Waiheke Island: Flying high over Waiheke

By Helen van Berkel

A bird's eye view is your reward when you take to the skies above Waiheke, discovers Helen van Berkel.
A love of heights is a must but, once your fears are conquered, the views from Waiheke Island back to Auckland are spectacular.
A love of heights is a must but, once your fears are conquered, the views from Waiheke Island back to Auckland are spectacular.

When I was a kid, a flying fox involved perching a tiny piece of wood attached to a rope attached to a pulley, leaping out of a tree, shrieking along a sometimes rusted wire and coming to an abrupt, violent stop against an old tyre attached to a tree at the other end. If you were lucky, health and safety was a mud puddle deep enough and squidgy enough to cushion you if you fell. That was back in the day. Now there's ziplining.

EcoZip Adventures, for a fun experience that rivals the funnest experience ever, takes itself very seriously indeed. Now are harnesses and carabinas and helmets, helping hands and "people fishing": that's what happens when you're too small to get enough momentum and your zip dribbles to a halt just short of the platform and your helping hand has to pull you in. A young lad in our group by the name of Jordan had to be hauled in two out of the three times - but there's no way that was going to happen to a healthy full-size adult specimen such as myself.

They ask you to write your weight on the waiver form at the start but I wish they didn't, because they weigh you anyway and they get to see that not only are you a hefty number but you are a big fat liar as well.

Literally. Funnily enough, I under estimated mine; my 12-year-old over estimated hers - by exactly the same amount: I'm sure psychologists would have a field day about female body image at various ages.

Anyway, ziplining or, to be precise, ecoziplining, gives you a thrilling experience with a bonus wood-pigeon's eye view of the New Zealand bush. While zooming above it at about 30km/h.

They start you off small: the first zipline is only about 12m above the young vineyard growing below. You leap off the platform and about a minute later you are safe on another platform at the other end. The most difficult part is concentrating on guide Rene's instructions instead of admiring the view across the verdant island to the blue, blue waters of the Gulf and the towers of Auckland city hiding in the haze in the distance.

Zipline number two is a little higher and a little steeper and perhaps a little faster. The breeze in your face is pleasant on a hot afternoon.

Perhaps the imagery of a breeze in the face was part of the inspiration for the name of the final zipline.

It's called the Kirinui, guide Rene tells us, or "big dog". Or perhaps it gets its name because it's a little bit scary. It's steep and it's fast. I imagine a dog with its face out of a car window, lapping up the breeze. The Kirinui zips along at about 55m above the canopy and it looks like there's some pretty tall trees down there.

Guide Becks is the first to go so she can catch us at the end and, as Rene explains the safety guidelines for us, we hear the fizzing of her zipline. And it keeps going. And going. And going. He's pretty much finished by the time Becks gets to the end.

One or two in our party are a little nervous and want to "get it over with".

I think they're wusses and dissuade my 12-year-old from saying so. Through politeness, I hold her back from leaping to the front of the queue and going first and finally, after a little polite "you first", "no, you" we're off. I must admit my tummy does a little flip as we jump off the edge and plummet down the line. But my concern is purely for my child. Honest.

We zip along the treetops and even have the bonus of a pair of wood pigeons swishing past.

I almost forget Rene's instruction to watch out for the rather sudden stop at the end
but luckily I wake up before the abrupt halt and manage to avoid a) falling off and b) smacking myself in the face with the plastic-encased rope.

Some of that long-ago scary thrill of wondering if you'll actually survive a flying fox is gone but that was then, and this is now, and this is awesome.

Fun and adventure: Grace Jack (12)

I gazed at the awesome view of tiny boats, beaches, city and bush. I didn't dare to look down. Our tour guide, Rene, counted down from three and our feet left the platform. I felt wind in my face and heard native birds and trees rustling. I opened my eyes and below was bush made up of nikau, ferns, and other tree species.

I relaxed my death grip on the rope and let myself glide towards the bottom of the Kirinui, or "big dog", where the lovely Becky would "fish" us in.

This was the last zipline, marking the end of our EcoZip experience on Waiheke Island, a little slice of paradise. Today we had done three lines, including the "big dog" and we now made our way up through the lush forest and harmony of birds.

Our first line down was a short child's play one, about 12m above the ground where a small vineyard was growing.

Next we made our way to line two, called "city view", although they plan to change it to a more interesting name. This line was 30m above the ground with a view of the gorgeous forest. Then we plodded to the final "big dog": a whopping 50m above luscious forest and a horrifying drop.

On the way back up we were showered with survival facts, tips and information about the bush and its birds. I learned, to my amusement, that the name nikau, pronounced knee cow, meant "no nuts". This is because the first settlers found the tree and expected to find coconuts but were disappointed and named the tree "no nuts" or, as we know it, nikau.

When we got back to camp we shedded our harnesses and waited for the man in the truck to come and fetch as to take us home after a day of fun and adventure.

IF YOU GO

Cost: Adult: $99; Child: $69; Family of four (two adults, two kids under 16): $267. Pick up from Matiatia ferry terminal and a 25-minute mini-tour of Waiheke are included. There's also complimentary drop-off.

Contact: See ecozip.co.nz or call 0800 2 GO ZIP.

- Herald on Sunday

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