Fear, Ice and Wine- Fun in Queenstown and Auckland

Auckland Freddie's Ice House

There are all kinds of fun to be had in New Zealand. Some of it is crazy (which I’ve written about in a previous blog), but other stuff is tamer but still fun. The first fun activity was Fear Factory in Queenstown.

Queenstown Fear Factory sign

Queenstown Fear Factory entry photo

I adore Halloween activities, and when I live in the States, I fill up my September and October weekends with all kinds of fall and Halloween fun. I missed all the Halloween haunted houses this past autumn, because I currently live in Korea. However, I had a chance to rectify that a bit in Queenstown. I didn’t even know about this until I arrived in town, but Queenstown has a year-round haunted house called Fear Factory. It is setup conveniently in the city center, and it is open from 1100 until “late.” Once I saw that, I knew I had to visit. I know haunted houses are supposed to be more fun with friends, but I was traveling alone (like usual). Like so many other things in my life, I had to make a choice of doing something alone, or not doing it at all. That was an easy one for me. Plus I’m used to going to haunted houses alone, because I never had anyone to go with me in the States. I decided to wait until after dark to go, because it just seemed off to emerge from a dark, scary haunted house into bright, shining daylight. Since it was summer down there, that meant waiting until after 2100. But so I entered. Not surprisingly, I got a few “You’re so brave for doing this alone” comments, but soon I was off to get my ass scared off.

Queenstown Fear Factory scared photo

This haunted house is set up a bit differently than others I’ve visited. Most of the ones in the States I’ve been to, have a series of macabre scenes interspersed with occasional “jump out” scares. This haunted house is almost entirely in pitch dark. I made my way through the maze by feeling the walls and following a small red light. Most of the scares were psychological through a combination of occasional lights, creepy voices designed to unsettle me, loud noises and creepy touches. That is also another difference from the haunted houses in the States. The actors are allowed to touch you at Fear Factory. Like I said, it’s more creepy touching than anything truly dangerous, like fingers brushing along my arm, the back of my neck, or my lower leg. It’s definitely unsettling, because I couldn’t see anything, but I could hear them taunting me with my name. The tension was ramped up for me, just because I KNEW something was going to happen, but I didn’t know what or when. Based on the sheer amount of screaming I did (I scare and unsettle easily in these type of scenarios), I definitely got my money’s worth. At $29 NZ per adult, it is not a cheap thrill. But if you love haunted houses and aren’t paralyzed by fear of the dark, I suggest you experience it. Since it is all in complete darkness, your own fears and imagination amplify whatever you experience in the house for creepy, good fun.

Queenstown Wine Experience

A different sort of fun was to be had at the Queenstown Wine Experience. This was my final evening in Queenstown, and I decided to end it in a semi-classy way. This is like the best, most comprehensive winery tour wrapped up into one location. It’s in the city center, and it’s a great activity for the entire evening or just a precursor to dinner or a nightcap. This place gives you the opportunity to try over 80 wines from nearby wine regions. The available wines to try were pretty much every variety offered in New Zealand. The setup at Queenstown Wine Experience is pretty cool. I arrived and received a wine card. From there, I could try as many wines as I wanted. The choices were to try a taste, a half glass, or a full glass of any available wine. All I had to do was stick the wine card into the machine, select which wine and size to try, and it magically filled my glass. I tried a wide variety of wines, like pinot noir, sauvingon blanc, pinot gris, Riesling, Guwurtztraminer, and a couple dessert wines. I ordered a very tasty smorgasbord of local meats, cheeses, bread and olive oil to accompany the taste parade. I had the opportunity to order wines for delivery home, but I elected not to, since I would have had to send the wine home to the States and not have it for available enjoyment back in Korea. If you love wine, and want to try a wide variety of wines, in the comfort of a big soft chair, this is the place for you.

Auckland Freddie's Ice House 2

My last bit of tame fun was a visit to Freddy’s Ice House at my last night in Auckland. It used to be called Minus 5 during my last trip to Auckland (I guess they’re under new management). There is a bar by the same name of Minus 5 in Queenstown, and I did visit there during my first trip to Queenstown eight years ago. This bar is pretty much the way it is described. It is a small bar in a large freezer where everything is made out of ice, including the glasses. I received a big, warm parka and some gloves and it was go time. The bar reminded me of the White Witch of Narnia’s palace where everything was frozen solid in ice. Price of admission ($25 NZ) buys you one mixed cocktail of your choice and all the time you want to stay in the bar to relax and play. I was there on my own, so I didn’t spend the entire evening there. This is probably more of a fun group activity, but it is enjoyable on your own.

This pretty much ended my month long New Zealand adventure, and it was good.

Getting My Adrenaline On in New Zealand

Kawarau Bridge bungy 2

There are a few basic reasons to come and visit New Zealand in my opinion. There is the obvious beautiful nature that abounds in that country. There is the amazing, world class wine that can be found everywhere. There of course is Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, though that is often tied to the beautiful nature of the country, because of the many New Zealand areas used in the films. And you can’t overlook adrenaline activities. New Zealand is considered one of the capitols of adrenaline sports in all the world. Pretty much if you can imagine it, it can be found in some part of New Zealand. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to come to New Zealand so many years ago.

My first trip to New Zealand was eight years ago in November 2005, and I came prepared to indulge in a wide variety of adrenaline creating activities. I wanted to do another tandem skydive, do my first bungy jumps, cave rafting, abseiling, luging, and the like. I was a bit of a different person back in the day. I was fascinated by adrenaline activities, but I also a bit scared. I still had visions of losing control and dying. I did do some luging in Rotorua, but I stayed on the slow track and was afraid to go fast for fear of losing control and getting hurt. I did do two bungy jumps when I was in Queenstown. My very first one was the Ledge Bungy at the top of Bob’s Peak. The jump was sort of an impulse decision, because I was up there enjoying the view, saw there was no line, and figured why the hell not? So I paid, I got harnessed up, and the next thing I know, I’m doing a running dive off the platform into 47 meters (154 feet) of air over Queenstown. My next bungy was a bit different experience. It was the Nevis bungy, which is 134 meters (440 feet). It was a completely different scenario. The bungy site is about a 40 minutes drive from Queenstown in an isolated canyon. The jump is from a gondola over the canyon that sways in the wind. And to top if off, you have to walk the plank like on Captain Hook’s ship, and are told you have to do a big dive to prevent the bungy cords from getting tangled. I had visions of the cords snapping, and it certainly wasn’t helped by the jumpmasters who loved to rev up my fear and adrenaline. In particular, I was terrified I would accidentally fall off the plank. I know that is a somewhat ironic thought, since I paid good money to jump out of a gondola. But to me, there is a big difference between an accidental fall and a controlled jump. One leads to a tremendous adrenaline high, and one leads to injury and death. I did get off the platform eventually, but it certainly wasn’t easy for me. If you looked at my video, you would probably laugh, because I’m standing on the platform, covering my face in fear. I basically had to be coaxed off the platform, and the jumpmasters were THIS close to calling it. But I did it. I dove for all I was worth, and I obviously lived. It was probably the most scared I’ve been in my life, but I did it.

Fast forward eight years and I’m a bit different person. The logic portion of my brain asserted itself, and I know I’m not going to die doing these activities. For the most part (with a couple notable exceptions), these activities are safe. I don’t engage in these activities, because I want to feel like I am skirting death. I do these activities, because I know I will survive, and I crave the adrenaline rush. So unless you have a deathly fear of heights or specific medical conditions that contraindicate  it, there isn’t much to stop you from participating  in adrenaline activities to the fullest extent, if they interest you. I did the Skyline Luge in Queenstown, which has a similar setup to the one in Rotorua. This time though, instead of poking along on the scenic track, I raced along on the advanced track, trying to get as much speed as I could. Of course I wasn’t reckless, because there is still that controlling streak that runs through me. But I’m not scared anymore, and I want more adrenaline and more speed (though there are limits).

I wanted to complete the AJ Hackett bungy jump quadfecta (not a word, but it serves my purposes) this trip in New Zealand. That involved me doing two more bungy jumps, and I kicked it off with a dive off the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown. The Kawarau is the original bungy site, and it celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2013. It is the classic one. It’s not the terrifying thrillseeker that is Nevis, because Kawarau is only 43 meters (142 feet). But the site is a beautiful one over the Kawarau Bridge, about a 20 minute drive from Queenstown. This bungy site is well set up for jumpers as well as visitors who just want to watch the adrenaline freaks dive off a bridge. This time I wasn’t consumed with fear, because I had spent some prep time imagining me doing the dive successfully and confidently. My only fear was freezing at the launch site.

This bungy jump is a bit different than other ones, because they wrap your ankles in a towel and bind them together; you have to hop into position. I waved bravely for the camera and for the watching crowds (too bad you weren’t there Mom, since you did visit there during your visit nine months prior). I inched forward into position, so my toes were just over the plank.

Kawarau Bridge bungy 1

The jumpmaster gave me the 1-2-3 countdown, released his hold on me, and I boldly dove for the horizon.

Kawarau Bridge bungy 3

Kawarau Bridge bungy 4

The fall only lasted a couple seconds, but I could see the river rushing toward me.

Then I felt the delicious tug of the cords as I reached the end of the bungy cords, and I bounced a couple of times. I was going to live!

Kawarau Bridge bungy 5

Once I stopped bouncing, the jumpmasters lowered me head first until the boat team in the river grabbed me and unhooked me. It was SUCH a feeling of relief lying in the boat, looking up at the bridge and waving for the camera.

Kawarau Bridge bungy 6

The adrenaline rush made me giddy and it was a great way to start the morning. Hell, I even got some compliments on my jump from some of the spectators.

But I wasn’t done that day. I still needed more adrenaline. That afternoon, I had a canyon swing planned. There are a couple different businesses that do canyon swings, but I elected to go with Shotover Canyon Swing. They are the original business in Queenstown, and they have the widest variety of jump styles. I had done a canyon swing once in Interlaken, Switzerland, and I wasn’t that pleased with my performance. I did it, but I had several false starts before I jumped. I had to basically do a running start to get off the cliff, and I kept psyching myself out at the last second, before I finally shut off my brain long enough to jump. This time around, I was much more serene, mainly because I picked a different type of jump than a forward leap (that was the only option in Switzerland). There are dozens of ways you can jump: forward, backward, upside down, with props, etc. I elected to do the Slide. The jump is pretty much the way it sounds. The jumpmasters set up a metal slide, and you either shuffle down the slide yourself, or the jumpmasters will give you a friendly push to get you started. You slide down the slide, and then you drop into oblivion.

The height of the jump is 109 meters with a 60 meter freefall, before you hit the 200 meter swing arc toward the other side of the canyon wall ( you don’t come close at all to hitting it). The setup of the swing is in a beautiful canyon overlooking the Kawarau River (at a different part than the Kawarau bungy).

Shotover Canyon Swing overhead shot

I only felt a tiny bit of nerves on this go around. I chose the slide, because I wanted something that took the conscious decision to jump from my head and gave me a little forward momentum to get me off the platform. The swing is a very smooth ride. I absolutely felt the first couple seconds of freefall (I even screamed a little), but the transition into the actual swing portion of the ride is very smooth and gentle.

Shotover Canyon Swing multi shot

I was able to enjoy the beautiful canyon view around me and the river below me as I was winched up in a sitting position to the platform. Another activity conquered, and the fear factor was significantly less for me as I did more of them. Which is sort of the point. I don’t want to feel the fear. I just want to feel the adrenaline rush. But I’ve started to wonder if I have plateaued for adrenaline sports. There is no outright terror, because I’ve reached a comfortable level with the amount and type of adrenaline sports I’ve chosen. My biggest regret was not electing to do a second canyon swing (the cost is only a fraction of the cost of one swing) that challenged my fear factor. I should have done one that was backwards or head first or some other crazy stunt. But I didn’t.

So I completed the bungy jump quadfecta of AJ Hackett bungy jumps in New Zealand with the Auckland Bridge bungy jump. The setup for this jump is similar to Kawarau. It’s on a bridge over water, though this body of water is ocean near the Auckland Harbor and not a river. This jump is only 40 meters, so it is a tiny bit less than the Kawarau jump. I’ve seen this jump done before when I did the Auckland Bridge Climb my last trip to New Zealand, but I was too nervous  to try it myself. But now I launch myself off stuff fairly easily now, at least in the forward dive position.  I don’t feel the fear, just the adrenaline pumping through my body from excitement. You don’t stand on the platform long enough to second guess yourself, unless you actively give in to the fear. You just shut the part of your brain off that tells you jumping off stuff is a bad thing, and just go with it.

Auckland Bridge bungy 1

The jumpmasters hooked me up quickly, but safely and professionally. They got me into position, took my picture, and then gave me the countdown. And then I was off, diving out as far as I could over the Auckland Harbor.

Auckland Bridge bungy 2

Auckland Bridge bungy 3

And again, I watched the water rushing toward me, but even though I had requested an ocean touch, the water level was too low for me to hit it. I always dive with my eyes open, so I have a full view of the water rushing toward me. I even rarely scream for whatever reason. There is a always a slight moment of doubt when I first feel the bungy cords tug at my ankles, but they always hold. I enjoyed a few bounces over the Auckland Harbor before preparing for the ascent.

Auckland Bridge bungy 4

Auckland Bridge bungy 5

This particular jump had a similar finish as the Nevis jump in that that I tugged a cord that released my feet, so I was winched up to the launch point in a sitting position.

Auckland Bridge bungy 6

Again, a shot of adrenaline was a GREAT way to start the morning, way better than caffeine (though it is a tad more expensive than Starbucks).

I fulfilled all my adrenaline goals while I was in New Zealand, and now I’m eager to try more and different experiences. If you want to challenge your fear factor in a safe manner, and have one of the best rushes in the world, take advantage of all that New Zealand has to offer.