Boarding in the Land of the Kiwis

Hidden New Zealand Snow Slopes

The first guy to pick me up—right outside the Auckland airport—he starts telling me about what's in the trunk of his car and what he wants me to do with it. And I'm thinking, well, I suppose this is what I deserve. The idea, after all, was never an especially brilliant one: Get a plane ticket, pack my board, and go. No plans, no partners. Just fly to New Zealand and flash my thumb. Everyone I'd spoken with said not to worry; New Zealand, they said, is one of the world's safest, friendliest countries.

Of course, five minutes into my trip, it dawns on me that safety and friendliness should never for an instant be confused with sanity. Sure, in New Zealand you can leave your hotel room unlocked, and you can jaw for an hour and a half with the cashier at the fish 'n' chips place. That's nice. But do you realize what happens to people whose homeland consists of a set of weather-blasted islands in the nether reaches of the South Pacific? They become a tad loopy, that's what happens.

So my first ride, the guy's name is Andrew, he says he's got this contraption. Forget bungee jumping, he tells me. What people really want to do when they visit New Zealand, though they don't yet know they really want to do this, is to roll down steep hills inside giant beach balls. Then my pal Andrew tells me he's just sunk every dime he owns into constructing just such a beach ball. He calls it a Zorb. Says he's got one in the trunk. All it needs is a couple minutes' inflating.

"Wanna try it?" he asks.

On a trip like this you've got little choice but to go with the flow. "Sure," I say.

Inside an hour, we're in a town called Rotorua, atop a grassy hill, and Andrew's pumping up this beach ball the size of a small planet. He tells me to squeeze through a tiny opening and seat myself inside. What the hell? I do it.

"Wet or dry?" he asks.

I give him a shrug. "Whatever."

Cold water hits me in the face. Then I feel this kick on the uphill side of the ball. The Zorb tumbles down the hill; I tumble inside the ball; my airline-meal omelet tumbles inside my stomach. This goes on for the better part of a minute. When the ball stops, I fight my way free. I am drenched and woozy; my vision's gone kaleidoscopic. I understand precisely how a cat feels when it hides out in the washing machine.

"Jet lag gone?" asks Andrew.

"Actually," I confess, "it is."

"Well then," he says, "welcome to New Zealand."

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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