New Zealand is famous for a few different things - amazing scenery, unique wildlife, 40 million sheep. But if you take a leisurely drive through the country, guidebook in hand, one of the things you'll notice is how often you come across a facility offering some kind of "adrenaline sports".
I'm not even sure that strapping a bungy rope to your ankles and hurling yourself off a bridge can be classified as a sport (Where exactly is the competition? Or the skill? What is classified as 'losing'?). Maybe "adrenaline activities" is a more accurate description.
This is not something new. I am a self-confessed adrenaline junkie, and on my first trip to New Zealand, several years ago, I bungy jumped at the world famous AJ Hackett site in Queenstown, did a tandem skydive over the Marlborough Sounds, and went white water rafting over the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world on the Kaituna River. I realized I was becoming addicted to scaring myself silly when, after a quiet day on the road, I purposely checked into a hostel that was reputed to be haunted and asked to sleep in the room that the ghost tended to show up in. (I didn't see him. Slept like a baby after a week of "adrenaline activity").
Even I was surprised, however, on this trip, at how accessible thrill seeking has become in New Zealand. The guy next to me at immigration, on being asked what the purpose of his visit to Auckland was, replied "I'm just stopping by on my way to Australia to jump off the Sky Tower".
The Sky Tower is similar to the CN Tower in Toronto or the Space Needle in Seattle, and somewhere between the two in height. At 328 metres, it's the tallest building in New Zealand. Last time I was here, someone jumping off it would have made the evening news. Now, apparently, it's a regular occurrence and a big money spinner for the tourism industry.
You don't quite bungy off the Sky Tower (Apparently, that would be dangerous!) You attach yourself to static lines and do something that can only be described as a controlled freefall - without a parachute, from 192 metres, at speeds of up to 85 kilometres an hour.
If you don't like the idea of the Sky Jump, you can try the Sky Walk. Strap yourself into a harness for a stroll around the 192 metre high, metre wide walkway, with, as the promotional literature boasts, "no handrails and only air on either side of you". You also get the chance to lean out backwards off the walkway, supported only by your harness, as though you were about to abseil down into the city below. When I asked why you would want to do this I was told, "it's a great photo opportunity" and had to admit they have a point!
If you have good eyesight you can tell the complete adrenaline junkies from the mildly addicted from the ground by the color of their suits - the walkers wear orange, the jumpers blue and yellow.
If you need another fix, a short walk from the Sky Tower will take you to the sling shot bungy, a useful device if you prefer to be catapulted up rather than throw yourself down. In short, the adrenaline buzz you used to have to travel the country to find has been brought into the major city, close to an international airport, for the convenience of thrill seekers worldwide.
If you're an adrenaline junkie, Auckland might be a place you want to put on your travel wish list. If you're not, don't stay away. Just bring a good camera - one capable of capturing falling humans at speeds of up to 85 kilometres an hour.