The terrifyingly beautiful azure waters gushed through the narrow gorge, hitting the sharp, jutting rocks on each side. The steep grey-brown cliffs on both sides seemed to all but silently withstand the tenacious waters of the river. The pine trees in the distance looked beautiful, their leaves swaying lightly in the summer breeze. However, we weren’t here to admire the panoramic vistas. We were here to jump off a 140ft gorge.
The air crackled with electrifying energy at the breathtaking Kawarau River suspension bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand – the site of the world’s very first commercial bungee jump, which also featured in almost every other “Top 10 Bungee Locations” list. Although I’d rather stuff garbage in my mouth than voluntarily jump from heights, it’s impossible to not get carried away in the infectious wave of thrill that blows through Queenstown. Notwithstanding the fear I’d felt while skydiving just the day before, I prepared to take my second leap of faith – both of which come closest to what is almost considered a rite of passage in New Zealand. Although the solitary nature of the act had my stomach doing backflips, I’d decided to take the plunge. Literally.
After registering ourselves at the desks, I was lured by the Kawarau River Bridge Bungee T-shirts that read “I did it!” (only if you jumped, mind you). I stood on the sidelines, trying to muster enough courage to go out on the bridge. Bungee jumping, I realised, is not unlike being made to walk a plank – you feel like the stowaway who is tossed overboard. The only difference is that not only have you paid for the experience but your self-esteem is also on the line – literally. And, of course, once you get onto the ledge, there’s no looking back.
Did I want that T-shirt? Yes! Did I have the courage to go ahead with the jump? Maybe. Was there any guarantee I wouldn’t have a heart attack doing that? Zilch.
After what seemed like all of ten seconds, we were asked to walk onto the bridge to where the bungee masters stood waiting. After our weights were checked to assign the correct jumping cord, I found myself being asked to sit as they wrapped the cloth around my legs and strapped the gear on. “So what have you been doing in Queenstown?” my bungee master asked, obviously trying to dissipate the tension.
Trying not to get killed, I thought wryly.
“I did skydiving yesterday,” I said, trying to smile but probably looking like a chimp in the process. “Well, bungee’s easier!” he said, tightening the ropes. “The height is less,” he chortled, laughing at his own joke.
Easy for him to say, I thought. I couldn’t push myself off a ledge in a million years.
After he was done, I hobbled onto the ledge with the elegance of someone participating in a potato sack race. Standing right on the edge, everything suddenly seemed to rush to me – the blood went to my head, adrenalin zipped through my body and my heart pounded viciously. My brain cells had probably frozen long back.
“Look towards the cameras!” the bungee master screamed.
What, there are cameras?! I couldn’t believe the guy wanted me to have a red carpet moment now, of all the times. I waved towards the cameras, supposedly, and the watching audience, who had encouraging smiles on their faces. Try as I might, I couldn’t help myself from looking down. The gushing Kawarau River did not help.
“Now look straight!” he screamed, pointing at the trees in the distance. “Now jump!”
Standing right on the edge being held on by my gear, I suddenly panicked. “Oh god, I can’t do it!” I wailed, losing all the confidence that I’d been rallying since morning.
“You have to!” he said, beckoning me to shove myself off the ledge.
Suddenly, all noise went out of my ears. I only heard a distant buzzing – screaming or cheering, I couldn’t tell. And then I willed myself off the bridge straight down, feet first.
I let out a petrifying scream, realising I’d done the exact thing what we’d been told not to. Why exactly became apparent after five seconds – I felt a tremendous jolt and oscillated like a trapeze artist out of control, swinging a greater distance than others had because they’d gone head first. Trust me to do something different, I thought wryly, as the blood rushed to my head and I felt a kick like never before. Any qualms that I’d had about doing this had flown out of my head, as I joyfully screamed, still swinging like an expert monkey. Soon enough, I saw the rescue boat approaching, and even though I was upside-down held on by just a cord, my fears left me. I began appreciating the wild sights of the Kawarau gorge, the wind playing with my now flyaway hair.
After the boat rowed me back to firm ground, I rushed up to the main desk where the joy of seeing the coveted T-shirt being brandished was like no other. I had done something I didn’t think I had the courage to do – and that’s what made the experience all the more worthwhile. To all those who’re like me, think not of what could go wrong, but of what could go right – and fear will be a thing of the past.
WORDS: MALAVIKA MADGULA