Thursday, October 13, 2005

Only Idiots bungey-jump

We arrived in Queenstown at around four o'clock. That most awkward of hours, it is too late to really do anything with the day, too early to settle down in a nice bar for some serious drinking. The English insist on drinking tea and eating cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off, or at least they do in the stereotype. I'm not much of a tea drinker myself, and cucumber really belongs in Pimms, so we were at a bit of a loss as to what to do.

Then Barbara spotted the steamship Earnshaw moored at the quay. Trips across the lake to Walter Peak Farm. The story goes that two intrepid explorers, on arriving at lake Wakatipu, tossed a coin to decide who would farm the left bank, and who the right. The right bank became Queenstown, gold was found and riches abounded. The left was cut off from the rest of the world, difficult to farm and soon went bust. That's gambling for you.

Barbara and boats don't traditionally go together. Not unless you are looking for much queasiness and the odd bit of projectile vomiting. So it was with some surprise that I listened to her suggestion of a trip across the lake and back. On the other hand, it was something to do, vaguely touristy and there was a bar on the boat.

We drank cold Chardonnay, despite the early hour. There was something very civilised about it as we first glided, then bobbed, then rocked across the waters, the winds picking up away from the shelter of the bay. It was better for us than for the family that used to farm Walter Peak; every Sunday they would row across the lake to Queenstown for Church - a five to seven hour journey each way. Sometimes it took even longer, if the weather was bad. I'm not sure my faith would have sustained me as far as the jetty.

Queenstown is the tourism capital of New Zealand, or so it claims. The emphasis is definitely on the extreme side of tourism. There are jet-boats - an expensive and frightening way to get wet. There's a luge track at the top of a cliff, with scant barriers to stop you should you lose control. There's tandem paragliding - especially popular with the elderly if our experience was anything to go by. And there's bungy jumping.

Now, I'm the sort of person who thinks that jumping out of a perfectly good aeroplane is, at best, a silly thing to do. Jumping off a platform, or a bridge, or some other high place with a rubber band strapped around your waste is just plain daft. In Queenstown they've got it down to an art-form.

At the top of the same cliff which keeps the lugers' minds focussed there is a platform, cantilevered out from the rock and hovering over a two hundred metre drop. Here sane men (and women) don't go. I wouldn't even walk out onto the platform, let alone tie some elastic around my middle and then step into the air. I have vertigo, so even thinking about it make my nads retract. And yet people will pay good money to have the shit quite literally scared out of them. Extra for the laundry afterwards. Well, it takes all sorts, I suppose.

There is a well-kept secret downside to bungy-jumping; an injury no-one likes to talk about. It's not twisted necks or dislocated joints, not even the occasional snapped-rope splat (it's not the fall that kills you; it's the sudden deceleration trauma). What hospitals close to favoured leaping spots have to deal with on an all too often basis is detached retinas. Apparently the acceleration and deceleration can rip the lining from the inside of your eyes. Think about that if you're ever tempted to stick two fingers up to gravity.

Next: Frottage and Glow-worms


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