This past year was a crazy year for me personally and professionally. I was in serious need of a “Girl’s Gone Wild” trip, but not the kind you are probably envisioning. Instead, I wanted to grab a girlfriend and get out into the wild… literally, to experience new people, places, and try new exciting things I have never done before. I racked my brain trying to come up with the perfect locale to find the world’s most unusual outdoor activities and extreme landscapes and then it dawned on me, “I need to do a road trip across New Zealand!” Kiwis have definitely earned a reputation for creating the wildest, unique, extreme sports that you have never heard of. So my friend Shannon and I bought our tickets to New Zealand in search of the most ridiculous human being activities we could find.
Think white water rafting, except without a raft and just a helmet and flippers... My theory is that they took an old luge sled, realized it floated, and then decided that it would be even more insane to ride that down the rapids…and voila! A new adrenaline sport was born.
The Maori regard and respect their land and rivers, so before carrying out any activity on the river, we would first have to perform a karakia, a prayer for protection. The fact that we were about to do something so dangerous that even the locals say a prayer beforehand to the river for survival, made me start second guessing the sanity of what we were about to do. Once we jumped in the river there was no turning back.
Sledging was by far one of the most fun and extreme adventures I have ever tried. Our guides put the fear of God in us to “stay to the right of the river or you will die.” Shannon got the hang of it immediately, but I found multiple ways to smash into the rock cliff walls and get flipped upside down in whirlpools. Despite my battles lost with the rapids, we made it in one piece and we felt like a superheroes when we were done.
2. Black Water Rafting
Years ago I had heard about the famous Waitomo Glow Worm Caves by watching the Planet Earth series on TV. I knew that I had to find and explore these caves one day. SO when we were being fitted for full wetsuits and helmets, with ropes and harnesses trudging through a sheep farm getting ready to descend 110 feet into a 3-foot hole in the earth, I knew that we were about to cross over from reality to surreality.
The next 5 hours of our lives were life-changing as we followed our Maori guide and abseiled into the abyss, zip lined across the cave in pitch blackness, scrambled up waterfalls, and sniper crawled through tiny crevasses. Two hours in, we were sitting on the cliff of an underground river drinking hot cocoa and I had to jump into near-freezing eel-infested water.
This was the moment we all had been waiting for where we could float on our backs, turn off our headlamps, and just look up at the Milky Way galaxy, (which was really just thousands of glowworms -aka: fly larva- with glowing bums on the ceiling), while our guide sang native Maori folk songs in the perfect acoustics of the cave. In this moment, everything in my life slipped away but her song. The water was cold, we were exhausted and overwhelmed with so many emotions, but the beauty of it all took over. It is definitely one of those moments I will revisit for the rest of my life.
As we were driving along in our campervan towards Rotorua, we drove past what appeared to be huge plastic hamster balls rolling down a mountainside with a sign that said "Zorbing." Again, the New Zealanders are all about inventing even more ridiculous human being activities, so we thought we would pull over to check it out.
From first glance, it looked pretty boring and slow. Shannon and I didn’t really know what all the fuss was about and it seemed silly to climb into a water-filled ball and roll down a hill. But looks can be deceiving. From inside the zorb, the only way I can describe the experience was like being inside of the womb with your adult fraternal twin sister, doing somersaults, and being able to consciously remember and live the experience together. There was nothing graceful about it. We were tossed around like rag dolls and I just was clinging to Shannon in the fetal position laughing so hard that no sound was coming out while she laughed uncontrollably. I honestly have never laughed so hard in my life that it almost hurt. It was like years worth of laughter packed into a ridiculous 2-minute activity.
Since New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere, our winter is their summer. So we came across a ski resort that is converted into a downhill sports paradise during the summer months which includes mountain biking and street luging trails. Basically, you wear a helmet, take a ski lift or gondola to the top of the mountain and sit on a sled with handlebars and take off on a gravity wheeled ride flying down a twisty trail to the bottom of the mountain. We raced each other on switchback trails through a gorgeous Redwood forest set in New Zealand’s scenic volcanic wonderland. It was simply stunning. They have multiple trails based on your skill level, so even if you are not an extreme adrenaline junkie, you can find a trail that fits your thrill level!
Yep..shweebing. I have no idea how this name was born, but the ride is as bizarre an experience as it sounds. Imagine being in a suspended pedal-powered pod hanging from a monorail line. You are lying back and pedaling while switching gears with very little effort. The pods swing freely from left to right, so as you pick up speed you are wildly swinging around corners and soaring through the air. You can ride alone or race against someone on another track. The cool thing about this activity is that it is weather proof and takes very little physical effort to do. The Shweeb was actually part of a contest by Google, Inc. to come up with new, innovative ways for public transportation. By taking out wind resistance, the shweeb is the fastest way to travel, with the least amount of human effort. They are hoping this silly sport will become the future of mass transport.