Explore Outdoor New Zealand
Explore Outdoor New Zealand activities ranging from a gentle walk to extreme sports are everywhere and are very well organised. If you can hike it, run it, jump it, ride it, swim it, climb it or hurl yourself off it, you can do it in New Zealand. The country’s variety of natural assets seduce even the most sick, lame and lazy of us to drag ourselves outdoors and get active. Activities like mountaineering have been part of the national psyche for decades (think Edmund Hilary) and mountain biking, jet boating, rock climbing and scuba diving are all established and thriving. The more brown trouser activities such as skydiving and bungee jumping have blossomed into everyday pursuits for the young or stupid. Of course, these adrenaline generating activities all carry an element of risk that is part of the attraction and the thrill but it’s sensible, nonetheless, to ensure that you have adequate travel insurance (particularly if you are the type of temporary mortal who enjoys descending a mountain on a bicycle without brakes!).
Queenstown is the place to base yourself because every outdoor pursuit is available and readily accessible from the town. In fact, its very existence today as a thriving and affluent community is dependent upon a comprehensive menu of sporting activities during daylight and equally broad nocturnal pastimes. It has the look and the size of a small town but enough energy to fuel a large city. It’s not for nothing that they say that no one comes to Queenstown and says “I’m bored”!
For those who don’t want their fun finished in two minutes there are hundreds of kilometres of world class hikes close by, some well-marked (including the best of the country’s Great Walks) and some a faint line on the map. There are plenty of huts available enabling trampers (as they are known locally) to avoid lugging tents and (in many cases) cooking gear up hill and down dale but you still have to carry food and snacks. The most popular walks (Routeburn, Kepler and Milford) require bookings to be made several months in advance unless you are planning to travel with a commercial outfit who organise everything for you and will even carry your gear, cook your food and tuck you into a warm bed.
Let’s not forget that the reason for doing these walks is to experience the stunning beauty of the rugged hills and mountains, the views that stretch forever and the freedom that is a gift of the remote outdoors. Just don’t forget to bring your wet gear!
Fishing is another gentle activity that can take you from the cold, vast lakes up to the wilderness of the fast running mountain streams in search of elusive wild trout and salmon. Or you can jump on a boat and head out to sea in search of abundant red snapper, king fish, shark, wahoo and just about every other sea creature imaginable. Stalking trout and salmon is very much a South Island pursuit whilst sea fishing is best down in the North somewhere breathtakingly gorgeous like the Bay of Islands (where, it seems, everyone owns a boat!).
However, jumping off things is what the young and young-at-heart want to do and, around Queenstown, no matter which way you turn you can’t avoid seeing someone with more cahones than sense throwing themselves into space attached to a bit of cord to save them from certain death. Bungee jumping was made famous by Kiwi A J Hackett who established the first commercial jump from Kawarau Bridge, a drop of 43 metres into the rivered gorge. Now you can fall 134 metres on the Nevis Highwire or jump off gondolas or towers or swing between the sides of the steepest gorges.
If you really want to fall a long way, then a skydive will be your bag. A tandem jump from a perfectly good airplane from a height of 12,000 feet (or higher) will not only provide fabulous views of the earth below but also around 45 seconds to pray that your chute opens at 5,000 feet. There are lots of local options available but we did this with an outfit called Ballistic Blondes in the North Island over Whangarei Heads where the prices are cheaper and they had a tandem instructor reassuringly named Jesus.
Back down on earth, the rivers provide a range of activities from white water rafting, to kayaking and canoeing. There are almost as many possibilities as there are rivers and there are numerous companies who are only too keen to get you into the rapids. Popular rafting rivers include the Shotover and Kawarau near Queenstown, the Rangitata (Christchurch), Buller (Murchison) and the Arnold and Waiho (West Coast). Waters tend to flow off glaciers and can be very cold though personal experience reports that, with other distractions, you don’t always notice.
Canoeing is so popular on the Whanganui River in the North Island that it has been classified as a Great Walk! It’s easy enough for the inexperienced and beautiful enough to keep your constant attention as you travel between strategically placed huts on a five day, four night trip. In addition, there are plenty of trips along the coast to be enjoyed, enabling you to enjoy shoreline and wildlife you would otherwise never see. I would recommend the waters off the Abel Tasman National Park or the Queen Charlotte Sound that can be done on a day trip or as part of a longer journey.
But whatever your cup of tea (and I haven’t got into scuba diving, rock climbing, mountaineering, jet boating, skiing, mountain biking, paragliding, horse trekking or golf) you can enjoy it or try it in a perfect, natural environment away from the crowds and everyday pressures.
It doesn’t need to be pant-wetting or even able bodied because there are an array of services that will cater for everyone and for every budget. For example, we took a helicopter ride out to Milford Sound that carved a majestic path between mountain passes and which included landing on a glacier before delivering us to a boat for a glorious cruise in the fjordland paradise and then returning us for tea. We shared the journey with a disabled couple who loved the experience as much as we did!