He then turned around, bent at the knees and launched himself into the void. The following 8.4 seconds of freefall were quite possibly the most intense rush he had ever experienced and, as he fell to meet the rapidly rising canyon floor, the air was turned more than a little blue. The tension in the bungy eventually slowed his decent (although his eyeballs felt like they were going to pop out), and flung him back into the air. A couple more springs and he tugged on the release harness to allow him to be pulled back to the platform the correct way up. As he stumbled back into the cable car, eyes bloodshot and speech slurred like some holiday drunk, he was greeted with huge hugs from a deeply relieved Vickie, and sturdy handshakes and "Good on ya's" from the crew. What a rush! As the preponderant floppy haired surfer extreme sports types that seem so common around Queenstown would no doubt have said "Righteous, like to the max dude!". Quite.
After taking an entire afternoon to calm down, we arranged to meet up with Rich, one half of a couple we befriended whilst in Fiji, who had kindly offered to put us up for a night and give us a good meal during our time in Queenstown. Armed with a bottle of wine (procured with a saver coupon card we chatted out of a check out helper a couple of days previously), we were greeted at the door by the captivating whiff of a traditional Kiwi lamb roast on the go. And what a feed it was. We ravenously tucked into the first decent food we'd had for several weeks, and the slow roast lamb certainly was a pleasant change from the volumous amounts of supernoodles and "stuff on toast" we'd been masticating on since our arrival in New Zealand. The roast pumpkin in particular was delectable and had we been back in northern california passing one of those "Honk if you love pumpkin" signs, we'd have been frantically bashing the horn of our van to emphasise the point.
Several glasses of wine, vodka and beer later, and we were merrily solving just about all of the worlds problems. However, a problem we hadn't allowed for was just how cold a mountain house can get when it has no central heating and the fire isn't lit. Vickie in particular was starting to form icicles on the undersides of her knees, and had to force her teeth to stop chattering every time she spoke. As we drunkenly crawled into be, we snuggled up underneath at least half a dozen blankets, and revelled in the fact that the bed was big enough for one to stretch ones legs out without having to expose them to the elements. Soon, we drifted off to a very comfy sleep. In the morning, we felt like quite the slacking students as everyone else in the house got up and headed off to work, leaving us wrapped up under the duvet like a couple of meat fillings in a canelloni.
When we eventually peeled ourselves out from underneath the duvet(s), a Macdonalds breakfast presented itself as the best way to cure our fuzzy, alcohol induced fragility. Now sustained, we decided to check out some of the area surrounding Queenstown, namely the little former prospecting centre of Arrowtown, and the rugged farming outpost of Glenorchy. In a previous existance, Arrowtown used to be a haven for groups of enthusiastic "panners" who would use it as a base to explore the nearby gold rich central Otago scenery and seek their fortune. Gladly since then, every effort has been made to maintain the prospecting look and feel of the place, giving it a timeless charm. In fact, a meander down the high street was rather akin to walking along a set in Universal studios. We were half expecting a gunfight to break out at any second, and we were thoroughly charmed by the place. So charmed in fact, that after helping out a local market research company by filling out a survey (in exchange for a couple of free drinks, naturally) we casually picked up a copy of the local property papers and sat in the van discussing the pros and cons of potentially living in the area. Of course, Vickie seemed to gravitate towards properties averaging $1m in value, which was putting a slight crimp in our masterplan. Nontheless, it was an amusing little waste of time.
Property pages suitably perused, we then headed off to the nearby Arrow river in search of yet another Lord of the Rings film set. However, we never reached our goal as we got at first distracted, then thoroughly enthralled in a competitive and highly amusing game of stone skipping on the river. Several long minutes were spent rummaging in the icy river bed in a frantic search for that next "Perfect skimmer" before we declared it an honorable draw and returned to our mechanised steed to embark on the impossibly scenic drive to Glenorchy.
As a town, there was not really a lot to Glenorchy but we had to agree, it was in a most spectacular setting bordered as it was by the southern alps, the dart river and the head of Lake Wakitepu. After a brief but obiligatory search for more Lord of the Rings sets, we jumped back in the van and drove to the nearby trailhead of one of New Zealands most famous great walks, the Routeburn track. This five day long monster-trek starts 20km from Glenorchy and takes keen trampers through remote and picturesque bush before depositing them at the remote town of Milford at the northern end of Fiordland. Quite clearly, we were never going to be attempting this little adventure. In fact, all we managed to accomplish was the drive to the trailhead and a trip to the toilets. The combination of the stinky conviniences, the crappy off road drive and the distinctly ominous looking weather did not bode well for the prospect of muddy physical exertion in our lingering hungover states. So, more than comfortable in our inherent uselessness, we hopped back in the van and drove back to our camp for the evening, all the while muttering to each other about what a shame it was that the rain was coming down when in fact all we both wanted was to lie down and go to sleep.
The drive back took us directly past the looming and jagged Remarkables mountain range, backing onto the tranquil shores of lake wakitepu and we have to say that that was one of the most apt piece of terrain naming that we had ever witnessed. As the immortally over-enthusiastic tv sport commentator icon, David Coleman would have doubtless coined they were indeed, "Quite Remarkable". Attempting to find new superlatives for describing the surrounding terrain was now becoming quite an absorbing and challanging task in istelf.
Ever since Dunc had taken part in his elastic band jumping piece of insanity, we had been looking for a suitably adrenalin-charged activity for Vickie to partake in. Bungy jumping was clearly out and it was far too cold for white water rafting or river boarding. After a lengthy perusal of several tourist offices and an in-depth chat with, and subsequent recommendation from, a very helpful chap in one office, she found the object of her quest. Tandem Hang-gliding. From Coronet Peak. 2500feet up. We had a winner.
One excited piece of booking and very sleepless night later, we rose early to go and meet the SkyTrek company who would be looking after slinging her off a mountain side that morning. The company itself was very highly regarded and was in fact the only company qualified enough to jump from the Remarkables mountain range. The tour operator was so confident in their abilities that he thinly disguised a scoff when Vickie enquired as to how likely a crash was to take place. "No-one can afford to crash in this town" he confidently declared. What was that saying about pride and falls?
A 30 minute drive to the launch platform on the side of Coronet peak ski resort later, and it was time for the first group to take off. As there were six eager passangers, the operator elected to split them into two groups of three, with us going to pick up the first group before heading back up the mountain to launch the second group. Vickie and Dunc were both roped into photo-taking duties for other customers to record their launch. Vickie was to be shooting for an incredibly camp little Glaswegian fellow, and Dunc drew the short straw when he had a camera thrust at him by a surprisingly obnoxious Canadian couple.
They prepared, they launched, they flew, Vickie was getting more excited. This was going to be fun! We drove to the landing platform some 4km away to meet the rest of the crew and take all the gear back to the top. It was here that the day nearly took its first turn for the sour when Dunc handed the camera back to the Canadians. The chap seemed very appreciative of the range of shots he'd taken but all the woman could say was "You didn't get any of me actually in the air". Dunc visibly prickled at this ungrateful little toe-rag and was seriously considering letting her have it with both barrels before he calmed himself down with the rationale that getting into a fight with a couple of spoilt little irritants would not be very fair on Vickie, so he said nothing. The man apologised for his snotty woman, probably when he glanced into the van to see that Vickie was also seething and drawing some very lenghty daggers in her direction. Well, really.
This was not going to ruin our day though, and excitement soon took back over as Vickie got herself kitted up in her flight suit, helmet and landing gear. In fact her anticipation was beginning to get the better of her when she elected to practice her flying technique by running around the launch platform jumping up and down and frantically flapping her arms before turning towards a confused pilot and enquiring if she'd be ok by just flapping her arms like that.
Meanwhile, Dunc had headed over to the furthest edge of the lajunch platform in order to get the best take-off footage of Vickie. He was just working out angles and half paying attention to another tandem hanglider taking off, when he heard a strange flapping noise, followed by a yell and a thud. He wheeled round just in time to catch the end of a most unfortunate sight, as said hanglider wheeled vertically before hitting the mountain side with some force. We'd had a crash. Immediately his thoughts turned to the confident chap who said "We couldn't afford crashes in Queenstown". His next thought as the remaining pilot (Vickie's pilot in fact) and the owner rushed down the mountain to see if everyone was ok, was that there was no way in hell Vickie would ever jump if she'd witnessed that.
With that in mind, he elected to attempt to play the whole thing down as he grinned and nonchalantely ambled over to a now ashen-faced Vickie. "Whats happened?" she enquired with an angst filled voice. "Oh nothing much, they just couldn't take off properly so they're down there at the moment". The lie couldn't last. Fortunately the passenger returned sheepish but unharmed - he had apparently caused the crash by not following his pilots instructions to run alongside him and therefore had become nothing more than destabalizing ballast - and the pilot returned soon after cradling a sore arm and a visibly shaky disposition. It was when the glider was returned to the platform that panic set in. Vickie observed the mangled wreckage of the glider with wide eyes and a very pale face. "I'm not bloody doing this now!" seemed to be the gist of what she was getting at.
Once everyone had been checked out and the ambulance was en route, her pilot came over and told her that he would completely understand if she didn't want to jump, he would give her a full refund. A couple of minutes of this, and a steely determination seemed to descend across her face. Possibly aided by the fact that the statistics (8 crashes in over 35,000 flights) led her to believe that she would probably be safe as houses, she stood rigid and declared, "Nope, i still want to fly".
With that, she went over the launch procedure one more time with her pilot, and agreed that she would run like forrest gump to aid take off. The moment of truth had arrived. They stepped in unison, then sped up, then ran frantically off the platform before swooping gracefully into the air - with Vickie's legs still frenzidly paddling in thin air as she continued to run just in case. As she gracefully soared through the beautiful Queenstown scenery, the pilot was pointing out nearby areas of interest such as Arrowtown in the distance, but Vickie wasn't really paying attention, simply repeating "Oh my god, i'm flying!". The feeling was possibly the closest you could get to feeling just like a bird. In fact, after a few minutes, the pilot pointed out a nearby hawk cruising just below them, obviously catching the same thermal as the glider.
It was all very serene and smooth whilst they were calmy gliding across the valley. So much so that Vickie soon forgot just how quick they were actually travelling, and how high they were. That was, until, it was time to land. As the glider descended, she got the increasing feeling that they were speeding up rather rapidly (Vickie had assumed they would be slowing down when it was time to land) when in fact they were just getting nearer to the flight park landing zone. One circle around the proximity of the park, and they swooped in swiftly to land. They reached a height of about 30cm off the grass and coasted in at high speed with Vickie's stomach skimming the ground in a truly white knuckle experience.
Once safely on terra-firma, Vickie calmly waited for the van containing Dunc and the rest of the passengers to arrive (delayed due to them having to wait for the ambulance to check out the injured pilot) and was all smiles and wide grins as they exchanged enthusiastic hugs. It was an almost spiritual experience silently flying over the valleys like a bird with no engine or drinks trolley to be seen, and now we had both managed to take part in an activity that we would remember forever.