds after leaving our hotel in Queenstown proper, we were on a private backroad, trekking in a Land Rover at what felt like a 90-degree incline, and flying over every bump, hump, and divot in the road; a road defined mostly by animal hooves and other jeep tracks. We reached the top of a gigantic hill, the site of a sheep farm, where one could grab some fresh air and a glimpse of Queenstown, the incredible Lake Wakatipu, and The Remarkables mountain range -- you'd recognize them if you're a Lord Of The Rings/Hobbit devotee.
From there we wound our way down a very narrow road -- I swear we died at least twice on the way down -- and into Arrowtown, an old timey gold mining town that has retained (and updated) its 1800s western charm. The town grew around the Arrow River, where a sheep sheerer found gold in 1861. So naturally, part of the tour involves fording a river like we're playing the amazing PC game, Oregon Trail. Yes, we drove through a river, just as these sport utility vehicles are built to do. After panning for gold and stopping for a tea break, we headed for a quick jaunt down Skipper's Canyon Road, which has been named one of the world's most dangerous. It was built to give miners access to the river, but now tourists creep up and down the road, scared out of their mind, even when their car rental companies tell them not to do so.