(Written on Sunday, 2/8/09)
I….DID….IT…!!! “Did what?!?” you may be asking. Did the one thing that I absolutely could not leave New Zealand before doing. The one thing that I was the most scared of attempting and waited until the last possible day before getting the courage to go through with it. The one thing, that required a phone call to my sister to muster up what it took to sign on the dotted line (yes, signing my life away). The one thing that defines Kiwi culture above and beyond everything else: more than ice climbing, glacier hiking, river rafting, fjord tramping, and alcohol consuming (yes, even more than that).
I COMPLETED A BUNGY JUMP!!! (And – even better – have lived to tell you about it.)
It is true – bungy jumping, which is now popular in many parts of the world (though nowhere near as popular as it is here in the Kiwi country), originated in New Zealand. A.J. Hackett became famous for creating the world’s first commercialized bungy jump. Today, he has many different jumps throughout New Zealand, and even a few others sprinkled throughout the rest of the world – I hear that Whistler has one. So far on our tour of New Zealand, we have passed up several opportunities to bungy. However, nowhere in New Zealand is it as popular as it is in Queenstown. There are so many to choose between in Queenstown, it can make you dizzy. It was a difficult decision to choose which one to jump – but ultimately Kevin and I decided on the Kawarau River Bridge Jump – the world’s very first bungy jumping site. Now Kevin left this decision on which jump to take – and frankly whether I should jump at all – completely up to me. When Kevin was in NZ six years ago he completed all of the A.J. Hackett jumps in Queenstown. (There are more jumps today than when he was previously here).
I decided on the Kawarau River Bridge jump for multiple reasons – it’s the only jump where they allow you to jump tandem with another person (so I would be able to jump arm-in-arm with Kevin, which built up my confidence some). Another reason is it is not the longest jump – the jump is just 43 meters (about 141 feet) from a bridge over the river. The largest jump is the Nevis Canyon jump – which would be 137 meters high! Plus – I would have to jump the Nevis alone. Finally, if I was going to get one jump in, it felt fitting that it would be from the world’s original bungy jump. So on Friday, we booked ourselves for a tandem jump from the Kawarau Bridge for the next day – Saturday. I was feeling confident. No nerves at booking time. (Maybe this was going to be easier than I thought).
Saturday at noon we caught the bungy bus with 10 other passengers for a 25 minute ride to the bungy site. It was starting to feel real, and I could feel the butterflies starting to come out of their cocoons in my stomach. I turned to Kevin and asked him whether he was nervous – not a lick. Great. But I still thought if this is as nervous as I get then it’s not that bad. Then the music started. Our driver played several songs during the ride out – Knocking on Heaven’s Door, Highway to Hell, among others. Okay – those crazy A.J. Hackett people should be calming us down – instead their trying to superficiously get us freaked. It was working! Are we really doing this?? The only sense of comfort that I had was Kevin did 3 jumps 6 years ago – he lived, and in 6 years they must have made even more safety improvements, right?
As if this wasn’t bad enough, it was this point when I realized Kevin and I were in flip-flops….everyone else had on tennis shoes. We would be jumping barefoot while the norm seemed to be with bulky athletic shoes. My head started doing the calculations. You are strapped into the bungies by your ankles. Certainly the bulkier of the shoe that you had on would help prevent the bungy from slipping off your ankles…since we were barefoot --- would that mean that there was a greater likelihood that the straps could come off our feet? I looked at Kevin’s feet and mine. At least he has wide feet – harder for the straps to slip off of. But I have such freakishly narrow feet….. I shared this concern with Kevin and he tried to reassure me that it would be fine. But I later noticed he was searching the bus himself checking out everyone’s feet….oh no…is my source of confidence starting to get concerned too??
We arrived at the bungy site and quickly registered – we were weighed separately and then our weights added together to determine the amount of bungy and type that would be used during our jump. They wrote these numbers on our hands – I quickly checked her math myself before heading to the jumping platform as I didn’t want to trust the clerk behind the registration counter with our lives – I seriously doubt A.J. Hackett requires math degrees for these positions. Yup….her math was correct. Okay, now we were told to walk out to the bridge and wait our turn.
At this point the butterflies in my stomach are going crazy….we were 3rd in line. We watched the first person go ahead of us. Instead of jumping, he hesitated and then basically just fell off the platform. Okay, one more to go and then it’s our turn. Oh god. And then the guy harnessing the jumpers asks me my weight…”Oh no, we’re not next…we’re behind this guy” I say quickly and point to the jumper ahead of me. The employee then tells me, “Nope…you’re next”. I feel my stomach drop before we even jump. I wasn’t ready!!
So Kevin and I take our seats in the little platform box built off of the bridge. They quickly put the bungy harnesses around our ankles, constantly tightening them and checking them for proper fit. The guy wrapping Kevin’s ankles turns to the other employee and says “now is it twice around the ankle and then through, or through the ankles and then twice around?”. You’ve got to be kidding me right?? Then I see the smirk on his face as he looks at me. Okay, he was kidding me, right? Yes, Amy, certainly he was. He had to be.
They asked us if we wanted to touch the water. Kevin and I talked about this before hand – we decided that we wanted to touch – or be dunked – in the water. So I respond a quick and probably barely coherhent “um, yeah”. Then they gave us some short instructions. Just that we were to put one arm around each other and leave our outside arms up in the air – when we got to the water these arms should break the water and we duck our heads when entering (chin to chest). That’s it. “Now scoot out to the platform and wait for our count” he said. With our ankles wrapped together, scooting out to the platform was not an easy task. I was deathly afraid that I would scoot too far and down I would go. But we managed to get to the edge and I had a deaths hold grip on Kevin’s side. On the count of three we would jump – I bore into myself to not look down no matter what – I knew I wouldn’t be able to jump otherwise. Instead, I focused on a tree in the distance and waited for his count – I blocked everything else out of my mind. Then I heard the count – 1….2….3! And so I jumped straight into the air and I felt Kevin jump with me and it’s a feeling that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to describe accurately.
You know that feeling you get when your stomach drops on a roller coaster? Well multiply that by a zillion. I felt my whole body tense up and my stomach disappear somewhere….like it was asking me what the hell I was doing jumping off a bridge! I don’t think I breathed for those few seconds…and then I saw the ground, or the river actually, getting closer and closer and closer and somehow I felt my body relax….and just as we were getting about to hit the water we prepared by lowering our heads for impact, and then “boing!” we were bounced back up in the air. We didn’t touch the water, but the experience was exhilarating. As we hung there by our feet bouncing up and back down a few times, I couldn’t help but scream out in pure joy – it was so much fun!
Then the raft came underneath us and we were lowered in. The jump was over…all 60 seconds later. But the buzz still lived on. I was joyous. Afterwards I wanted to do it again. I was so high on the bungy jumping that I wanted to somehow figure out how to get another jump in – this time on The Nevis – the 2nd highest bungy jump in the world! (The first is in South Africa). There was no time left yesterday, so we went to an internet café to see if there was any way we could delay our travel to Christchurch one day and still make our flight to Sydney on time. Alas, there was no way. So the Bridge jump will end my bungy jumping in New Zealand (my mom is breathing a sigh of relief).
Today we caught our flight for Sydney and left New Zealand to our memories and blogs. It was a wonderful 3 ½ weeks and will be difficult to beat. But now we look forward to our next adventures in Australia and beyond.
In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to a future visit to Whistler (I hear they have bungy…).