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.
With the end of the Nomad Safari tour, we found out it was time for a relaxing helicopter ride. I figured we would get a pleasant aerial tour of Queenstown. Little did I know we would be landing on top of the chilly Dart Glacier. Seriously, we landed on top of a glacier. It was so real that when someone in our crew started running around jokingly, the pilot told him to stop because they might fall off. Eventually, we were just standing around taking selfies on top of a mass of tundra. Breathtaking, but cold, so back into the helicopter we went.
I popped one more motion sickness tablet, and hopped on the shuttle to the Shotover Jet, where I was, like I said, covered in mystery liquid, getting slapped with wind as we coursed down this river at 50 miles per hour in a speedboat specially designed for the craggy, shallow Shotover River. By the way, it feels more like 80 miles per hour, but maybe I was just feeling the magic of the metric system. I don't know if this comes standard with all of these rides, but our jet boat operator, Andy, really enjoys getting as dangerously close to cliff walls as possible and whipping away at the right moment, just to make sure that no one gets decapitated. Nonetheless, I was O.K. with this, and I would be even more O.K. if I could catch my breath between my heightened adrenaline, and the swift, cold wind.
Once Andy finally took a pause to make sure no one had gone overboard or lost an arm, I realized my body was completely tense and shaking. Was it from the cold? The adrenaline? Perhaps both? No, definitely both. But it wasn't fear. With every flip, turn, pivot, and close call, I shrieked with glee -- and I'm not a "whoo-hoo-er" at Zumba class. I don't clap along at concerts. But the Shotover Jet? Wild screams of teary glory abound.
So if you want to go to a playground not intended for the faint of heart, Queenstown, New Zealand is the place to go. Or, you can just walk around in a ski hat and drink the delicious wine, but that's what day two is for.
For more information on New Zealand, click here.