Beyond bungy: New Zealand's lesser-known extreme activities

Special New Zealand feature

Ben Groundwater looks beyond New Zealand's most famous extreme activity to find there are plenty of other adventures for the hardy and foolhardy.

There must be something in the water.

Kiwis – when they don't have mouthguards in and numbers on their backs – are a largely placid, agreeable bunch. And yet, they seem strangely prone to throwing themselves off perfectly good bridges; to diving into frothing, boiling rapids in little rubber boats; to climbing things that clearly don't want to be climbed.

There are acres upon acres, miles upon miles of rugged natural beauty in New Zealand – something Kiwis seem to take as a challenge. They look around at the incredible scenery, the brooding, hobbit-strewn mountains, the rushing, icy rivers, the majestic glaciers, and think: What can I endanger myself with today, bro?

It's all a little strange, but, for the adrenalin-chasing traveller, very handy. If you want to endanger your life in any way, shape or form in the name of fun, you can pretty much guarantee you'll be able to do it in New Zealand.

While the country is most famous for bungy jumping, there are plenty of other white-knuckle adventures on offer. Here are the picks of the bunch.

River surfing

If you've ever looked at people whitewater rafting and thought, “They're mad”, this may not be ideal. If you've ever looked at people whitewater rafting and thought, “They're pansies”, then we're on the right track. Basically, you'll be thrown into Queenstown's raging Kawarau River with nought but a wetsuit and a bodyboard, and someone will meet you a few kilometres downstream. A guide will help you navigate those massive rapids.


How much? NZ$370


Caves are dark, wet and scary. So what could be more fun than donning a wetsuit and a headtorch and wandering into one? In Waitomo on the North Island, you can climb, swim, abseil and “blackwater raft” through some of the most spectacular caves in the world. There's also glow-worm spotting, and abseiling through waterfalls. If, you know, that's your thing.

How much? NZ$243 for a four-hour trek

Ice climbing

The most ice a lot of visitors to New Zealand see is in their cocktail glass. But for the truly hardy (or foolhardy), there's the option of strapping on some crampons and climbing up a huge sheet of it. At the famous Fox Glacier you can do just that, spending a day learning the ins and outs of scaling vertical sheets of frozen water. Fortunately, you'll be tied to a rope.

How much? NZ$235 for one-day course


Combine all your greatest fears at once! Heli-skiing is hugely popular in winter, but in the warmer months, you can have a nice person fly you over the Remarkables mountain range, before dropping you and your guide (and your bikes) 1700m above sea level. From there, you've got four of the most thrilling hours of your life to navigate your way down through the trees to Bannockburn for a comparatively sedate pub lunch.

How much? NZ$449


Is this even a sport? Well, no, not really, unless you count rolling around aimlessly smashing into things as a sport. (But enough about rugby.) To “zorb”, one climbs into a giant inflatable bubble, and allows themselves to be pushed down a slope. That's, um, it. Apparently a good ab workout and/or hangover cure. Check it out in Rotorua.

How much? From NZ$49


Ah, the sweet mountain scenery. The pure, cool air, the endless vistas of green and white, the ARRRGH! That's right, you've just been pushed off the side of a mountain. Sorry, but that's what happens when you sign up for paragliding. It's all the mountain views you could ever hope for while a few canvas straps and an oversized bed sheet keep you from plummeting to your gory, pointless death. Still, what a view, eh?

How much? From NZ$185

This series of articles has been sponsored by Tourism New Zealand