Deciding how best to plunge from a platform into a gaping canyon is no minor matter. With only two ropes to keep you from decorating the river-bed with the contents of your skull, it might be your last opportunity for showmanship.

At the Shotover Canyon Swing, 15 minutes' drive from the heart of the tourist mecca of Queenstown, a full-body harness is a mechanism for 10 official ways to plummet 109m to the canyon floor below.

You can fall backwards, flip, or be suspended upside-down and head-first above certain doom.

In a town that caters for all kinds of premature death-wishes, the Swing is rated the best way to test whether you have a heart condition.

Rather than the yo-yo effects of a bungy, the jumper spirals into a 60m free-fall before smoothly arcing into a 200m swing up the canyon. You sway to and fro for a good minute before the jump-masters winch you back to the platform.

But the real issue is how to make an entry. While all jumpers want to look impressive, not everyone can keep their cool when coming face-to-face with the edge of the platform. Some become overwhelmed and quickly descend from speaking in sentences to incoherent whimpering.

The jumper before me shuffled off the platform in the position known as "hang on and pray" - not an official technique but not uncommon.

I had asked to do the Indian Rope Trick, where you hold your own weight on a rope above the drop until your arm muscles give way. As you do this, the jump-masters suddenly announce something has gone horribly wrong, leaving you in a frantic panic before the plunge.

As well as being teasing swine, the jump-masters also call the shots.

"The Rope Trick's a doozy, but it's not for you," said one who calls himself Crispy. "You're going in the Chair of Death."

"I am?" I protested.

"It used to be the Chair of Beth, but Beth died, so now it's the Chair of Death," with emphasis on death.

This involves leaning back on the chair's hind legs until teetering-point, before gravity takes over and sends you to swing-heaven. Tighten muscles. Inhale.

The chair, predictably, toppled over the edge as Crispy held my attention in mid-sentence. It somersaulted once to offer me a stunning view of gravel rushing up to greet me, before smoothly - as promised - launching me into the swing. Relax. Exhale.

The moment of truth never fails to elicit a few involuntary noises: some scream, some howl, while others try to be staunchly quiet, but end up spilling forth a torrent of cuss words. I belonged to this latter group.

Additionally, the Swing is also an excellent way to acquire a dry mouth, no doubt a result of shamelessly screaming for your life.

The experience left me in no doubt that nothing compares to the terrifying thrill of the Swing, except maybe hang gliding and the wing-over manoeuvre - the absurd act of diving sharply, doubling your speed to 80km/h in the blink of an eye, before pointing the glider skywards and climbing steeply as your brain tries to recover.

Skytrek's tandem hang gliding is touted as the closest thing to being Superman, except instead of red underpants you wear a harness on the outside that makes you resemble a punching bag. It offers the sensation of weightless flying, while below the ground wobbles in a seemingly endless seizure of motion.

The Skytrek playground begins 700m high on the road to the Remarkables skifield, where the mountain views, endless stretches of blue lakes and the sprawling Kawarau River dwarf small townships.

It is enough to make even the commercial explosion that Queenstown has become seem underdeveloped and under-populated.

The glider's 10m wings are designed to create an air-flow creating different air pressures above and below the wing. This creates the effect of lift, enabling the glider to soar.

Lying in the glider's A-frame with both hands on the horizontal bar, pilots move their hips to create a weight-imbalance, shifting the glider left or right. Moving the bar backwards or forwards sends the glider into a dive or a climb.

The best pilots can soar for hours and cover hundreds of kilometres, at more than 100km/h.

My pilot, John O'Neill, who's had 15 years of hang gliding experience, seemed to have no problem with my lack of hips; we had barely entered the skies when he handed me the reins.

Under his watchful eye, we hovered around the ridge in search of thermals, then proceeded to perform wing-overs in quick succession.

The wing-over rush may make you to shout out in excitement, though it can make those with weaker stomachs feel sick.

Equally exhilarating was the landing. We swooped into a paddock at 50km/h, dropped slowly until the frame's wheels met the grass then let friction take over. It was so enthralling it didn't seem to matter that there was a pile of deer-dung on our makeshift runway.

A far gentler way to tempt fate is parasailing, a popular activity that sends a smiley-face parachute 200m into the air above Lake Wakatipu.

Parasailors are harnessed to the parachute which is connected to a cable running to a jetboat roaming across the lake.

"Don't worry about any cables croaking or groaning," says operator Carrick McLellan. "It's meant to do that."

In fact, a light breeze is the only thing you have to contend with as you sit comfortably, with the giant yellow face smiling down on you. The picturesque view includes the infinite blue of Lake Wakatipu as a great back-drop to your dangling shoes.

The appeal here is serenity, not speed. It won't get your heart pumping, but it's not any less appealing. Not being a blemish on anyone's safety record is a satisfactory outcome.

Getting There

Air NZ has direct flights from Auckland to Queenstown.


Parasailing, $85
Hang-gliding, $180
Canyon Swing, $159

* Derek Cheng was a guest of Destination Queenstown.