The Nevis Bungee, Queenstown, New Zealand

22 12 2007


The word is bounced around backpackers in the South Pacific in a whisper of reverence, with a tremor of fear and a frisson of wonder. The Nevis is the ultimate bungee jump in the Land of Bungee, New Zealand. In a country where every other person is throwing themselves out of planes, jumping off cliffs, diving with monsters of the deep, and tying rubber ropes around their ankles, it is the Nevis that inspires the greatest amount of wide-eyed ‘whoa’.

It was in Auckland where AJ Hackett performed the first modern bungee jump off the Harbor Bridge, inspired by the natives of Vanuatu. After jumping he was promptly arrested and then repeated his stunt a few weeks later from the Eiffel Tower, gaining worldwide notoriety for the new extreme sport.

Today the AJ Hackett Bungee World Headquarters is located in the middle of Queenstown, New Zealand, the adventure sports capital of the world. Here you can sign up for your choice of bungee experiences. Some choose The Ledge and jump out over the mountain village (a puny 47 meters), and some choose the world’s first commercial bungee jumping site at the Kawarau Bridge (only 43 meters; bring out the kindergartners). But for the real hard-core chicks like me there is only one option: The Nevis.

The 4×4 ride out to the jump site along cliff-clinging dirt roads would be enough thrill for most normal people, as would the see-through grating on the floor of the cable car that pulleys you out to the jump pod. High above the rugged river in the windy canyon you wait, hard rock music blasting, heart thumping, knees shaking over the Plexiglas floor, the words of your mother pushed to the very back of your mind. One after another your siblings in insanity fling themselves out of the pod, returning a few minutes later with an open-mouthed I-understand-the-universe-a-little-more-now look on their blood-rushed heads. Finally, it is your turn. Your ankles are bound together, your harness is triple-checked, the ropes are attached, and you shuffle out to the jump platform like a dead man walking. Soak up the amazing view of the open canyon walls and tiny little river hundreds of feet below, and remember that swan dives looks best on the DVD you will buy as proof of your courage/lunacy. Take a deep breath, and give a final wave to the camera for posterity.


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post and photos by: Shilo Urban

Bula Bula and Broken Hearts

20 12 2007

They say only time can heal a broken heart- obviously “they” have never been to Fiji. It is impossible to be sad on these islands as the air drips with the smell of tropical flora, the fresh seafood is served with handpicked flowers, and the musical Fijian hello, Bula Bula, floats through the air along with songs of hello and goodbye. I tried crying into my Mai Tai on the white sand beach, which was almost as hard as sulking in my stone-lined private pool. Pouting while snorkeling really didn’t work, as the incredible house-sized fluorescent orange brain coral makes you automatically say “WOW” which forces the bottom lip down, not out. Hiking through the jungles of Taveuni across streams up to hidden waterfalls takes your breath away as well as your anger, and getting lost in the mangrove swamps is so much better than getting lost in emotion. Why be morose when you can be massaged?

Like most tropical destinations, the farther you go and the smaller the island (and the more you spend), the more you will be able to remove yourself from “civilization.” In Fiji some hotels are on their own private isles, some hammocks have views to the island where the movie Castaway was filmed, some have neon purple jellyfish washed up on white sands for a couple of hours every afternoon. But everywhere you will find warm, friendly, smiling faces- not just in the uber-resorts for rich honeymooners, but in the taro fields, walking along gravel roads, and riding to school in bright blue dingies. You can’t miss the infectious warmth of the Fijians, anymore that you can’t miss…what was his name, anyway?

Shilo Urban

Sydney Bridge Birthday Party

19 12 2007

“Happy birthday dear Shilo, happy birthdaaay…toooooo….yooouuuuu.”

I am on top of the world as the familiar song wraps up. Well, okay, on top of Sydney, Australia. At my fingertips are the glistening skyscrapers and the old rock buildings; the high flying opera house and the sprawling, boat-filled harbor she overlooks. I have just climbed up the Sydney Harbor Bridge past zooming traffic and commuter trains, over decades-old pylons, sailboats and ferries, and now stand overlooking one of the most beautiful and thriving cities in the world. Of course I had my pick of Sydney birthday experiences to choose from- surfer ogling and fish and chips at Manly Beach, a Bach Symphony in the wooden concert hall of the Sydney Opera House, a morning of shopping at the Rocks market followed by a meal of kangaroo and pavlova, an afternoon with the koalas and meerkats at the Tuaranga Zoo, or maybe surfer ogling and ice cream cones at Bondi Beach…

The options are numerous but what can I say? Every place I visit I have the inexplicable urge to get to the highest point, and soon upon arrival I find myself on top of the Space Needle, the ocean-side cliff, the Eiffel Tower, the London Eye, the cathedral’s north bell tower, the roof of my hotel, or wherever I can best fill my eyes of amazing new vistas. As much as some people are afraid of heights, I am drawn to them, addicted some might say. So for me the choice is easy, and an afternoon spent crawling and climbing up one of the world’s most famous bridges and the pride of Sydney turns into my best birthday ever.

The final notes of my birthday song float along the warm South Pacific breeze and down across the amazing city, and soon I too descend back to the streets to see what the rest of the day has in store for me…there’s a little party called Mardi Gras tonight I want to check out.

Best. Birthday. Ever.

Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb

Shilo Urban

New Zealand Black Water Rafting

18 12 2007

The brochure did not mention the eels.

I signed up for underground rivers, rappelling down a deep, dark, hourglass-shaped hole in the earth, green constellations of glowworms, squeezing under waterfalls along the cave wall, ziplining to rock ledges, the spirits of Ruakiri and the ancient Maori chiefs, water up to my neck and the cave roof mere inches over my head, inching my way through holes with names like “Birth”, and climbing up waterfalls to find a way out- but eels? Eels? There are two things in the world I fear: the dentist, and eels. I had even avoided the proudly advertised “tame eels” in random restaurant/eel petting zoos around the country. Welcome to New Zealand.

But as I wade chest-deep through the flowing river two hundred feet below the surface at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves on the north island, I begin to doubt my decision to sign up for the most extreme Black Abyss Adventure with the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company. Why couldn’t I have gone skydiving in Taupo, jet boating in Queenstown, or hang gliding in Christchurch? New Zealand is so full of adventure sports options, you must prioritize your adrenaline rushes and pick and choose how you will experience the Land of the Long White Cloud. Though I had selected black water rafting because it was an experience unique to New Zealand, I had also literally submerged myself in the only option that would truly make my heart squirm with fear.

I try to brush away the hideous thought of the cave eels (much as they were brushing along my thighs) and concentrated on my ‘cave snack’ of chocolate and hot orange juice, which is surprisingly comforting when surrounded by the apple green glowworms- though cave insiders know what they are really admiring on the cavern’s ceiling is glowing maggot feces. The term “glowworm” is just so much more romantic. The three hours spent underground are unlike any others in my life. This is no walk-through, look-at-the-stalactites caving experience. This is raw, cold, exhausting, and you might just look up that waterfall to the cave exit and doubt you can climb up through it. But you will, and you will emerge back out of the earth changed forever. Beware though: the brochure does not mention the eels.

Shilo Urban