The South Island has exhilarating activities from tip to tail because the landscape is wild and everything is just that much more stupendous with higher mountains, grand old glaciers, bluer lakes, and less people. The mighty Southern Alps are always pushing up, making the island narrow and rugged so you can be skiing down a black run in the morning and catching a surf at sunset. These suggestions are for the thrill seekers and speed junkies, and are guaranteed to pump adrenaline through the system and blast the senses.
Abel Tasman National Park is gob-smackingly beautiful with its postcard golden sand and turquoise water, no matter how you do it: kayak, hike, bike, or boat. One way to up the thrills and avoid the crowds is to experience it canyoning as the Park’s full of rivers and streams that have carved deep canyons into granite stone. Exploring them means getting down the canyons by any means: abseiling, climbing, zip-lining, sliding, scrambling, or the favourite jump and howl like a wolf. Check out Abel Tasman Canyons and please note that the most challenging route is Waterfall Creek with killer slides over waterfalls rated as 10/10.
Nelson’s rated as one of six Gold Ride Centres in the world with hundreds of mountain bike tracks, but if you’re going for gold then get your wheels up in a helicopter. You land in majestic locations that would normally take too long to get to plus there are no beginners taking up space on the tracks. Kill Devil is advertised as the most extreme ride but if you really want to the ultimate golden experience then ask for the ride that’s not listed online—the Mount Royal. This is off the chart grade six to push your shredding skills off the edge. Speak to the team at Helibike Nelson as they’ll get you just where you need to be.
The jet-boat was invented by Bill Hamilton, a kiwi fascinated with the best way to speed across water, and his invention is now used all over the world including the Ganges, Amazon, Congo, Mekong and Yangtze Rivers. The beauty of jet-boating the Buller River is that there’s only one commercial boat in the canyon so it’s just you coming within seven inches of 450-million-year-old massive rock faces. In a V8 Chevy boat, you fly at 85 kmph down boulder-crowded rapids with pink granite sheer sides and spinning by a magnificent horseshoe waterfall. The heated handrails are a nice touch.
The South Island has many white water rivers racing for the ocean and the Buller Gorge is ideal for beginners or intermediate rafting. The less known Karamea River is a white-knuckled grade five requiring serious paddling to face rapids called Holy Sh*t, Roaring Lion and Scarecase. You’ll need at least three days and can hike in if budget doesn’t allow for a helicopter. Either way you’re heading into pristine, underdeveloped Kahurangi National Park wilderness with no huts or people. It’s just you taking on drops, chutes and holes in jaw clenching, remote and rugged terrain.
It’s always a sign of an adventure when full mud gear is provided from the neck to your ankles. Quad biking in Hanmer Springs is not hardcore but it’s a hard out mud fest, especially if it has recently rained. The safety briefing is nice and brief, you don’t need a licence, and you get a couple of hours of full throttle fun over farm terrain through lots of mud, puddles and streams; you’ll look fresh from Glastonbury when you finish. Summer or winter the vista will blow your hair back and for a kicker there’s clay shooting and archery.
Queenstown is famous for bungy jumping but as we recommend the Canyon Swing there why not get your bungy fix from a 135-year-old historic Ferry Bridge in Hanmer, surrounded by mountains and others grinning at you like you’re mad. The 35-metre free fall is a good place to test your skills jumping backwards, doing a flip or getting the perfect superman pose all the way down to the Waiau River below. After being dipped in the freezing river you can head straight to the hot springs to soak your startled muscles in the thermal pools in the centre of the village.
Zip biking isn’t technically a thing but in Christchurch you can mountain bike and zip line in one day so it should be. The longest chairlift in the country takes riders and bikes way up into the Port Hills saving energy for the rush down over expert tracks full of class jumps and hand built trails. Or ditch the bike and zip line in stages from 400 metres to the knee knocking 1100 metres over two hours with epic views. You’re way up there and things are going to get fast real soon and boy are was it worth the chair ride!
There are more rocks and crags to climb in Canterbury than any other region, so this is the place to get your karabiners out. While Hanging Rock on the way to Timaru sounds dangerously good and Port Hills is handy, the best is Castle Hill Basin on the way to Arthur’s Pass. Packed full of massive limestone boulders it looks like Stonehenge’s stunted extended family have crashed and smashed into one spot. With 250 climbs across nine different climbing areas graded between 10 and 31, it will channel your inner Gaston.
If Castle Hill’s crowded, head to Flock Hill* along the road. * Must get permission from the farmer prior to entering the property, Nick Kirk on (03) 318 8195.
Early settlers introduced Thar and Chamois into New Zealand and both are classified as pests causing extreme damage to the habitat they prance all over. Respectful hunting of these animals is not only allowed by DOC, but encouraged to keep numbers under control. The hunting is a thrilling sport as both creatures have sharp eyes and sure-footedness handling steep rocky faces like a ballerina leaving lumbering humans in the dust. It takes patience, fitness and cunning to hunt them, tapping into every animal instinct. Chamois often stand on high vantage points so out smarting them is a challenging backcountry adventure.
If there’s one mountain to sidle up then Mt Cook is it. Aoraki means ‘cloud piercer’ in Maori and being the highest mountain it often does just that. It’s possible to fly to Mueller Hut, at 1800 metres, but hiking is a full mind and body experience. The walk is only 5.2 kms but most of it is straight up and once there the mountains will silence you into awe. The best part is falling asleep to the sound of glaciers moving, rock and ice falling and if you’re lucky, the toe curling sound of an avalanche cascading safely below. Like all mountains the weather is moody, be prepared.
Not everyone can tick skiing a glacier off the list. There are 60 glaciers all creeping towards the ocean but the Tasman, on the east of Mount Cook, and Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers on the west are the most spectacular. Late winter/spring is the time to go when crevasses are piled high with snow, turning them into high-altitude playgrounds. Heli skiing the Tasman, at 4 kms wide and 27 kms long, gives you runs up to 12 km. Over on the west, it’s possible to ski off mountain summits at the head of Fox and Franz Glaciers when the conditions are good.
The hair-raising part of skydiving is the free-fall, where you feel the pull of gravity as you plummet to the earth below at 200 kmph reaching terminal velocity before that chute opens. It’s a rush to all the senses, blows your cheeks inwards and rips your face into an impossible grin. Jumping out of a plane in Wanaka at 15,000 feet is ridiculously picturesque with 360 views of the rugged Southern Alps, snaking Clutha River, inching glaciers, and six lakes including the mighty Lake Wanaka below. Plus it has the most reliable weather conditions. The natural high from the adrenaline rush stays with you all day.
The moment you see Lake Wanaka with its crystal clear water you want to get in it, whether on a paddle board, kayak, with fins, or flying behind a boat on a wakeboard. For beginners, a coach talks to you through a headset from the boat which speeds up your learning. And for pro’s you can jump right into carving up the lake, gnarly spins, turns and flips. There’s a choice of one, two, four or eight hours on the lake, with a variety of toys from boards, surfboards, skates, skis or anything inflatable they’ve got on hand.
Car manufacturers from all over the world test the snow and ice handling skills of their cars at Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds (SHPG). They know their drifting from their shifting. Switched on professional instructors will teach you the basics of snow and ice driving before letting you put your foot down in a European luxury car. Once you’ve got a handle on it behind the wheel you progress up to dynamic snow circle and slalom tracks all purpose built in the stunning Cardrona Valley. You can only do this in groups – find 10 friends or ring up and get in on a group booking.
Nothing beats fresh powder in the South Island and all four ski fields in Queenstown/Wanaka are jaw dropping: Coronet Peak, Treble Cone, Cardrona and The Remarkables. Treble Cone, near Wanaka, has the highest vertical rise and nearly half the tracks are advanced—great for speed junkies wanting to get away from beginners or families and thunder down black runs. From Queenstown’s side, night skiing up Coronet Peak is exhilarating and only 20 minutes from town. The trails are lit with floodlights and the bar stays open so the party starts under the stars and continues down town after 9pm.
Bungy jumping’s a rush because you’re close enough to the ground that your brain screams ‘what are you doing?’ and sky diving’s phenomenal because you’re so far away from the ground your brain doesn’t register until you free-fall. But both are about falling so the closest feeling to actually flying is hang gliding. By running full speed towards a cliff edge you have to trust in the glider (and instructor) as the air picks you up. Then you soar like a bird, catching the wind currents, and truly flying over stunning views of the Southern Lakes in Queenstown.
When an activity is graded by its dirty underwear rating you can trust it will totally utterly freak you out. The canyon swing is the world’s largest swing with a 200-foot free-fall down a cliff face of jagged rocks, then a 200-metre arc swing over the Shotover River. If jumping isn’t scary enough you can up the stakes by asking for ‘the chair’ and get pushed off backwards, or ‘the trike’ to ride over the edge, or ‘the slide’ to plummet off the end. Locals love this 150kmph swing, plus you’ll be joining the ranks of undie staining celebrities Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber.
There are mountain bike tracks all over Queenstown, Arrowtown and Glenorchy with drop-dead views and terrain, but it’s possible to drop right into leg quaking grade six tracks in the middle of town. Hire a bike, catch the Gondola up and get into Queenstown Bike Park. With 27 trails over 30km there are serious tracks like World Cup, Grundy and Hobbit with no-option drops, G-outs and steep rolls, plus an 800m long jump trail. They’re not kidding when a sign says ‘black diamond’, and once you’ve shredded that, Wynyard Express Park is next-door full of mega jumps.
River surfing has been described as ‘White water rafting on steroids’ There’s no nice rubber boat to cling onto, it’s just you in a wetsuit and a specially designed body board tackling raging rapids, riding whirlpools, spinning around eddy’s and surfing river waves. Pioneered in Queenstown and run by professionals, river surfing pushes you to the extreme. Everyone gets two runs down the river, the first run you figure out how to survive and handle rapids like ‘Roaring Meg’ and ‘Maneater’, and the second run is pure, wild, full on enjoyment. You have to be fit to handle this.
Between December and June around 100 Great White Sharks congregate between the South Island and Stewart Island for a meet up. If you can get down there this is a heart thumping experience as you get real close to these mighty beasts from a cage. Approved by DOC, it’s all the adrenaline without the danger of being alone in the ocean. If you don’t have a PADI scuba certificate they’ll teach you before diving in. If you can’t get that far down south then jump in the submersible shark machine, Hydro Attack, on Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown and experience the g-forces.
Banner Photo Credit: Coronet Peak