Kooky holiday activities that will blow your mind
DAVID WHITLEY AND MICHAEL GEBICKI
Sometimes it takes a spark of genius to come up with a new way to explore a destination - whether it is harnessing new technology or combining ideas in an unusual way. S
ometimes the inspiration comes from films or computer games; on other occasions, it is a case of seeing something going to waste and working out how to make enterprising use of it.
Whether it is playing out your Back to the Future fantasies, unleashing your inner Indiana Jones or indulging secret train driver ambitions, here are seven new experiences guaranteed to be a hit on Instagram.
ROOM ESCAPE GAMES
The time is ticking down and there is probably an important clue inside the safe, but a whole host of puzzles need solving in order to get the right combination code for it.
If this sounds like a computer game, there is good reason for it - the room escape experiences spreading across Europe are based on classic puzzle-solving games such as Monkey Island.
The premise is simple - you are locked in a room and you have an hour to escape. But to do so, you need to use all manner of mirrors, computers, wooden block puzzles and hidden panels to activate the door's unlocking mechanism.
With Parapark, the original room escape game in Budapest, teamwork is required to crack the tasks and it gets psychologically intense as time runs out.
But the game-runner, who watches proceedings via cameras in another room, can always send another clue to a TV screen if the captives get truly stuck.
More information: A one-hour game at Parapark costs 9000 forints (NZ$47).
FLYING WITH JETPACKS
Pioneered in Florida and now steadily making their way round the world, Jetlev jet packs are about as close as we are going to get to flying as promised in space-age cartoons.
The Jetsons fantasies take place over water, as the pack into which you are strapped is attached by a long tube to a high-powered, floating pump. The pump pushes water up out of the sea, and the pack pushes it back down again through rocket-like thrusters. Physics takes over, and the reaction to the water being forced downwards is to propel the novice flyer upwards.
The kit was designed with jobs such as painting bridges in mind, but it has spread as a tourist activity to places such as Singapore's Sentosa Island. The instructions might sound simple - relax, use small movements to steer and look at the horizon - but attempting to follow them can lead to comical spin-outs and dunkings.
More information: Seabreeze runs 45-minute jet-pack sessions, including training, on Sentosa Island for S$298 (NZ$275).
The other sci-fi staple required is the hoverboard. While not quite as envisaged in the Back to the Future movies, it is possible to soar above Melbourne's Port Phillip Bay with Marty McFly-esque panache.
The Flyboards use similar technology to the Jetlev jet packs, although the water is fired out from beneath your feet, rather than from your back. You are also attached to a jet ski, which sets the pace and direction somewhat.
However, this is much easier to get the hang of. After swimming out from St Kilda Beach and strapping on to the board via boots, it is simply a case of standing up straight and bending a knee to change direction. Once the basic circling and figures of eight are mastered, it is possible to try dolphin dives.
More information: Go Flyboard Melbourne runs one-hour flyboarding sessions, including wetsuits and instruction, from A$300 (NZ$322.8).
Street-art tours, taking in murals and Banksy-like stencils, are springing up in cities all over the world. But in Berlin and London, it is possible to have a go yourself.
The experience starts with a conventional walking tour of the most impressive street art in the city - that tends to be around the Friedrichshain area of Berlin and the East End of London - before returning to HQ and unleashing the spray paint.
Genuine street artists teach you the basic techniques - there is a little more to it than pointing the can and spraying - then let you unleash your creativity. For fairly obvious reasons, participants are not let loose on walls - but this means you do get your own work to take with you on canvas or a bag.
More information: Alternative Berlin's 3½-to-four-hour combined tour and workshop costs €15 (NZ$2$). Alternative London's four-hour version costs £25 (NZ$48.8).
NIGHT-TIME WILDLIFE TOURS
One major problem with wildlife-spotting tours in Australia is that many of the animals you might want to see are nocturnal. Go looking for them at night and torches will soon scare them off.
Vision Walks in Byron Bay has come up with a solution for that, using military night-vision technology to enhance after-dark nature walks in the Nightcap National Park.
The goggles are somewhat disconcerting to wear, as they cancel out all peripheral vision. It is a little like learning to walk again. But the infra-red vision allows wearers to spot small bright lights in the forest - and these are usually the eyes of owls, bandicoots, pademelons and great barred frogs. As long as you aren't too noisy, you can creep up wonderfully close.
More information: Vision Walks runs 3½-hour nocturnal trips into the Nightcap National Park, with pick-ups in Byron Bay, for A$99 (NZ$106.55).
Fans of Dawn of the Dead can now star in the equivalent of a zombie movie, with a series of apocalyptic scenarios being played out across Britain. Zombie Experiences has a series of settings - a "secret bunker" in London, an abandoned mall in Reading, a country manor and a mock military boot camp.
The common theme is that you have company and it is out to get you. Due to health and safety requirements, they are not allowed to release the real undead, but the actors playing the zombies do a fine job of terrifying their prey.
Potential victims are equipped with Airsoft guns with which to protect themselves and torches. The games are slightly different each time - you might be protecting a VIP or trying to sneak through with limited ammunition - but the thumping-heart intensity remains consistent.
More information: The adventures cost from £65 (NZ$127).
When the Stratford to Okahukura branch line on New Zealand's North Island closed in 2009, one local farmer thought this was a dreadful waste and put in a bid to be able to use it. He wasn't planning to run trains, though - he wanted to let people drive along it in specially converted golf buggies. The buggies, fixed up with steel wheels, can chug along at 20 kilometres an hour through increasingly gorgeous countryside.
More information: Forgotten World Adventures runs a variety of buggy tours but the $210 Republic Rail Picnic trip is the best one-day option. It stops for lunch in Whangamomona, a small village that previously elected a goat as president.
THE WORLD OF WEIRD
LOG ROLLING, FINLAND
Should you find yourself in Finland, and a genial, smiling fellow called Eero asks if you would like to try log rolling, think twice.
At first, all seems well when I step on to the log, on the lakeshore in Nuuksio National Park, less than an hour from Helsinki. It's a fat log with plenty of grip on the scaly bark, but then Eero, standing three metres away at the other end, pushes us into the lake and it becomes a see-saw.
Eero is smiling and then he begins to dance. At first, it's a slow rotation and I can keep up, taking little steps that match his own.
He stops, turns and rolls the log in the other direction. We are only a few metres from the shore and several onlookers have gathered. Most are also smiling, which is rare in Finland.
Eero starts taking quick little steps that spin the log faster and faster until I'm flicked off into the cold water. I get a clap as I walk dripping past the spectators. Someone offers me a grilled sausage, which I take.
I had planned to do a walk, but the sauna at my hotel in Helsinki looks like a much better option.
VILA FLYBOARD, VANUATU
Want to skim through the water at high speed and leap like a dolphin? Of course you do, and when I saw the video advertising the Vila Flyboard experience in the departure lounge of Vanuatu's domestic airport, I was hooked.
Described as a water jetpack, the flyboard is a pair of rigid boots fixed to a board and connected to a jetski via a fat tube. Water under high pressure from the jetski's outlet is forced through the sole of the boots and - presto - the rider rises into the air.
Master the art and you can perform wonders. The video shows half a dozen expert flyboard aquanauts in synchronised motion as they gracefully rise and dip through the water. Backflips, aerial rotations and ballet-like underwater performances are all possible for the skilled, who can rise almost 10 metres above the water. For me, floundering around in Vila's Starfish Cove, it's a different story.
From lying flat on the surface, I have to use the power coming from my feet to get upright and out of the water. Direction is controlled by pushing or pulling back on your toes, but it takes practice to calculate the angle required to achieve stability. In the last five minutes of my 30-minute session, something clicks.
I rise three metres from the water, bend one knee and perform a slow-motion mid-air pirouette, which is something even your average dolphin can't do.
PADDLEBOARD YOGA, HAWAII
Keeping your balance on a paddleboard is an acquired skill, as is yoga's extended side angle pose, utthita parsvakonasana.
What devilish mind thought of combining the two? I wonder as I stand on Hawaii's Waikiki Beach in the rising sun, listening to my stand-up paddleboard yoga guide, Zac.
"Guys, listen up, this is really intense. It's fantastic for your chakra. You'll be knowing your core more than ever so cherish it." Half a dozen wobbly aqua-yogis paddle out from the shore and the first exercise is an easy pose, kneeling with the head touching the board.
The poses become more difficult until finally I fall off my board, but I'm wet, clinging to my board and laughing, which is good for the soul, they say.
- FFX Aus