With my heart still pounding after completing my first bungee jump, I found myself being harnessed in to the "cliffhanger" swing chair and attached to a small crane that dangled me over the 150-foot-deep canyon. Suddenly my stomach was in my throat and, after a brief but heart-stopping freefall, I was careening in a smooth arc over the river below.
I had taken the plunge in Taupo, New Zealand, as my event-sponsored activity during the annual Trenz tourism conference, held this year in the city of Rotorua. At this year's meeting, more than 300 exhibitors from throughout the country came to highlight New Zealand's wide variety of tourist attractions.
Speaking at the event, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key highlighted the country's efforts to increase tourism, particularly in the shoulder seasons outside of the peak summer months. Saying he wanted to "help unleash its enormous potential," Key cited Air New Zealand's new direct flight from Houston, starting in December, as a huge step toward bringing more U.S. visitors to the destination.
During my time at Trenz, I spoke with dozens of exhibitors and was impressed by the range of available activities for a country roughly the size of Colorado.
I started my travel with a whirlwind tour of the more-visited South Island, including an overnight stop in scenic Queenstown, a stargazing session and glacier tour in Mount Cook National Park and a visit to the city of Christchurch, still rebuilding after devastating earthquakes four years ago. I then headed up to explore the North Island, and after the thrill of my bungee jump, I wanted more adventure.
Cathedral Cove is a popular destination on the Coromandel Peninsula. Photo Credit: Bart Beeson
My first stop was in the Northland region, to scuba dive the Poor Knights Islands, once rated by famed diver Jacques Cousteau as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. I booked a trip with Dive Tutukaka and headed out to see the islands, which lay about 15 miles off the coast. I swam through natural stone arches filled with huge swarms of fish, ventured into underwater caves and inspected crevasses in sheer rock walls hiding moray eels and colorful nudibranch sea slugs. During a break between dives, I spotted a large fin circling the water where I had just dived, which belonged to a massive (and nonthreatening) ocean sunfish, or mola mola.
My next stop was to the Coromandel Peninsula, known for its picturesque beaches and rugged topography. I checked in at the Grand Mercure Puka Park Resort, comprising 48 secluded chalets tucked into the hillside above a beautiful beach, and headed out to my last adventure, Cathedral Cove, one of the more popular destinations on the peninsula. I decided the best way to see the natural limestone arches and rock spires that dot the coast was from the water, so I booked a tour with Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours. My guide filled me in on the local history of the Maori settlers as we paddled our way along the coast, spotting fur seals lounging on island rocks.