Waitomo, New Zealand
I have a theory that brain cells are sucked from our heads when we cross the equator. There's simply no other explanation for the bravado that overtakes folks in New Zealand, where engaging in extreme adventure sports seems to come as second nature. The absence of American-style litigiousness helps, too.
Struck by subequatorial brain-suck, I couldn't pass up a New Zealand adventure called blackwater rafting. The sport combines caving and floating underground rivers with a one-person raft similar to an American inner tube. Based in the North Island karst region of Waitomo, the Black Water Rafting company is the largest cave-tubing outfitter in the
country. They began our adventure by equipping us with wetsuits, overpants, boots, helmets, headlamps, rappelling devices, and harnesses. A short minivan ride to the Ruakuri Cave sinkhole, ten minutes of rappelling practice, and soon I was clipped in and lowering myself into a too-black-to-see-the-bottom 110-foot sinkhole.
For three hours we were treated to a magical tour that included chasm-spanning rope-sliding for dear life, jumping off waterfalls into inky-black pools, wriggling through damp squeezes, and rock climbing up side passages. The trip's no-light highlight was tubing an underground river past a Milky Way of glowworms. The inchlong predators fluoresce to lure
insects into their slimy webs. The hungrier the worm, the brighter its shine.
After a rock climb through the face of a waterfall, we popped up aboveground into the summer sun and soon were reveling in hot showers and complimentary soup and bagels. The five-hour experience is $65 per person, including a light lunch. For more information call 011-64-7-878-6219; www.black-water-rafting.co.nz; e-mail: [email protected]. —Steve Shimek
Seven Spirit Bay Wilderness Lodge, Australia
If swimming with the dolphins feels a little tame, how 'bout a quick toe-to-toe with the sharks, crocs, and killer jellyfish that cruise the waters of Seven Spirit Bay? People obviously don't come to this Northern Territory resort to loll around in waterchairs, but to cast a line for the mighty barramundi. A saltwater perch with a taste as delicious as
its reputation is fierce, the barramundi draws light-tackle anglers from around the world to this posh little hideaway on the remote Cobourg Peninsula.
The only way into the place is via a small plane that lands on a bush airstrip where water-buffalo chips on the runway are a genuine hazard. After a jolting four-wheel-drive ride through thin, dry forests, you'll come upon a cluster of 24 hexagonal bungalow-style "habitat rooms" that fan out from bluffs overlooking the Arafura Sea. The two-person
bungalows have floor-to-ceiling louvered walls, mahogany floors, queen-size beds, and private showers set in a garden and open to the stars. A freshwater, rock-lined swimming pool with an ocean view sits by the main lodge.
But you came to troll. Aside from the barramundi, anglers yank up giant trevally, queenfish, coral trout, mangrove jack, barracuda, Spanish mackerel, and jewfish in astonishing numbers. Your boat most likely will be the only one for miles around. Other activities include naturalist-led bush walks and daylong boating excursions to the historic Victoria
Double accommodations are $194–$230 per person per night, including all meals, fishing, and bush walks; call 011-61-8-8979-0277. —Alex Salkever
Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand
As you approach these uninhabited isles 12 nautical miles northeast of North Island's Whangarei port, it's hard to imagine the gaudy riches that lurk in the waters lapping against their rocky shores. Inspired by the bright-red pohutukawa trees blossoming along the shore, Captain James Cook reputedly named these barren islands ringed with nearly vertical
100-plus-foot cliffs for poor knight, a colorful eighteenth-century sailor's dish made of battered toast topped with red jam.
Poor Knights's desolate landscape, the product of a 4-million-year-old volcano, belies the variegated spectacle underwater, where the subtropical Auckland Current boosts temperatures into the 70s. In this dedicated marine reserve, tasty bits of plankton draw morays, kingfish, pigfish, and other psychedelic marine species that dwell among a spectacular
array of soaring arches, caves, and subsurface passageways. Topping the list of piscine playgrounds is Northern Arch, where visibility can extend nearly 200 feet clear to the bottom, and stingrays, turtles, trevally, boarfish, and big pelagics stack up like 747s over JFK. In claustrophobic Blue Mao Mao Arch, flashing electric-blue mao mao schools may cloud
your view of your dive buddy a few feet away as they transform the entire site into a glittering fun house. Other highly explorable sites for divers of all abilities include Middle Arch and Tie Dye Arch.
Dive with Aqua Action, a sophisticated outfit that runs two boats from Tutukaka Harbor (two-tank day trip, $75 per person; 011-64-9-434-3867; www.aquaaction.com; e-mail: [email protected]). Check in to the Pacific Rendezvous (doubles, $47–$90; 011-64-9-434-3847; www.ocean resort.co.nz/), a complex of low-slung condos and summer chalets with million-dollar ocean views perched on a peninsula at the mouth of Tutukaka Harbor. —A. S.