This piece was contributed by Matt Officen of Tourism Media.
Recently I was lucky enough to tag along with a group of travel specialists invited by Tourism New Zealand to experience the best things to do in New Zealand. As a photographer I’d explored New Zealand’s scenic wonders before, but shied away from the adventure activities. Bungy jumping, jet boat rides, white-water rafting – meh, those cheap thrills were for the adrenaline junkies, I thought. How wrong I was.
Already this morning, I’d nervously launched myself (with a gentle shove from my jump master) from one of the world’s highest bungy platforms and was dunked head first into the five-degree purity of the Waikato River. That dunking proved something of a conversion, because as we headed downriver for our next adventure at Huka Falls, our coach couldn’t get me there fast enough!
Huka Falls is one of the most visited natural spots on New Zealand’s North Island. The falls drains an astonishing 220,000 litres of Lake Taupo water every second through its narrow canyon walls, creating a stunning blue-green pool which attracts sightseers and photographers from all over the planet. But besides the chance of capturing some amazing shots, I was now looking forward to another high-octane dose of Kiwi adrenaline, too!
After our safety briefing and life vest fitting, we climbed aboard our jet boat and motored upriver. Before we knew it our boat had gathered speed, and as the wind-chill factor rapidly climbed, I was grateful for the spray jacket we’d been supplied with, and the heated handrail!
Just when I was beginning to think that the ride wasn’t as extreme as people made out, our driver gunned the jet boat’s 700-horsepower engines and our heart rates jumped accordingly! We roared upriver along forested banks, sliding this way and that across heart-stoppingly shallow sections, and just millimetres away from sheer rock canyon walls.
Every now and then our driver, Michelle, would throw the boat into a wild 360-degree spin and our white-knuckled screams and “woohoos” briefly replaced the engines’ screaming roar. But it wasn’t all a scream-fest. Sometimes Michelle would idle down the twin supercharged V6 Buicks and let the boat drift as she shared interesting facts and figures about the natural and manmade aspects of the river and environment. One thing was clear: these folks truly love their work and their country!
At last we came around a bend and there it was: Huka Falls, a series of white-water falls stepping down to its final 6-metre drop. What the falls lack in height, they make up for in awesome power and beauty. Huka is the Maori word for ‘foam’, and as we sped towards the falls’ base, it was easy to see why. Just as we arced across the face of the falls, Michelle threw our boat into another 360. Our boat spun and bobbed wildly, like a blue footy sock tossed into an immense churning washing machine of suds and noise.
We spun around and around in a swirling Kiwi kaleidoscope of white water, blue skies and emerald forests, all refracted and reflected in a million drops of pure New Zealand water. It was in that moment that I really “got” New Zealand: the coming together of all nature’s elements, with us right in the middle of it all, in absolute awe!