We woke up at 7 a.m. and quickly got ready, dumped the van's waste tank, and headed out of the camper park to the bungy bridge. When we got there we saw the bridge and immediately recognized it from TV and film. There was construction going on as they are in the process of building a new headquarters. We were there early (8:30) and the employees were arriving for work. We sat in the car for a while staring at the bungy brochure, and after a while we went into the building.
We ditched everything that was not going to be on our bodies when we jumped, and then they weighed us. They wrote our weights in red marker on our hands. There wasn't a whole lot of paperwork to fill out (unlike if you tried a stunt like this in the United States) but we did have to fill out a small slip of paper they called a "toe tag". Gulp.
All the employees were very friendly and encouraging. I wanted to go first, because I thought that if I watched others I might lose my nerve. (Although they won't sell Kawarau shirts to those who don't jump, they will sell "bungy chicken" T- shirts which have a picture of a chicken with all its lily-liver, yellow belly, lack of spine, etc. all labeled.) Luckily there weren't very many onlookers this early in the morning either. There were a few Asian tourists on the observation deck.
So it was that I was jump #1 at Kawarau Bridge that day. We walked out onto the bridge and paced around in the cool air as the employees readied the equipment. The sun hadn't yet reached the bridge. Would we do a splashdown in this cold air? Sure, why not. You only live once. They had me step into a harness and then sat me down on the platform. They wrapped a towel firmly around my ankles. They then attached the carabiners and helped me to stand up. With my legs effectively shackled, I waddled out to the edge of the platform and looked down. Wow, it was a long way. They had me wave to the camera, and explained what I needed to do. I thought back to a guy we had talked to in Abel Tasman who had done the bungy at Kawarau. He said they count backwards from 5 to 1, and then you jump. He told us about a woman who needed about 6 countdowns before she finally went. I became determined that that wouldn't be me, and that I was going to just do it.
I looked down, thought this was crazy, and when he got to "1" I just did a swan dive off the platform. My first and only real thought during the jump was "wow, this is what freefalling feels like". It was a total rush. Very intense. I could see the water hurtling towards me, but I realized that I was slowing down and the bungy was starting to get some tension. I wouldn't make the splashdown. That's alright, at this moment I realized that I had survived! I bounced a few times and was utterly ecstatic. The recovery team was nearby in a raft, and they paddled beneath me. They held up a stick. I grabbed on and they pulled me down to the boat while the guy up on the bridge gave me some slack on the harness. It was amazing. They made me lie on my back while they removed my harness and ankle towel. What a rush. I still couldn't believe it. I had expected it to maybe hurt or be a bit jarring when you first bounce back up, but in reality it was totally comfortable. There was no discomfort at all.
I looked up at the bridge and saw that Craig was about ready to go. I didn't have time to climb all the stairs back to the bridge, so I just went up the first few flights and stood on an observation deck. Apparently they had told him that it was a good thing he sent his wife first, so that he couldn't chicken out. He did a graceful dive right on "1" and he actually did splash down in the water! Very gently, just up to his elbows. He didn't make a sound as he fell (and neither had I). Apparently that is unusual, but we just didn't even think to scream. The most I did was gasp. Craig bounced so high he looked like he nearly reached the level of the bridge again. It was amazing. The adrenaline/endorphin rush that followed was something I'd never experienced before. We couldn't wipe the smiles off of our faces.
By now people were arriving by the busload. Some were jumping, and others were just watching and cheering. We spoke to a young Asian woman who was torn as to whether she should do it or not. Her friends would watch; she was the only one who wanted to jump. We told her about our experience and eventually convinced her to sign up. By that point there was an hour wait if you hadn't booked ahead.
We ran into a couple who had jumped the Nevis (143 meter drop and you freefall for 8 seconds) the day before, who were about to do a tandem jump off the Kawarau. They asked if we'd take photos for them, so we did. I used their camera, and Craig used ours and managed to get some amazing photos. The tandem jump was interesting to watch; we had expected them to sort of bang against one another, but much like our experience, it seemed quite gentle. When they arrived at the viewing platform they said that although Nevis was higher, they though Kawarau was more of a rush.
We were bouncing off the walls, and hopped in the van and drove up a small dirt road which led to a vineyard. We had a great view of the bridge in the morning light and watched some people jump while talking to a family about our jump. We then went back to the bridge, watched a couple more jumps from the bridge itself, and admired the view. The view off the other side of the bridge was what was used for the Anduin River scene with the Argonath Statues in The Fellowship of the Ring.
We then went into the shop. We weren't planning on buying the videotape of our jump, but once they showed it to us, how could we say no? They gave us free T-shirts and coupons to pick up our photos when we returned to the A.J. Hackett office in Queenstown later in the day. In the meanwhile, our Asian friend had jumped, and while we were in the shop we saw her video. She did great! She was so proud, and we congratulated her. She joked about buying her friend a bungy chicken shirt. We bought some hot chocolate and then hit the road.
We decided to head back into Arrowtown for a nice lunch. We found a small cafe called Cafe Mondo. I got delicious cinnamon French toast with maple syrup, fried bananas, and organic apple juice. Craig got a Monteith's Ale and a steak sandwich. We ate outside on the patio. We also had a chocolate chip cookie.
We walked the loop track at the river. We went up Talbot's Track and saw the remains of a cabin of one of the original European settlers of the area. After that we headed into Queenstown to pick up our photos at the A.J. Hackett office at the Station tourist office. The photos weren't ready yet, so we went to Queenstown Camera to see if they had the camera battery that we had ordered. Lo and behold, it had come in today's post, and we left the camera shop happily with new battery in tow.
We found the Pinewood Lodge. We had a rather modest bedroom (room M5) with a shared bathroom and a nice shared kitchen and common room. We brought our stuff into the room and gave the camper van a thorough cleaning. Craig left a note for our Hiking New Zealand guide-to-be, Stan, on the bulletin board and we headed to the airport to return the van.
The Queenstown Airport was very small. The mileage we had put on the van was 1682 km. There was noone at the Maui Camper Van desk, so Craig picked up the courtesy phone. They weren't on premises, and said it would take them 15 minutes to arrive. They said if we had no problems with the van we could simply leave the key and cell phone behind their desk and they'd pick it up later. You couldn't get away with that in the United States.
We took a cab to the center of town and picked up our pictures at A.J. Hackett. They came out great. I also bought a segment of old bungy cord, as the bungy was not quite what I had expected. It is a bunch of rubber filaments all bunched together (like the stuff a koosh ball is made of) and then more of the filaments are wrapped around the outside to hold it together.
We wandered down to the waterfront and checked out some of the shops. We saw some paragliders catching the late afternoon thermals above town. We decided to eat dinner at the Beefeater Steak House. They had a salad bar which contained couscous, pasta, etc. I didn't find the actual lettuce, but Craig did. I had a steak with pepper sauce. Craig had a rump roast with mushrooms. We had pavlova and hot chocolate for dessert.
Then we walked back to the Pinewood Lodge. It was chilly, and I was regretting not bringing a jacket on our trip to town. Craig very kindly lent me his, and we made a mental note that I should try to buy a fleece somewhere. I hadn't brought one from home, as the ones I have don't pack very small, and I had thought that my wool sweater and light jacket would be enough.
Stan had left us a note on the bulletin board, so we headed over to his room to say hi. We invited him over to our common room for a beer and a chat. We started to get to know one another and we made sure all the last minute details for the Secret South hiking (tramping, in Kiwi-speak) trip were in order. At 9:30, Stan went back to his room; we reorganized our stuff, showered, and went to bed.
Steph bungy jumping at Kawarau Bridge
Craig bungy jumping at Kawarau Bridge
Craig and Steph Bungy @ Kawarau Bridge 4/15/03(3:44)
View from the Kawarau Bridge
The couple tandem bungy jumping off the Kawarau Bridge