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Top of the world ... New Zealand
Climb high, jump hard, free fall … marking a quarter of a century with life in the fast lane
     
For far too long now, I've led a sheltered life.

Moving from my house, to the MRT, to my office, and back home again every day, it has been a roofed, walled and air-conditioned existence. They say I've led a sheltered life. But the fact didn't quite hit me until I realised that even my shelter was sheltered.

This will not do.

I turned 25 this year. I felt I had to mark a quarter of century of existence with a landmark event. My CPF-buffered existence must taste a little danger. It needs a little unpredictability. It is ready to embrace the elements.

The combination of my Sagittarian streak, the travel bug and macho bravado got the better of me. I packed my sense of adventure and headed Down Under to Sydney, Australia and Queenstown, New Zealand for the great outdoors laced with thrills.

Sydney Bridge Climb
First stop. The famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, the world's largest steel arch bridge, to undertake the BridgeClimb. That's right I climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The three-hour adventure involves scaling a succession of ladders to the eastern arch of the bridge and walking across the arch to the highest point of the steel structure, before crossing over to the other arch and going down the way you came.

At the base of the bridge, I joined a group of climbers as we went through a Climb simulator to prepare for the real challenge. With my knees quaking, I put on a specially designed BridgeSuit, which is a grey coverall complete with a harness which secures you to a static line during the climb.

All these safety procedures, immaculate as they were, only made me more nervous. It felt like I was all togged up to scale a mountain range, and boy, was that out of my depth.

"You only live once," I thought masochistically to myself as my clammy hands hauled themselves up the steel supports of the bridge. I pretended I was climbing a never-ending ladder to the top of a book shelf.

And then I started to relax. In wonderment, I made my way across 1500 metres of pure steel and ventured through catwalks, ladders and arches.

Perched at the top of the bridge's arch, I got an unparalleled view of the harbour, Sydney Opera House, the city skyline and the surrounding bays, not to mention the 150,000-odd vehicles below that roll up and down the bridge every day.

Ivan, our professionally trained Climb leader gave us an insight into the Bridge's history. Built in ????, it was the vision of Dr J.J.C Bradfield, considered the 'father' of the bridge.

It was his engineering expertise and detailed supervision that brought Sydney's long held dream into reality. The Bridge today carries eight vehicle lanes, two train lines, a footway and a cycleway. It cost Australian 4,217,721 pounds 11 shillings and 10 pence.

About 250 Australian, Scottish and Italian stonemasons laid the foundations of the four main bearings - decorative 89 metre high concrete pylons. Three ships were specifically built to carry the 18,000 cubic metres of cut, dressed and numbered granite blocks, 300km to Sydney.

The total steelwork weigs 52,800 tonnes, including 39,000 tonnes in the arch. All built without modern-day technology. We couldn't help but marvel at the courage of the men who built the Bridge.

We took unbelievable photographs and were consumed by the fresh air, and atmosphere. Our cheery Aussie leader then whipped out his camera and had us strike poses. Each climber later received one complimentary group picture.

Nervous at the Nevis Highwire
Queenstown, the resort and adventure town of New Zealand, was the next stop on my adventure holiday.

People arrive here and seem to go crazy. Instead of wanting to contemplate the quiet beauty of the place, they develop this mad desire to jump off things with only an elastic cord tied to their legs. I was soon to be one of them.

As soon as I arrived, I sensed a buzz of adventure activity. In YHA's comfortable lounge I made lots of friends and exchanged notes with travellers from Singapore, Japan, Canada, Brazil, Britain, France and Finland.

My new mates told me about the legendary AJ Hackett - bungy-jump pioneer. The first 'jump' was tested on latex rubber cords, with a series of extreme jumps from a ski area gondola 91 meters above the snow. In 1987, Hackett jumped off the Eiffel Tower and bungy-jumping as a sport was born.

This rookie thought the 134 metre BridgeClimb was the pinnacle. Little did I know greater heights awaited. I was off to the highest bungy jump in New Zealand - the Nevis Highwire.

Why would anyone jump off a platform 134 metres above the ground? According to one British traveller "it's just got to be done!" And he was right.

After a 40-minute drive with an eclectic bunch of people, I reached the bungy jump site. My first brush with the Nevis Highwire was intimidating - the jump pod is suspended by wires, spanning a canyon, over the Nevis River. We were ferried over in an open metal cable car, six at a time. I felt a cold sweat breaking, and started thinking to myself, "Are you nuts? Do you really want to do this?"

Made of clear-glass, the pod holds 25 people with a great view of other jumpers. Trust me though, when I say, you won't be in the best frame of mind to appreciate the view. My turn is approaching, and I feel nervous and overwhelmed with tension.

I was soon bungey'd up and helped towards the jump-point. The reassuring staff talk me through the process. Even without my glasses, I find it hard to look down or the empty space ahead of me. Jumpmaster James calmly instructs me to smile at the camera. The countdown begins - five, four, three, two, one … but I didn't budge.

James is relaxed and spurs me on to give me confidence. A second countdown and I jump off the platform. I plunge towards the river at 120 kilometres per hour, stunned for a moment, and then screaming ... 134 metres in eight seconds, pure adrenaline rushes through my body, before the cord slows my fall, and bounces me back upwards. On the
second bounce, I overcome the rush, to release my feet into a sitting position.

I was winched back to safety, and boy, the jump is a combination of thrill and terror - a dose of unbeatable adrenalin. I'm convinced the Nevis is the ultimate and glad it was done!

The sky's the limit
I was feeling rather pleased with myself. After what I'd been through, the thought of a tandem sky dive was somewhat comfortable. How difficult could it be - jump off a tiny plane, strapped to an instructor, lay back, relax and soak in the view.

It was not that simple.

I only had three days in Queenstown, and getting a 'dive' ticket was tough. I quickly found out that sky- diving was heavily dependent on weather. If it was wet, or too windy, jumps would be cancelled. After my first failure, the lords smiled and it did happen the next day.

Of course, my crazy Other Self challenged my Sane Self…and won. I booked myself on the "Ultimate Jump". It promised to be the "highest fastest most spectacular adventure of them all." Great.

We drove to the sky dive office in the middle of a large empty field 10km from town, and spent 15 minutes gearing up (signing waivers, putting on jumpsuits, etc) before we were in a plane on our way to 13 000 feet. There was a crowd of six in the plane but the quiet 20-minute flight went quickly. I watched my instructor's watch-meter as we gained height. As we slowly reached the right altitude, it seemed to match my tension build-up.

I checked to ensure I was securely strapped to my tandem instructor. Before I knew it the countdown began, he gave me the signal - and together we jumped (or rather I was pushed).

I entered utopia as I felt the incredible rush of freefalling for 50 seconds at an awesome speed of up to 200km/h. I fell for approximately 7,000 feet, and it was sheer excitement at an unequalled speed.

I had a hard time breathing during the freefall because of the extreme cold and the "wind" created by the rate of descent. From here it was a 8-10 minute parachute ride to the ground. As planned I soaked in the view over crystal clear lakes and towering granite mountains. Once on the ground I was not be able to wipe the grin off my face.

I had jumped from a plane, scaled the heights and plunged towards the earth with only a giant rubber band around my ankles… I felt alive - again ....
     
     

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