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Up in the air, underground - surprise yourself in New Zealand (Travelogue)

Up in the air, underground - surprise yourself in New Zealand (Travelogue)

Auckland, Feb 8 (IANS) "You bungee jumped? You?" Yes I did! And I experienced a jaw-dropping climb up a bridge 64m above sea level; traversed through an underground cave, dark but magical with glow worms; went jet boating in the foothills of the scenic Southern Alps; and, to top it all, reached the skies in a hot air balloon! A trip to New Zealand, as I discovered, can turn out to be all about surprising yourself.

If you're packing your bags to soak in some cricket mania during the forthcoming ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, which the country is co-hosting with Australia from Feb 14, remember not to get away without trying some stupendous thrills that New Zealand offers. Great memories are guaranteed!

In Auckland, I first signed up for SkyJump (must try if you can) from the iconic SkyTower, which gives an almost bird's eye view of the metropolitan city. But the weather played havoc with the plan - or should I say, it made the unplanned more exciting.

We embarked, from the foot of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, on a 'Bridge Climb' -- the only activity allowing walking access to witness the architectural features of the landmark, in all of New Zealand. Here, I could also bungee jump!

To do, or not to do - the question oscillated like a pendulum in my head. But the assurance of support, security and safety from staff at AJ Hackett, pioneers of adventure tourism, took my apprehensions away - only until I reached the bungee pod!

Jitters went down my spine, but I was assured, and reassured, that it would be an experience of a lifetime.

Surely enough, it was.

The nervousness, the shivering legs, the "Why am I doing this" thought and the pounding heart all set aside, that 40m jump - even sans the ocean-dip that I could've

opted for - gave a rush of such adrenaline and confidence that it made the 'impossible' in my head possible. My shoe fell off mid-air, oops - but boy, I felt like a bird.

The adventure didn't finish just there. It was time to finish the Auckland Harbour Bridge Climb - a harnessed walk through a perforated path with the Pacific Ocean down below - to reach the marvellous structure's top, 64m above sea level. It's a view to behold, complete with Auckland's attractions and scenery. Several times you'll wonder whether to watch where you're going or to look around.

From Auckland, we moved to the heart of the North Island, the diverse Hamilton and Waikato, to experience the world famous Waitomo Caves with its glow worms. You can choose different ways to explore the caves via guided caving and rafting tours -- there's a three-hour dry trip for the less enterprising, apart from Black Abyss, Black Labyrinth and Black Odyssey, catering something to suit all adventurous spirits.

I chose to be part of the more challenging Black Labyrinth, which had me climbing, black water tubing, leaping and floating through Ruakuri Cave, which had cascading waterfalls to battle and also allowed one to float down an underground river with only the twinkling glow of 'Arachnocampa luminosa' or the New Zealand glow worms on the limestone galleries up above.

The experience is magical, but seems scary and claustrophobic at first. Having a little guts and faith in the trained guides will help. A tip - the water is chilly, and your only gear is a wet suit. Also, avoid this activity if you're scared of the dark.

Yet another must-do is jetboating in Christchurch. A highlight? The 360 degree jet spin right in the middle of the spectacular and ice-cold Waimakariri River canyon through the foothills of the Southern Alps. It may not be as daring as the other activities, but this high speed and fun adventure, with cold winds blowing on your face, will definitely leave you asking for more.

After jumping off a bridge and going underground, the next on my adventure agenda was to float in mid-air in a hot air balloon, soaking in panoramic views from up above the sky so high - from where the grazing cattle on lush green fields look like tiny dots.

Assisting the pilot to unfold and inflate the balloon, and fold it back after the picturesque air journey will all turn out to be part of the wonderful memories you'll carry back with you. It's enchanting, truly.

Try it - look beyond cricket in New Zealand on your Cricket World Cup sojourn, it will surprise you!

FAQs:

* Getting there: There are no direct flights between India and New Zealand; but the two countries are well-connected via multiple carriers. A flight from New Delhi to Auckland via Singapore would take you 5 hours 40 minutes New Delhi-Singapore and almost 10 hours Singapore-Auckland.

* Air New Zealand is convenient for domestic travel. There are also self-drive options.

* Visa: Immigration New Zealand (INZ) offices are located in New Delhi and Mumbai. For the Cricket World Cup, a joint visa is on offer from Jan 26 to April 5.

* Travel and accommodation: New Zealand works with several travel and trade partners in India who offer customised itineraries based on the requirements and one's budget. These packages are ideal for business travellers, families, solo travellers and honeymooners.

* Must eat dishes: Dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetable produce and a year-round availability of fresh sea-food can satiate your taste buds. Pork, fish, duck and lamb dishes are available in varied styles. If you're a vegetarian, there are options aplenty. Also, almost all cities have Indian restaurants.

* Cost of adventure activities: These websites have details: www.aucklandbridgeclimb.co.nz , www.skyjump.co.nz , www.bungy.co.nz/auckland-bridge ,

www.waitomo.com/Black-Water-Rafting/Pages/Black-Water-Rafting.aspx , www.alpinejet.co.nz ,

www.ballooningcanterbury.com .

(The writer's trip was hosted by Tourism New Zealand)

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