From The Hutch
I’m not sure where the fear of heights came from.
Since I was a child I’ve been scrambling around rocks and tramping in the mountains, hopping across swing bridges without thinking twice. We even built a four-storey treehouse in a silver birch.
In my teenage years I’d pop down to the aerodrome across the road in the Mount and hitch rides on the tow planes that took the gliders up. I craved the sensation of falling and weightlessness you get when the plane dives after releasing the glider.
Somehow, over the last 20 or 30 years, things changed. Maybe it’s the job – I mean you rarely get called upon to cover adventures that end as planned, without a glitch. I’ve only been to Queenstown three times – two of those trips were for coroner’s inquests.
Nowadays, the thought of standing too close to the edge fills me with a creeping terror. I can’t even watch rock climbers on TV without tensing up. Those people who hang off things with one hand, high up in the air, just makes the skin crawl.
A firm ‘no’
So when I got the chance to do a Rotorua Canopy Tour zipline it was a definite ‘no’, even though it looked amazing. Come to think of it, the flying fox was one of my favourite activities when I was younger – the longer and higher the better.
I do make myself do stupid and terrifying things sometimes. My daughter loves all the roller coasters and death-defying contraptions at amusement parks, so I do them all too. I still shudder when I recall the Stratosfear at Rainbow’s End.
What really gets me is the thought that just one thing needs to malfunction and it’s all-over Red Rover. At least in one of those little planes you can still land if the motor runs out.
I think that’s the key – being able to rationalise the whole thing, be comfortable with the process and then put all your faith in someone else and something else.
The leap of faith
So, in the end, I decide to have a go. What pushes me over the edge is that I just can’t envisage plummeting to my death in a crater of ferns – excited fantails waiting to guide me to the final destination.
It’s a short drive to the forest and one of our guides, Sean, reassures us that the most dangerous part of the trip is over. To my ears, that just means the rest of the trip is going to be terrifying.
Nevertheless, we set off, with the little pully system on our harnesses clanking as we walk up higher into the forest. There are a few stops to talk about the birds and the plants and serial killer stoats, in between the adventurous bits.
It turns out it’s not so bad – the forest below is green and thick; the tops of the trees give a false sense of being closer to the ground.
After a few ziplines and swing bridges, our two guides and three of my colleagues are standing on a platform halfway up a 1000-year-old rimu, 22 metres off the ground.
There’s a staircase to nowhere that we are supposed to walk backwards down before stopping to pose for a photo and then stepping off into nothing.
“Is that your best smile?” asks Stacey, the other guide.
I feel like it was an appropriate smile for someone about to throw themselves off a platform, however I found another version of a smile for the camera and then stepped back into space.
Hurtling down 200-odd metres of zipline is exhilarating and I land with the grace of a swan – albeit one that has had a run-in with a microlight.
By the last swing bridge, I’m hanging back off the rope and then trying to flip upside down on the last zipline. Tom Cruise has got his Burj Khalifa moment, and I’ve always got the time I lost my inhibitions in a virgin forest.
The next day, driving from Pāpāmoa to Rotorua, we come to those annoying road works traffic lights that only let five cars through before holding everyone up for another 10 minutes. It’s red, there’s eight cars in front and the car behind us decides to pass everyone and race through anyway. They must have made it because there was no wreckage when we finally went through.
I think I’ve been worrying about the wrong things. I’d rather plummet headfirst into a silver fern than die doing something as mundane as driving.
Stay safe these holidays and have fun while you’re at it.
There’s so much to do right here in our own backyard.