No matter how many times I drive into Queentown, my adrenaline levels start to climb every time I pass through the Kawarau Gorge. It is the adventure capital of NZ (some say the world), so it is to be expected.
First we pass by Roaring Meg, near where you put in for some River Boarding down the rapids, after which I point out the gravel road where the Nevis Bungy or Arc people will be heading to do their Jumps or Swings. Arriving at the Kawarau Bungy Bridge, people psych themselves up to step off the bus, knowing it will bring them one step closer to doing a bungy jump. At this home of the original bungy, hundreds of thousands of people have braved the 43meter jump since 1988. I wonder what Harry Higginson, the Yorkshire born, Telford prizewinning designer of the 1888 Kawarau bridge, would think of this crazy kiwi adrenaline fix?
I sometimes time travel in my mind back to earlier days when people first came to Queenstown. Maori kids would have heard the story about Lake Wakatipu containing the heart of the giant, a story that would have set their hearts racing as they visited the lake. Back in the 1850’s, no doubt the European farmers heart rates would have climbed as they drove their flocks of sheep through the rivers, hoping they would make it across to their new home, then goldminers came in the 1860’s and their hearts would have pounded when they thought they had struck gold. Next came the holiday makers at the end of the last century. The Cobb and Co. horse drawn coach was first to bring them, after which came the steam train, chugging it’s way from Southland, reaching the highest speeds they have ever travelled on the straight track from Lumsden. At Kingston they would transfer to a Steamboat, (similar to the 99 year old TSS Earnslaw which still operates today) and continue chugging up the lake until they rounded the bend and got their first glimpse of beautiful Queenstown. Skiers came in 1939 with the opening of Coronet Peak Skifield, making Queenstown a year round destination. WWII returned servicemen and their families came on a government funded relaxing holiday, probably hoping the adrenaline of their time abroad would fade. In the 60’s and 70’s the Skyline gondola, jet boats and rafting arrived, followed soon by bungy jumping, canyon swings and more.
One time while driving into Queenstown a guy on my bus said ‘Woah, there is someone falling out of the sky everywhere you look!’. He was right, skydivers, parasailers, paragliders, bungy jumpers …