Pocket your fear and feel the rush

You don't need to be an elite athlete to master these thrilling challenges, writes Lee Atkinson.

Tandem hang-gliding


The beachside cliffs of Bald Hill at Stanwell Park, south of Sydney, are a good place to try this. You can undertake full-instruction courses that will have you flying solo with your pilot's licence as soon as you're ready or, if you prefer to try before you buy, tandem 30-minute sightseeing flights are available. Experience is not necessary but making a booking is strongly advised. See www.hangglideoz.com.au.

BMX bungy jumping


Once you've done your first jump, you'll be back for more. Do two jumps and you can do your third in style, riding a BMX bike off the platform. Inspired by the manhood ritual on Vanuatu's Pentecost Island – where young men jump from 35-metre towers with vines tied around their feet – the modern bungy jump, using latex-rubber cords (with or without the BMX), is the ultimate swan dive. The 50-metre Cairns Bungy Tower is 15 kilometres north of the city, among lush tropical rainforest. See ajhackett.com.au.

Swim with sea lions



The Southern Ocean waters off the Eyre Peninsula are cold enough to take your breath away, even in summer, but you'll forget the pain once you make eye contact with the puppy dog of the sea, the Australian sea lion. They like to play, so the more you splash and swim, the more they respond. Two operators offer half-day trips to known sea lion haunts: one off Port Lincoln, the other at Baird Bay on the western side of the Eyre Peninsula. See bairdbay.com and adventurebaycharters.com.au.

Abseiling for beginners


When your bottom is hanging out over the edge of a cliff with nothing between you and a rocky gorge floor except a lot of air, it's hard to feel elegant. Yet abseiling is actually almost as easy as it looks: all you have to do is take a big step backwards and ignore the voice screaming inside your head. The Blue Mountains area is one of the best spots for nervous first-timers , as the scenery is gorgeous enough to distract you from the terror and you can work your way up (or down, as the case may be) from easy five-metre drops to scary 30-metre cliffs with overhangs. See rdmh.com.au.

Rally-car driving


Head to WRX Experience's purpose-built track, where you can let loose your inner Stig behind the wheel of a rally-spec Subaru Impreza WRX STi. The adventure starts with a safety briefing and rundown on the principles of rally driving, then you're strapped in to the car beside a professional rally driver, who helps you work your way around the track. By the sixth lap, you'll be flinging yourself (safely) around the circuit, thankful that the "trees" you keep ploughing into are plastic traffic cones. See thewrxexperience.com.

White-water rafting


The Franklin River is not only one of the world's big wild rivers, it is Australia's best destination for the sport of white-water rafting. Take the challenge here and you are sure to be thoroughly tested, with rapidly fluctuating water levels, unpredictable weather and demanding portages.

All this means that on occasion it can feel a bit like a bushwalk with a raft rather than the other way around. But it's a magnificent adventure nonetheless, through gorges, superb rapids and some spectacular scenery that will change the way you think about our wilderness areas.

Most of the trips take between five and 10 days to complete. See worldexpeditions.com.au and raftingtasmania.com and tas-ex.com.