Escapes

Q:

What's the best way to tackle New Zealand?

My wife and I are visiting New Zealand next winter and would like to hike, bike, kayak, and/or bungee jump. Any recommendations on how to get that done?
—Marshall
Vancouver, BC

The Milford Track     Photo: New Zealand Tourism

The Milford Track, New Zealand

The Milford Track

A:As you may already know, if you can fly to it, jump over it, or ride across it, the Kiwis have done it. Queenstown in particular is a mecca for adventure lovers because of the easy accessibility to Lake Wanaka, Fiorland National Park, and the eastern side of the Southern Alps. But we wouldn't want to limit you to just one locale. Instead, here's some ideas, from moderate to wild, to get you started...

The Milford Track, a 33.6-mile-long trail, crosses the heart of Fiorland National Park in southern New Zealand. It's one of the best hikes in the world, and as such the park limits the number of hikers to 40 per day from October through April, and all are required to travel north on a rigid four-day itinerary. And forget about camping; in an effort to preserve the ecosystem, you crash in furnished huts along the route.

After boating across Lake Te Anau to Glade Wharf, hikers cross Clinton River via a swinging bridge to Neale Burn Hut, just an hour into the hike. A dining room, 40 bunks, and a spacious veranda are some of the perks, but hikers must still carry all the necessities (minus a tent), including enough food for four days on the trail, as well as gear to cook with. Highlights of the trail include the alpine sections of the trail via a series of switchbacks up to Mackinnon Pass (3,786 feet) to a panorama of Clinton and Arthur valleys, Mt. Hart (5,846 feet), and Mt. Balloon (6,079 feet). After descending the pass, Roaring Burn Stream, waterfalls, rapids and a long series of wooden and metal stairways give trampers—as hikers are called Down Under—a reason to slow down and take in the views. On day three, leave your pack at Quintin Hut and take the spur trail to Sutherland Falls. At 1,904 feet, the falls are New Zealand's largest. The final leg crosses Arthur River with access to Mackay Falls and Bell Rock, a series of cascading falls and rock hollowed out by the water underneath, and then continues along Lake Ada to Sandfly Point at Milford Sound. From there, hikers are picked up by boat and ferried across the sound back to Milford Road. Just make sure to book your trip with the Department of Conservation well in advance.

New Zealand is also the home of bungee jumping—in 1988 the introduction of the hobby brought adventure-seekers to 141-foot-high Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown, which helped the city gain a rep as the adventure-tourism capitol of the world. AJ Hackett , bungee extraordinaire, created a booming bungee business by developing bungee cords and putting them to the test. And first-time bungee-goers will be happy to know that Hackett was the first company in the world to be awarded the "S" Mark for exceptional safety and quality assurance in bungee jumping by the Standards Association of New Zealand. Fortunately for your ankles, Queenstown offers more than just a vertical jump. Experience the world's highest swing at Nevis Arc in Nevis Canyon, and swing 984 feet in an arc starting 439 feet above the ground. At the renowned Kawarau Bridge, jumping is still going strong, with tens of thousands jumping each year. Choose between bobbing above the water, touching the surface, or being fully immersed when reaching the end of the cord. Or try a jump at The Ledge, which overlooks Queenstown. The Ledge's runway allows willing participants to launch themselves 1,312 feet over a buzzing Queenstown, day or night. And if that's not adventurous enough, you can always take to the skies with Hackett and jump from a helicopter at 1,000 feet.

But if we're talking helicopters, then why not try heli-mountain biking. Fat Tyre flies riders and their bikes over the remote Nevis Valley to ride singletrack beyond the Remarkables Range. Beginning at 5,577 feet on sub-alpine terrain, the trails are fast and technical. Finish at the historic gold mining town of Bannockburn, now well-known for local vineyards and wineries. For a steeper, faster option, fly up to Pisa Conservation Area, high country that's best known for distinctive rock formations. Beginning at 5, 249 feet, bikers descend un-groomed singletrack to wide fields before reaching the valley floor. If you're a true fat tire junkie, try a dualie—a 5,577-foot descent times two. Fly across the Kawarau River before beginning a fast and furious 18.5-mile ride down to Bannockburn. Then 4x4 up to Leaning Rock, an area of rock shafts and other geological wonders. Another challenging singletrack ride awaits before you ride to the valley floor via sheep roads and open vistas.
-Amy A. Clark

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