Adventure tourism is carving out a bigger chunk of the travel industry each year.
Once reserved for the real-life Indiana Joneses who live for the thrill of free-falling out of a plane, they’re now being snapped up by a much broader group of people.
Many of us have tired of the standard, pool-side holiday, and are keen to make a clean break from our nine-to-fives by adding a little spice to our time off.
Long walks on the beach are being traded for parasailing above the waves, and scenic hikes swapped for canyoning. Basically, adventure tourism caters for the kind of people who want to take a beautiful location and add some heart-rate-raising fun.
I’d like to say now, that I am not one of those people.
Maybe I didn’t ride enough rollercoasters as a child, or maybe I took Jaws a little too personally, but I’m scared of pretty much everything.
I did high ropes on school camp once and I think that set me up with enough adrenaline for a lifetime.
The reason I’m telling you this is because I was recently invited to try an adventure holiday, and despite my many, many fears, it seemed too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Cairns was my destination and it soon became apparent that companies like Experience Co, who were my hosts, are trying to rebrand the city as an adventure capital the likes of Queenstown.
Sky diving, hot air ballooning and white water rafting are all on offer, but (thankfully) things started out a little more tamely for me.
Going down the luxury route, we took a helicopter ride from the main strip in Cairns to the picturesque Turtle Bay, which is only accessible by land or sea.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see any of its namesake inhabitants, but we were greeted by a romantic, champagne picnic on the sand, before taking off again for a 40 minute ride over the tablelands.
I’m not gonna lie, everything about it was absolutely beautiful – except for the fact I was consumed by terror for most of it.
Heights are not my friend. My brother recently moved into an eighth-floor apartment and even the thought of stepping out onto his balcony gives me chest pain. Spending 40 minutes suspended 1,000 feet in the air was never going to be an ideal scenario for me, no matter how breath-taking the view.
But quality time on dry land is not really a part of adventure holidays, and next up we took to the high seas (or rather, the rapids of Barron Gorge) for a spot of white water rafting.
I never expected this to be my cup of tea. I’ve seen people squeal with delight as they’re tossed over boulders, water spraying in every direction – and it looks like my nightmare.
Unfortunately, I was not wrong.
I’ll spare you the details, but while everyone else came away from the experience rosy cheeked with the thrill of it, I was wet and cold and whinging like nobody’s business.
Luckily, the last of my experiences was on the Great Barrier Reef, and who can travel up to Cairns without marvelling at this incredible wonder of the world?
We took a catamaran out to the reef, and while I would have been content to view it all through a glass bottom boat (which I did, by the way), we were also given the opportunity to dive deep with a scuba class, or take to the skies again in a helicopter.
With my nerves already on edge from my last two activities, the best I could agree to was an hour-long snorkel safari, which sounded plenty adventurous for me.
We were being guided by a marine biologist and I pre-warned the crew that I’m not a strong swimmer so they fitted me with a life jacket and fluoro goggles. They also offered me a large plastic ring, but I thought I looked ridiculous enough without it.
One hour later, and I’d seen some coral and hadn’t been eaten by sharks. It also turns out that snorkelling with a life jacket is extremely effortless, so all in all I’d say that was a success. I mean, I don’t think I’ll feel the need to enter the water again this summer, but I’m very proud of myself for taking the plunge.
The best part (in my opinion) actually took place out of the water while chatting to the Indigenous rangers on board. We were on the new Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel which sets itself apart from the other reef catamarans because it employs local, Indigenous rangers who share pieces of their cultural knowledge, including the creation story of the reef, throughout the day-trip.
One of the rangers on our cruise used to catch rogue crocodiles for a living, so hearing his story was an adventure in itself (and my favourite kind of adventure at that, because it doesn’t involve any participation from me).
So all in all, I’d say you don’t have to be super adventurous to dabble in adventure tourism, but you’ll have a lot more fun if you aren’t scared of water, heights, boats, and generally being outdoors.