Rotorua. The name sounds like a machine designed to trim the weeds of boredom. It means “Second Lake” in Maori, a quiet town surrounded by stunning geothermal geysers, forests and crystal lakes. Kiwis are widely known to love jumping, sliding, biking, swinging, rolling, falling, just about everything-ing, and visitors to Rotorua are invited to join them on the ride. Located just a few hours from Auckland on the North Island, Rotorua is small with a big heart, with a reputation as an adventure capital to rival Queenstown in the south. I decided to cram in as much as I could to give you a taste of what to expect.
Let’s build a giant, hollow plastic ball, jump inside it and roll down a hill! Invented in Rotorua, Zorbing was my chance to finally hop inside the tumble dryer (every kid has thought about it – better check on yours now.) Strapped into a safety harness, the Zorb was pushed down a 200m hill as I bounced head over heels, until naturally coming to a stop at the bottom. Green? A few more seconds and I would have decorated the plastic bubble with my lunch. That’s why most Zorbonauts opt for the Hydro Zorb, no harness, and a bucket of warm water in the middle. I managed to stand for about a second before the Zorb tossed me around on its zig-zag course, like that one sock you always lose at the laundry.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer.” So says Moadib in Frank Herbert’s Dune, a mantra I’ve adopted since reading the book as a fearful teenager. I was a little perturbed that Nzone had adopted these wise words into their marketing strategy, but then they know all about conquering fear. Every day of the year, save Xmas, they help people of all ages leap out a plane. Strapped into my gear (and hopefully the tandem instructor), the prop plane with teeth slowly climbed to 12,000ft before the door was opened and I was shown the exit. Calling skydiving a thrill is like calling a Ferrari a boxcar. Nothing beats it. Plummeting at 200km/h for 45 seconds is the fastest way to remind yourself of what living means, as opposed to say, existing.
If I’m going to jump out of planes, I better get some practice in. Bodyflying involves a modified DC-3 prop, rubber padding and catch net to prevent budding flyboys from taking off over the 12 metre-wide platform. This is the only contraption of its kind in the southern hemisphere. I felt like a big magnet repulsed by its opposing pole, pushed and blown like a plastic bag in the wind. The considerable rush from below had me floating in mid-air, although it’s quite a feat to remain front and center for more than a few seconds. The loose fitting overall inflated with air to create the impression, however short, that I really was a superhero, coming to save the day.
I climbed into the canvas cocoon, a hanggliding harness zipped and secured to a crane that was raised until I dangled 40 metres above the ground. It doesn’t sound like much, but believe me, it’s high enough to get the bladder throbbing. Then it’s up to me to pull the ripcord, releasing us into a brief freefall before swinging forward at 130km/hr, as fast as Superman rushing home because he forgot to turn off the stove. The Swoop can take one to three people, so one of the crew joined me for the ride. “Don’t be afraid if I scream like a girl,” I told him, pulling the ripcord. And I did.
Jet boating was invented by a New Zealander in the 1950’s who wanted to zoom around his farm on shallow river water. Today, it has evolved into a sport with aquatic rocketships, powered by 450 horse-power engines with the acceleration of F-16 fighter planes. I strapped into the Agrojet, the fastest commercial jet boat in New Zealand, able to hit 100km/hr in 4.5 seconds. The 1km purpose-built track did not seem large enough for a normal boat, and it isn’t. For an Agrojet, spinning 360 degrees on the head of a needle, it’s just fine.
Putting me in control of a Suzuki 4×4 is dangerous. Allowing me to run wild on a terrain course, and then hurl the jeep off an 80-degree vertical drop, well, that’s just the Kiwi way. Fortunately, Off Road NZ provides fresh underwear back at HQ. Then it was time to Sprint Car, driving the full-sized racing machine like I stole it, which I kind of did for a couple of laps). I hopped aboard a Monster 4×4 with front and rear steering for a wheel-bound rollercoaster, including a descent into a modified mine shaft.
There’s a reason we pulled the raft aside on the Wairoa River to pay respects to the Maori spirits. We were about to descend over a Grade 5, 7-metre waterfall, the world’s highest commercially rafted single vertical drop. This meant a better-than-good chance of being tipped under the fast-flowing Tutea Falls. We paid our respects, attached a silver fern to our lifejackets, and tucked in for trouble. For a few moments, the entire raft of eight had fully submerged, before popping up and barely (barely!) remaining topside. The next group was not as fortunate, resulting in an exciting rescue operation. Between the 17 rapids, forests and canyons, it was worth getting soaked to the bone.
Another world first designed and built in Rotorua, the luge is a small three-wheeled cart with a low centre of gravity and simple steering and braking system. Push back the handles to brake, otherwise, ride these babies down three mountain courses as fast as your nerves can handle. A modified ski lift returns you and your luge to the start of your course. The 2km scenic route looks over the town and lake, but things start getting interesting with the Intermediate and Advanced tracks. This means fun for all ages addicted to all speeds, and can be followed with fine dining at a top-notch restaurant, plus a lovely Gondola ride down to the bottom of the mountain.