I don’t remember jumping. My pictures show me in an almost perfect swan dive, arms stretched, and legs straight but I don’t remember doing it. I hobbled/hopped up to the ledge, my hands gripped together, my face a whiter shade of pale and tried to control my breathing. Repeating my mantra “everything be alright. I’ll love it. Just breathe. The adrenaline rush will kick in and I will come up glowing like everyone else had.”
Then they said it… “1, 2, 3, Jump”
New Zealand. The birth place of the bungy and adventure tourism. Inspired by the tradition of land-diving practiced by the inhabitants of the Pentecost Island in the South Pacific. Men, to prove to their bravery jump from a ladder like structure attached to a rope head first. Several other people around the world decided to recreate the experience since then, such as the Oxford University’s Dangerous Sports Club but it was AJ Hacket and Henry van Asch in 1988 who were the first to commercialize it, creating the world’s official first bungee jump at Kawarau Bridge, just outside of Queenstown. Since then, bungy jumping sites have popped up all over the world at a range of heights and with a range of experiences included. For example, at the Ledge Bungy in Queenstown you can jump off the bridge attempting a handstand or back flip, or with a garbage can over your head. I jumped at Bloukrans Bridge with Face Adrenalin situated along the Garden Route in South Africa it is the highest bridge in Africa and it was at the time the highest commercial jump in the world at 216m high.
Queenstown though is at the heart of it all. Kawarau Bridge runs over the Kawarau Gorge, a rugged landscape with an icy blue river flowing down the middle. The sun was beaming when we pulled up to the visitors centre and headed down the winding ramp into the building where we were shown an invigorating movie on the history of bungee jumping. Then comes the moment of decision. To jump or not to jump. The jump is the smallest of the Queenstown bungys at 43m.; still tall enough to make you have second thoughts though. What is cool about this site is that you can request to be dunked in the river if you wish. From my bus, there were around nine who jumped that day. All very brave in my books.
Throughout the Stray tour the main question was, “Are you going to do a bungy jump?” It’s on Nipper’s list of must dos in New Zealand. And the views are pretty amazing from the bridges. For me though, I had already added it to and checked it off the bucket list the same day in South Africa. No need to repeat it.” When I did the tour of the Garden Route it had been the same question. There were six of us on it and almost everyone minus myself planned on taking the leap including our guide. Jumping off a bridge attached to an elastic band had never appealed to me. Jumping out of a plane. Yes. But bungee jumping. No. And literally until we arrived at Bloukrans Bridge it was still no. Then my perception of distance failed me. I looked at the bridge and thought mmm well it doesn’t look too bad. Our guide, who was in his mid-40’s and wanted to do it so why couldn’t I. Maggie, was terrified as it was her biggest fear but her best friend was doing it, I suddenly thought it didn’t look too scary, and she wanted to face her fear so she was going too. So decision made, we were in it together. The butterflies began to flutter as the crew at Face Adrenaline weighed and fitted me; growing exponentially as we headed over the mesh underbridge to the middle platform where we would jump till it felt like I had pterodactyls in my stomach.
Steph, Melissa, Melanie, Rich, Ceidre, and the others got themselves fitted, weighed and branded and headed to the middle of the bridge to wait their turn. I watched from balcony with the rest of the Stray Bus, breath held, cheering/screaming encouragement as each of them went to the plank. Making sure that I had Stephanie’s camera at the ready to capture the fall. My tummy felt their nerves as they took the plunge but I also felt a bit of mom pride and a fleeting thought of now that really doesn’t look that bad. Each one came up charged with energy and grateful for the staff who helped them through the jump.
My first conscious memory after I jumped was the start of the recoil. Thankfully, due to the height of the bridge, the recoil isn’t actually bad but my brain in panic mode kept reminding myself not to stiffen up, relax and stay loosey goosey otherwise I might hurt myself. I think there might have been a few flowery words thrown in there but we’ll skip those.
My heart pounded through my chest and my legs and feet ached from tensing because to me it felt like they were about to fall through the foam casing holding them. They forgot to tell me that minor detail – that it would feel like I was going to slip through but there was no way it would actually happen…minor detail. As I dangled over the canyon willing and waiting for them to pick me up. I thought, open your eyes Lia, this is silly, look around at the view it will help with the disorientation. I peeled open an eyelid took in the rocks below and the distance in between and quickly shut my eyes. Nope, fear of heights had not dissipated during my decent. What felt like eternity and a day was in actuality only about 75 seconds; my rescuer arrived to take me back to the bridge. He took one look at me and said, “You don’t like heights do you?” I just shook my head. Once at the top I posed for the mandatory loved it or survived it photo and promptly collapsed into my friends arms and cried from relief and amazement that I did it.
For me, it wasn’t my cup of tea, but for most, I can honestly say it’s a check off the old bucket list and they are so happy they did it. Ceidre was in shock for a while but slowly began to glow and I’m pretty sure signed up for the Nevis, the highest bungee in NZ at 134m, later that weekend. Maggie conquered her fear and came up loving it, as did everyone else that jumped with me that day. So whether in New Zealand, South Africa or elsewhere about to take the leap, I’ll leave it to you to ask yourself, “To jump or not to jump. That is the question”