Wednesday, October 28, 2009


AUCKLAND - I never would have agreed to a walk around the outside of this city's Sky Tower if I had fully grasped what it entailed: Perambulating outside on a 4-foot-wide walkway, in stiff winds, sans handrails (though with a safety harness and a guide), all kitted out in orange jump suit. When the harness was slipped on, and the light bulb went off in my head, I declined the invitation to, um, skywalk up there, 192 meters (about 600 feet) up. I looked out over the sprawling, waterside city from inside the observation deck, instead.

Of course, the walk is nothing compared to the jump - I said jump - that a chap was doing from the tower while I was there. He was trussed in harness and pulleys, aiming for a bullseye painted far below on a platform, which he approached at 50 to 60 miles per hour.

"It's not bad,'' shrugged Haley McCrystal, an Air New Zealand marketing person who was showing me around her hometown. "The only bad part is when the ground comes up at you so fast.''

Haley, a young, fit New Zealander, has done the SkyJump, as it is called, from Auckland's Sky Tower. She has done the SkyWalk that would definitely have induced vertigo in yours truly had I ventured out on the narrow platform. "I've done it about 20 times.''

She has, of course, bungee-jumped, as well. Bungee-jumping, invented and popularized in New Zealand, has almost the status of a national past-time. "The only thing is, you are upside-down sometimes in bungee-jumping. I lost my stomach,'' she said.

Airborne derring-do doesn't appear to deter many Kiwis, though. Verily, they seem to be a nation of thrill-seekers, and hardy and robust they are, too. The Auckland marathon is coming up this Sunday, and McCrystal is participating, running a half-marathon. It's a long way, but, hey, it's all on the ground.

Still, there's something about jumping.

"We jump off of almost anything,'' she said cheerily. "We like rafting on fast water, too. And there are tour companies that take you along underground rivers. The tops of the caves can be pretty low, you have to duck way down.''

After leaving the Sky Tower, I took a harbor - er, harbour - tour on a mid-sized boat from the Auckland Ferry Building. The craft paused under Harbour Bridge,next to a painted sign on a concrete pillar that said "Caution bungee jumping overhead.'' I thought it was a joke. It wasn't. While we waited, a chap plunged toward the water, to cheers and applause from onlookers, before our eyes.

Another New Zealander. Jumping.

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