"Welcome to Rollover Alley!"
Mid-way through the most exciting 4WD off-road experience I'll ever have, driver Tim Bayliss flashes me a thumbs-up, and it feels like we're just moments away from tipping over and rolling down a boulder-strewn hillside.
After a few gravity-defying seconds, Tim finally cracks a smile, entirely confident his Ultimate Off-Roader won't go cartwheeling sideways down the steep incline, and steers the mud-splattered vehicle over a near-vertical bank. I'm sitting beside him, silently mouthing "Wow" in response to all the adrenaline-fuelled madness.
Despite anticipating doom atop Rollover Alley, Tim reassures me later we were in no danger of actually tipping over. Oxbow's purpose-built off-roaders are designed by New Zealand's national off-road champion at Cowper Trucks near Whanganui, and their extremely low centre of gravity and incredible suspension means they can go pretty much anywhere. With both of us cocooned in a sturdy roll cage and dressed in overalls, sunglasses, helmets and dust-busting bandanas, Tim negotiates Oxbow's off-roader around a custom-built course. In the shadow of Mt Rosa and nearby Nevis Bluff, stunning Gibbston Valley scenery is the backdrop to a ridiculously entertaining natural thrill ride.
Combining conventional steering with dash-mounted levers that move the front and back wheels independently, we drift around the arc of a natural bowl, weave up an exposed ridgeline, and bump and sway across a rocky platform. Fears of gravity's effect resurface as we surge up a near-vertical hill, but we crest the summit safely and power away on four high-torque knobbly wheels. Ahead of us are views of the Kawarau River, and a few of the 15,000 recently-planted native trees that will eventually conceal Oxbow's 17ha site from busy SH6 linking Queenstown and Cromwell.
Tim's also a whizz at being the ultimate guide to experiencing Oxbow's other thrill-packed activity. A compact one-hectare lake is the location for more jaw-dropping fun, with jet sprint boats designed and built by seven-time world jet sprint champion Peter Caughey offering one of New Zealand's most exciting adventure experiences.
It's an exhilarating joyride which begins relatively benignly as Oxbow's compact four-seater speed machine is slowly lowered from the boarding jetty into the waters of a shallow manmade lake. For 30 seconds or so, Tim warms up the massive rear engine, describing low and lazy circles around a small section of the lake. Straightening the boat up near one of five small islets, another thumbs-up is offered as both question and command, and he applies the throttle fully in a shower of spray.
I'd been told to expect to accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in less than three seconds, but nothing can prepare anyone for the visceral rush of a jet sprint boat. Pushed back into my seat by up to three g-forces, my silently mouthed 'Wow' has now evolved into more vocal and colourful expletives, and it quickly becomes obvious I'm in for a ride like no other.
Hunched over a compact steering wheel, Tim zips the boat through the natural chicanes of a fluid race track created by the lake's five islands. Across 10 minutes and three separate runs, the boat's speed increases, turns become more radical and extreme, and the glassy surface of the lake whizzes by in an absolute blur. I'm now laughing excitedly at the sheer thrill of it all, but beside me Tim is cool and calm, and treating it like just another day at the office. Between runs, I try to catch my breath, but the adrenaline hit kicks right back in once we're accelerating away and negotiating an exciting slalom around the islands.
Across the lake, spectators at Oxbow's HQ and viewing platform are taking in all the up close and personal, on the water action, and strapped securely into the boat, I'm confident I'm experiencing Central Otago's ultimate outdoor playground.
It's just as well I can bring my heart rate down with a craft beer or wine at the best of the Gibbston Valley's tasting rooms soon afterwards.
The trifecta of experiences offered by Oxbow Adventure Co also includes clay bird shooting. Activities can be booked individually, or as part of multi-activity combo packages. Upcoming plans include a pop-up container bar providing excellent views for spectators of the jet sprint boat and off-road courses. See www.oxbow.co.nz for information and bookings.