Hang gliding over Queenstown's spectacular alpine scenery.
Hang gliding over Queenstown's spectacular alpine scenery.

Take the plunge and travelling solo

SHUFFLING tentatively out onto the canyon platform, I caught my first glimpse of the river rapids more than 100m below.

My knees locked and my breathing quickened to near-hysterical gasps.

If I had found the prospect of holidaying in New Zealand alone frightening, it had nothing on this.

The slightly twisted "jump masters” at Queenstown's Shotover Canyon Swing found it funny to give me a shove in the back and joke about my dodgy harness - and I loved them for it.

My feet defied my brain and I ran off the edge into a screaming 60m of freefall and a 200m swing.

My trip was inspired by a TV clip I'd seen of people zip-lining through a canyon somewhere in New Zealand, and further fuelled by a "life is short” mid-30s crisis.

Try as I might to persuade friends to join me, my timing or their finances were out. So I decided to pull on my big girl pants and go it alone.

Specialist firms catering for solo female travellers were way beyond my budget and seemed a bit stuffy.

Stray Bus tours were perfect. The itinerary included the destinations I particularly wanted to visit - Queenstown, Milford Sound and Stewart Island - with a guaranteed first night's stay at each stop. This meant my precious seven days could be spent seeing and doing instead of craning over maps and worrying about finding places to stay.

My only question: was 38 too old to be getting on a backpacker bus?

As it turned out, no. My bus buddies were in their teens, 20s and 30s and hailed from every continent. Most were also lone travellers and keen to mingle.

Conscious I was at the upper end in age, it came as some relief to learn a lady in her 60s had been aboard the previous Stray bus, though one of my new friends wryly revealed she'd overheard herself referred to as "the middle-aged Canadian”. She was 35.

Our Stray driver was a delightful young bloke (now I sound middle-aged) by the name of Nipper. Along with exceptional knowledge of his country's geography and indigenous history, he gave us the heads-up whenever we needed to stock up on food or get cash, and happily made unscheduled stops so we could gawp at kea (alpine parrots).

By the first evening we were all tucking into a big shared dinner around a wood fire and laughing about our respective cultural stereotypes.

I wondered whether I would have met all these interesting people if I'd been in a couple bubble. I couldn't have imagined my trip would see me hang-gliding with a New York rabbi.

She and I took a break from all the adrenaline-fuelled antics to enjoy a cruise on Lake Wakatipu aboard vintage steam ship TSS Earnslaw. After a glass of mulled wine and a sing-along with the pianist, we arrived at Walter Peak High Country Farm nestled amid the spectacular alpine scenery.

Here we would see the shearers shearing, the working dogs working and tuck into a gourmet barbecue lunch.

"Which do we do first?” my friend inquired, "Pat the lamb or eat the lamb?”

Thankfully, lunch came first.

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