Stuart Forster takes the plunge on an adrenaline-fuelled trip around New Zealand – the ideal destination for solo travellers
From my position at the edge of the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge it looks more than 43 metres down to the green river that swirls between the cliffs. Queenstown is renowned as a hub for adventure tourism and signing up to do my first bungee jump seemed a great idea yesterday. That was after a couple of pints of craft ale at the Atlas Beer Café, close to the shore of Lake Wakatipu. Now I’m wondering why I didn’t opt for a jet boat ride, mountain biking or canyoning.
My ankles are bound together by a harness, so backing away simply isn’t an option. “If you’re scared of heights you’re in the wrong place, mate,” says one of the AJ Hackett employees who have connected me to the rope. I know I’m safe – after all, bungee jumps have been made from where I’m standing since 1988 – but I can’t help feeling nervous as the countdown to my jump begins.
Looping around New Zealand’s South Island has been an enjoyable way of spending the past few days. The landscape has impressed me because it undergoes dramatic changes within relatively short distances. Driving has provided me with freedom to stop and photograph the likes of giant ferns, sandy beaches and natural landmarks such as the crevassed ice of Fox Glacier. It meant I didn’t have to worry about time while observing fellow travellers snapping selfies by the Church of the Good Shepherd, the stone-built chapel that has Lake Takapo and Mount Cook’s snow-capped peak as its backdrop.
Having a car enabled me to get away from the usual tourist trail and explore Akaroa, a settlement with French origins and colourful colonial buildings on the rugged peninsula that juts into the South Pacific below Christchurch. The drive would have taken a little more than an hour if the tussock-clumped hills over Lyttleton Harbour hadn’t prompted me to pause several times for photos.
The wine’s been good, too. Having a vehicle enabled me to visit Villa Maria’s Marlborough estate and learn about the terroir and production processes of New Zealand’s largest wine region. But, on the downside, it also meant I couldn’t let loose when sampling the produce. Providing all goes well with this bungee jump, I’ll open the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc I bought at the cellar door. The 2,435 hours of sunshine that bless this part of the country each year mean I can expect fruity flavours and a crisp finish.
One of the unexpected highlights of my trip so far has been soaking outdoors in a mineral-rich, thermally heated pool, then stepping into a Japanese-style onsen bath at the Maruia Hot Springs. Located by the side of Highway 7, I stopped off out of curiosity and lingered until long after the skin on my fingers wrinkled.
Snapping out of my flashback, I’m aware that my fingertips are about to get wet again when my outstretched hands plunge into the Kawarau River as the bungee rope extends. “Go!” yells a Kiwi voice and I plummet from the bridge.
Options for solo travellers in New Zealand
Breathtaking New Zealand (from £5,899) by Just You (justyou.co.uk), is an 18-day escorted tour for solo travellers with guaranteed departures from March until November. The tour includes 16 nights in three or four-star hotels with breakfast plus international flights on Singapore Airlines. It begins in Auckland, moving southwards via Wellington, looping through the South Island before returning from Christchurch. A cruise on Milford Sound and a visit to Waitomo glow worm grotto are among the included excursions.
AAT Tours (aatkings.com) offers solo travellers the opportunity to share with a guest of the same gender to avoid a single supplement. The company will provide accommodation in a single room if they can’t pair travellers up. Inspiring New Zealand (from £5,175) is a 10-day tour of both islands, including stays at Rotorura, Tamaki Maori Village, and Queenstown, plus visits to the Museum of New Zealand and Zealandia ecosanctuary in Wellington.
New Zealand Contrasts for solo travellers (from £8,199) by Saga Holidays (travel.saga.co.uk) includes 23 nights in hotels, with breakfast and dinner, plus three nights in flight. The itinerary includes cruises of the Bay of Islands, the islands of the Marlborough Sounds and across Milford Sound. Queenstown’s Skyline Gondola and the TranzAlpine Express are also included.
The eight-day South Island New Zealand road trip with glaciers self-drive tour (from £1,120), by Travel Nation (travelnation.co.uk) begins and ends in Christchurchs. It includes seven nights’ accommodation and five days’ car hire. Also included are a jet boat excursion, a guided walk in Glacier Valley, a cruise on Milford Sound and the TranzAlpine Express.