Zip it! Flight of fancy really goes down to the wire

By Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton tries out New Zealand's latest zipline thill ride - and forgets to slow down.

Jamie Morton gets a taste of New Zealand's newest zipline ride. Picture / Alan Gibson
Jamie Morton gets a taste of New Zealand's newest zipline ride. Picture / Alan Gibson

For an intoxicating few seconds, the world is a weird blur, rushing by in streaks of blue and green.

Past the toes of my red sneakers, I make out Mokoia Island in the centre of a sparkling Lake Rotorua.

I zoom through a forest of towering redwoods, the high whirr of the zipline growing louder as my pace picks up, and I'm thinking Star Wars.

Ewoks and speeders exploding against trees in Return of the Jedi.

Video: Watch Jamie's 385m downhill thrill ride

Video

Dead ahead, the faint figures on the high platform are indicating something. Their arms are raised.

By the time I realise why, it's too late.

As I'd just been instructed, the staff at Zoom Ziplines below are telling me to assume the slowing position - recline back with knees up and arms stretched out straight.

When I do this, I'm already travelling far too quickly, and I overshoot the landing pad, swinging to a halt with a slight jerk on the other side.

I dangle there in shame and the photographer can hardly look at me.

What an idiot.

"I think you gave them a bit of a fright, to be honest," he tells me later.

Adding to the embarrassment, a little girl just before me had made a perfect run, arms fluttering like a bird as she glided down.

My intention had been to get a taste of New Zealand's newest zipline ride, descending 385m down Mt Ngongotaha from Skyline Rotorua.

I'd figured there could be the danger of an involuntarily girlish shriek.

Or worse, getting a mid-flight case of what Zoom Ziplines owner manager Ron Betts calls the "white knuckle express" - tensely clutching the handles and spoiling the ride.

It didn't occur to me it was possible to reach a whole other level of disgrace - becoming a physical study of what not to do.

Still, there was never any possibility my safety could be compromised, just my dignity.

The youngest flyer so far to try out the ride was just 6 years old.

The oldest was 71.

Ziplining has increasingly become part of New Zealand's tourism scene over recent years, but the attraction at Rotorua, officially opened yesterday, is unique for a range of reasons.

The harness system you're strapped into, the first of its kind in the South Pacific, can be weighted up to 125kg and is modelled on one used for paragliding rather than rock-climbing, letting you slouch back and enjoy the ride.

Add to that the spectacular panorama across Rotorua, something which never fails to impress even when you're hurtling through the air at 80km/h.

But the big difference is being able to take the "Quickjump" from the platform to the bottom.

You're strapped into another harness and then guided to a plank, the next step being one right into thin air.

"It's that fun leap of faith, where your brain is telling you, 'I don't know if I want to be up this high,' but it's so much fun when you step off," Mr Betts had told me. He was right.

Willingly walking off a structure 10m above the ground is something that defies every bodily instinct.

I enter the air with the grace of a trembling child's first jump from a diving board. A short, sharp drop later, I meet the ground with a little more elegance.

But the appeal in all of it is clear, and I'm not the first punter to walk away smiling.

"Three words have been used to describe the feedback to date - awesome, fast and fun," Skyline Rotorua general manager Bruce Thomasen said.

"Although it's only taken a few months to actually build the zipline, it has been over three years in the planning and it is fantastic to finally see the the vision come to fruition for our visitors to enjoy."

Zipline details
• New Zealand's newest zipline ride, descending 385m down the side of Mt Ngongotaha from Skyline Rotorua, officially opened yesterday.
• The harness system is the first of its kind in the South Pacific.
• It can be weighted up to 125kg and is modelled on one used for paragliding rather than rock climbing.

- NZ Herald

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