“How would you like to jump off?”
He gestured down into the canyon below, and then looked back at us expectedly.
If I could present a visual for what was happening in my mind at that exact moment, then it would look something like this: a wide-angle shot of that canyon waaaaaay down below, with four giant clip art-type, flashing red arrows pointed at the very bottom. The soundtrack would be this question repeating over and over: “It’s not too late to say no, right?”
Chickening out would have been the easy option that day. I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as the most courageous of people – and definitely not as an ‘adrenaline junkie’ – but when we knew that we’d visit Queenstown as part of our New Zealand campervanning trip, I also knew that I wanted to do the Shotover Canyon Swing.
There is no shortage of adrenaline-fuelled activities in this part of New Zealand’s South Island but, thanks to social media, Shotover Canyon was on my travel radar long before we had even started planning our trip. So, it wouldn’t be much of a post if I didn’t decide to jump in the end and, even surprising myself, we took on not one, but two nail-bitingly scary activities that day: the Shotover Canyon Swing and the Shotover Canyon Fox.
– Where can you find the Shotover Canyon? –
You’ll find the canyon a short drive away from central Queenstown. If you’ve decided to do the canyon swing or fox, though, you’ll be asked to report in at Shotover Canyon Swing HQ in Shotover Street in Queenstown. Once you’ve been signed in and weighed, you will then be transferred over to the canyon (this transfer is included in the price).
If you can look past the fact that you’ve come to the canyon to do something rather terrifying, you may be able to momentarily acknowledge just how breathtaking this spot is. Situated above the Shotover River, the canyon showcases a dramatic landscape, with steep cliffs leading sharply down to the water and vegetation below.
– The story behind the swing –
The Shotover Canyon Swing was officially opened in 2002. It was dreamt up by locals Chris and Hamish – who could most definitely be described as adrenaline junkies. After jumping and climbing at various locations, they decided to set up a permanent venture at Shotover Canyon.
And I love what they’ve created. I’ll get into exactly why shortly, but Hamish and Chris have created a unique company at Shotover Canyon, as well as a memorable experience for anyone who decides to visit. Everyone that works at the canyon was professional and enthusiastic – even if they enjoyed scaring us a little too much – and I felt like we were in safe hands the entire time.
– Going solo on the Shotover Canyon Fox –
While this company is famous for its canyon swing, we started our day trying out the newest addition to Shotover Canyon’s offerings: the Shotover Canyon Fox. The path to the fox is lined with appropriate fox visual references, with Michael J Fox being one of them. And, as the staff there will gleefully inform you, you’re basically being a guinea pig for this activity.
The Shotover Canyon Fox was first launched last year, so it’s very new and, let me assure you, it’s unlike any flying fox you may have encountered before. Like the swing, there is some choice involved in terms of how you’ll be launched. You can start the fox going forwards, going backwards or – if you’re feeling really, really brave – you can run off a mini slope downwards into thin air. Chris, who seemed to be on a mission to completely conquer his fear of heights, chose the last option. He did the fox first, and his resulting video is one of my favourite things to watch on repeat. *THAT SCREAM*
Sorry: The video below features some swearing!
Then it was my turn. After being strapped in and saying a few last prayers, I was hoisted up into the air. In what I would soon discover to be the trend at Shotover Canyon, I asked for a countdown, only to be launched prematurely.
As you can see, the factor that makes the Shotover Canyon Fox so unique is that this particular fox features a freefall before you’re dropped onto the main zipline. So you launch in a straight line, drop and swing before shooting forward in a straight line again. If that sounds scary, that’s because it really, really is. But it also happens to be a lot of fun.
The exhilaration doesn’t stop once you get to the other side, though, as you’ll need to take another zipline to get back to the starting point. Since there are two separate lines here, this turned into a race between Chris and I, each daring the other to go faster. This was also probably the first time I managed to look below us and realise just how high up we were – followed by the subsequent realisation that we were just about to go up even higher for the next activity!
– Taking the plunge on the Shotover Canyon Swing –
Let’s start this section with some hard numbers: 109 metres from the canyon floor, a 200-metre swing through the canyon and a heart-stopping 60-metre vertical freefall. Meet the world’s official highest cliff jump.
As mentioned earlier, there are plenty of jumps you could do in the Queenstown area but the Shotover Canyon Swing features a twist – and it’s the main reason to choose this swing over every other option out there!
At Shotover Canyon, you can choose how you want to jump/be launched. There are some options given to you, all graded out of a possible five soiled pairs of underwear (I’m not making this up). For example, the chair, where you’re strapped into one and tipped over backwards (remember leaning back in your chair at school? It’s like that, but with worse consequences), is graded a three out of five. Chris, obviously, wanted something even scarier, so we went for the five-underwear tandem Gimp Boy Goes to Hollywood.
How do I describe the experience? First, we put on our harnesses, then we were latched together. My brain seemed to be fine with all of this until we were lifted up and suspended out away from the platform while we had to, somehow, position ourselves so that we were facing downwards, staring down at the canyon floor far beneath us. Of course, this was incredibly unnerving and this was only amplified by the fact that Rick Astley was playing in the background the entire time. ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ has never sounded more out of place.
As mentioned earlier, the folk at Shotover Canyon have a tendency to abruptly interrupt their countdowns midway, so we were released well before our time. The ground came rushing towards us before we were lifted and swung in a wide arc over the river. It sounds crazy, but I loved it. Yes, it was completely terrifying (as evidenced by my screams in the video) but it was a very welcome interruption to what I had seen as my daily routine before I got to New Zealand. It was a chance to take a break from the reliable steady movement of time and do something completely out of character (at least for me) – something that got my heart pumping a little faster.
Take a look at our canyon swing (we didn’t choose the music, FYI, but I find it rather hilarious):
After our swing started slowing down and we checked with each other that we were, indeed, still alive, we started being lifted back up to the top. All of that preparation had led to a minute or so of the freefall and swing itself, and I’m so happy that I didn’t let my fear get the better of me. But, even so, when we were asked whether we wanted another go, both of us politely declined: I think our adrenaline rush quota had already been met that day!
– Which is better: Shotover Canyon Swing or Shotover Canyon Fox? –
While Shotover Canyon may be more well known for its canyon swing, I felt like both activities were equally frightening and enjoyable. Both involve a freefall, and I loved the opportunity to do the extra zipline run at the end of our Shotover Canyon Fox. Ultimately, if you make it out to Shotover Canyon, your adrenaline will more than likely take over – so I recommend giving in and signing up to both activities. The swing and fox are offered as a discounted combo, anyway, so you have so many reasons to make the most of your time at the canyon.
– Things you need to know –
- Leave enough time for the whole experience – it’s recommended that you book off about 2.5-3.5 hours for a round trip to Shotover Canyon.
- Definitely, definitely book ahead! Shotover Canyon is a popular place so don’t wait until you get to Queenstown to organise your activities – book online instead.
- Dress appropriately. Wear closed-toe shoes and plenty of layers. It can get quite cold in the canyon and you might be waiting a while before it’s your turn to jump.
- It’s commonsense, but remember to empty your pockets before you do any of these activities!
- If you have a GoPro, you can take it along for the ride, although you’ll need a proper strapped mount. You won’t be able to take a selfie stick, though.
- You can hire a GoPro or buy the video/photo footage of the day from Shotover Canyon.
- If you’re at Shotover Canyon and are seriously pumped to swing again right after your first one, you can do so for an extremely reduced price. There were loads of people doing just this on our day at Shotover Canyon!
- IT’S SAFE. For the fellow worriers out there, despite the jokes of the staff working here, the activities at Shotover Canyon are tried and tested; each rope at the canyon swing can withstand a force of 2.8 tonnes. It will always be terrifying, but it is very safe.
Our day at Shotover Canyon was one of the highlights of our time in New Zealand. The country has made a reputation for itself as a haven for adrenaline junkies and, out of all of the options out there, I feel like we couldn’t have chosen better than the activities we experienced in this canyon. I still can’t decide whether I loved the Shotover Canyon Swing or Shotover Canyon Fox more, but I feel like if I ever come back to Queenstown, I’d love to do both of these all over again.
Note: We were invited to experience these activities as guests of Shotover Canyon, but, as always, all opinions and screams/terrified facial expressions/other weird noises are entirely my own.
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