Move over NZ, we have our own extreme sport capital

Stephanie Gardiner finds the New South Wales north coast has many ways to get the heart racing.

I'm on a bicycle hurtling down a steep and winding hill in the middle of a rainforest, heart pumping and mouth dry as I narrowly avoid roaring Mack trucks and sudden cliff drops.

And I'm loving it.

Ever the huge wuss, my hands linger on the brakes, but I'm going fast enough that the shadows of the tall trees flicker like strobe lights as I whiz past waterfalls, rock faces and thick bushland.

This is what a real adrenaline rush feels like and you don't have to cross the Tasman to the extreme sports capital of Queenstown to experience it.

With beaches, rivers and rainforests the NSW Coffs Coast is Australia's own place to get plenty of action and adventure.

I'm doing the Dorrigo Free Fall bike ride which winds down Waterfall Way in Dorrigo National Park, near Bellingen, from 746 metres above sea level.

It takes less than half an hour to reach just five metres above sea level, but about two hours for my heart rate to return to normal.

This downhill mountain bike ride was created by Gary Eagles, who was inspired by a similar bike tour he discovered while travelling in Maui, Hawaii.

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Gary, a burly and enthusiastic man who has lived and travelled in Antarctica, Asia, Europe and in the outback, humbly describes his thrillseeker level as "slight".

But I'm not sure I believe him as he leads the ride, barely touching the brakes.

His swift headstart doesn't mean other riders have to rush though, with Gary encouraging me and my travel companions to ride at our own pace - and to avoid looking at the steep ledges on the left.

A ute follows the pack of bicycles down the hill to ensure cars stay well away, allowing for thrills without any spills.

The ride ends at a quiet spot by a creek at the bottom of the hill, with a provided picnic of strawberries, juice, crackers and muffins baked by Gary's wife Inhal.

Gary says the idea behind the experience is simple.

"Every child grows up on a bike, so it's just an extension of that."

The next morning, I get my pulse racing again by jumping out of a plane at 14,000 feet.

It is my first jump and I'm terrified, but it is tandem jumper Julian Brunt's 973rd sky dive so I feel like I'm in safe hands.

On the 40 minute flight above the clouds he checks my harnesses and tries to get me to relax, while I busily distract myself with the view of two humpback whales frolicking below.

He opens the plane door and we leap into thin air; my heart races so fast that I forget to breathe as we flip a few times and go into a fast free fall.

Soon the parachute releases and we glide through the air for a few glorious minutes, taking in a bird's-eye view of Coffs Harbour, bushland and the ocean.

We land on the beach - a specialty of Sky Dive Coffs Harbour - and I'm left with a natural high for the rest of the day.

Even Julian, who jumps out of a plane most days, says he never gets used to the feeling.

"It never gets boring," he tells me.

A four-day trip to Coffs Harbour and its surrounds convinces me the same could be said of the area.

Early next month, the Coffs Coast will host the Australian leg of the FIA World Rally Championship and local driver Nathan Quinn will compete.

I watch Nathan, 25, take a practice run on a dirt road twisting through the bush, coming what appears to be dangerously close to corners, ditches and leaving a cloud of dust and gravel behind him.

I am invited to take a ride with him and, while I'm a little nervous, I couldn't feel safer as I'm strapped tightly into the passenger seat and a helmet.

Nathan barely draws breath while telling me about his love for his home town, his excitement about competing in front of friends and family and even waving to his mum on the sidelines.

His father Martin Quinn, a former driver, tells me the family live and breathe rally driving, but he and his wife find watching their son's races nerve-racking.

"As an ex-competitor, I'm the worst passenger in the world," Nathan says.

"My wife freaks out, she'll be in tears."

On the home stretch Nathan tells me we reached about 100km/h, but he tries not to track his speed.

"I actually get scared looking at the speedo," he says.

Yep, it seems like the Coffs Coast is the perfect place for wusses to go wild.

The writer travelled as a guest of Destination NSW and Coffs Coast Tourism.

FAST FACTS

Getting there

Coffs Harbour is about 530km north of Sydney or 390km south of Brisbane.

Qantas flies from Sydney to Coffs Harbour daily.

Staying there

Breakfree Aanuka Beach Resort has rooms from $168 a night.

The resort, close to picturesque Diggers Beach, has six types of spacious rooms surrounded by gardens, with a large pool.

Phone (02) 6652 7555; see www.breakfreeaanukabeachresort.com.au

Experiences

Dorrigo Free Fall is a guided ride down a sealed mountain road in Dorrigo National Park.

The tour - including the ride, refreshments, pick up and drop off and a walk on an elevated platform overlooking the rainforest - is $97 per person.

Phone (02) 6653 8609; see http://runningwild.com.au/

Sky Dive Coffs Harbour offer dives from $249

Phone 0433 254 438; see www.skydivecoffs.com.au

The Australian round of the FIA World Rally Championship is on in Coffs Harbour from September 8-11

See http://www.rallyaustralia.com

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