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Have you ever been standing in a situation wondering. “What in the world did I get myself into? Did I just zig when I should have zagged?” This was exactly what I was thinking on February 2, 2020 at 2:08PM while I was standing on the plank, awaiting my 44 meter drop at AJ Hackett Bungy in New Zealand. In my quest of overcoming my fear of heights, I might have lost my mind.
Let me rewind just a bit and tell you how I ended up here. I was in the midst of an 8 month, around the world adventure with my life partner. He is an avid rugby fan and recreational player. There was never a question about visiting New Zealand during this trip. He called it the “Fatherland of Rugby.” As soon as we got a chance to catch a flight, we were on it. We got a camper van and set out to find all the rugby and adventure we could.
While on our trip, we did a little bit of research and found Queenstown, New Zealand is widely seen as the bungy jump (also known as bungee jump) capital of New Zealand. Unfortunately, we did not have time to make it all the way to the South Island. Lucky for us, we quickly learned Taupo, New Zealand is a great alternative on the North Island. It has an amazing bungy jump and bungy swing with the most stunning backdrop you can imagine.
Now, willingly jumping off a platform in the name of adventure is not my jam. I am the type of person whose stomach drops if I look over a two story balcony. I almost had a full on anxiety attack looking out the window of an indoor observation deck, and I was completely enclosed with no chance of falling. Yet, here I was. Maybe I am glutton for punishment, but I seek discomfort in the hopes of personal growth.
Acrophobia: What is it?
Acrophobia is the technical name for fear of heights. According to Nationwide, more than 23 million people are affected by acrophobia. It is one of the 2 fears humans and animals are born with as a survival instinct. Even though I know it can be silly, I am still greatly affected by fear of heights.
This brings me to the day I decided to conquer my fear of heights and book a bungy swing experience. My partner is a bit of an adventure junky and quickly agreed that a bungy jump would be just what he wanted to make his time absolutely perfect in New Zealand. This is how our time with AJ Hackett went down.
From the very first contact, the company was professional, efficient and kind. It was very easy for our questions and my concerns to be addressed. I learned there was a bungy swing with a 44 meter drop over the Waikato River, a 47 meter drop bungy jump with an optional water touch, or a tandem bungy jump option. Since we are both larger individuals, the tandem option was out, as your combined weight had to be 180 kgs or less. I chose the swing, he chose the jump.
The Pre-Bungy Process
The entire drive from our campsite in Rotorua, all I could think about was the jump. My stomach was in knots and my palms were sweaty. All I could think about were all the things that could go wrong on this “adventure”. It took everything I had to get out of the car and make the walk to the office for check in. However, the big smiles from the staff quickly put my mind at ease.
We were welcomed with such fun energy. The whole vibe felt as though the staff really love their job. They were also all very knowledgeable. At check in, we had to fill out the consent forms basically saying we were healthy and able to jump. We also were weighed, and much to my dismay, our weight was written on our hand. So, just be aware everyone will know if that kind of thing bothers you. (It is needed, though, to make sure your bungy is properly calibrated for you.)
Once all our information was taken, we were ready for our jump. No one ever rushed us or made us feel like we were in a hurry. I took my sweet time walking to the jump platform. By the time we got there, quite a crowd had gathered to watch any jumpers for the day. I got the feeling this is pretty standard practice, as it is entertaining to watch others take the plunge. One spectator even told me he comes often and people do not always end up jumping.
This put a little fear back into me, but I knew I couldn’t chicken out in front of all these strangers.
Bungy Swing Time!
I knew my fear of heights would make it very difficult for me to make the decision to jump off of a platform, so I chose the bungy swing. With the swing, I would be strapped in and someone else would pull the lever to take me into adrenaline overload.
Again, the bungy operators had such a calming, fun energy. I know I asked a few questions (that I can’t remember) and they answered with such conviction, it calmed me enough to let them strap me up. With the bungy swing, you step into a harness that goes around your waist and your thighs, as well as over your shoulders. I got a double safety check and was ready!
Once you have the harness on, you actually completely sit down while the machine supports you over the platform. Then, the gate is open and you are slowly moved out and dangling over the river. The anticipation is peak, but the operators kept talking to distract me a bit. I had a few photos taken and was asked if I wanted a countdown or to be surprised. I chose the surprise. And boy was I ever surprised! He pulled the lever in the middle of talking to me and caught me REAL off guard. I didn’t even have time to think!
The cool thing about the swing is it isn’t just a quick drop and done. Once I hit the drop point, I was able to swing back and forth for about one minute. At this point, the scariest part (I thought) was over and I survived! I got to have the most epic view of the river from the swing. It was breathtaking!
Once physics dictated my stop, it was time for me to make my ascent back to the platform. This was actually the scariest part. I had time to think about how high I was being pulled up by that machine. But I was also able to calm myself by remembering I had just had the experience of dropping and swinging over the river, and had the most amazing feeling. The adrenaline rush had my dopamine at peak level. I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt so strong, happy and proud all at the same time.
Once I was back to the platform and secured within the gate, my harness was removed and I got all the high fives. It was my partner’s turn for his bungy experience.
The Bungy Jump
The bungy jump process was a tiny bit different. He had to get into a full body harness with a rope attached to his feet. He was able to choose if he wanted a water touch or not. Of course, he said he wanted a full on dunk. Once he got his instruction on how to hold his arms and head to safely enter the water, and his two safety checks, he was ready. He, too, got a few photos and was ready to jump.
When I asked him if he was scared to have to make the decision to step off the platform, he told me his instructor gave him a gentle nudge to help him jump. However, upon close inspection of the video, there was no nudge. He jumped all on his own. I guess the adrenaline affected his memory a bit.
While watching him jump, you could hear the most joyous laugh I have ever heard out of him. During his several recoils the whole valley was filled with his joyous laughter. It was clear he was having the time of his life.
Once his recoiling stopped, he was pulled into a boat. He was taken to shore, where he had to hike back up to me. He said this was the worst part. He also said he did not feel any pain from the recoiling, which I was always under the impression that part hurt. He said the most uncomfortable part was after the jump, while he was just hanging there waiting for the boat to pull him in.
I am pretty sure the first few seconds of the fall is a high better than any drug could offer, and the dopamine effect lasts for hours. You could not wipe the smiles from our face.
Am I Still Scared of Heights?
Today, I wouldn’t say I am cured of my fear of heights. I still get a little queasy when I am too high. However, the decision to do certain things isn’t as heavy for me. This bungy experience was the scariest adventure decision I have made, but it is done and I not only survived, I LOVED the experience. There is a lasting power in knowing you made an uncomfortable decision in the name of personal growth.
So, to answer those questions I had on that platform: I was definitely exactly where I needed to be! I am looking forward to my next bungy experience, one I am actively seeking out. Thank you AJ Hackett for helping me make this step in conquering my fear heights and giving us an unforgettable experience.
Will you take the fall?
Disclaimer: We worked with AJ Hackett Bungy to bring you this information. The opinions expressed are completely my own.