Zorb the Hills of New Zealand
Zorbing, or sphereing, is essentially a child’s dream (and many an adult’s nightmare). You enter a transparent sphere with a three metre circumference and get launched down a hill, either on a straight or zigzagged path. The sport came about in the 1990s, created by two Kiwis looking for a thrill. It has since grown into an international business, with Zorb locations throughout the world, including Sweden, Thailand, Ireland and the United States.
The only Zorb site in New Zealand is in Rotorua, dubbed the country’s “Adventure Hub”. Rotorua is situated in the centre of the North Island, and also goes by another name: “Sulphur City.” You smell the city before you see it; its geothermal activity gives it the characteristic scent that has been compared to rotten eggs. There are numerous sulphur spas and hot springs all around the city, and locals say you get used to the smell; but I guess it takes more than the three days I spent there!
The idea of Zorbing yields two main contrasting reactions: A huge grin of excitement, or an expression bewilderment. You either get it or you don’t. Obviously, while the cynics exist by the masses, there are plenty of Zorb-enthusiasts as well, with nearly 600,000 participants since the site opened in 1995—an average of 50,000 Zorbers each year.
Appropriately, both Zorb-related records are held by Kiwis. Surprisingly, both were set on the exact same day. One day in November of 2006, history was made at Matapara Farm in Rotorua. Keith Kolver descended downhill at a rate of 52 km/hour, measured by police radar. That same day, Steve Camp fell for 570 meters, breaking the previous record in the UK by 250 meters. Both New Zealanders are now in the Guinness Book of Records.
To Zorb or not to Zorb is not the only question. There are actually a number of different choices to make regarding your experience. There is the Zorbit: the basic Zorb ride, dry on the inside of the ball and rolled straight down the grass hill. The Zydro, on the other hand, has water inside the ball, splashing around as you roll down, and you can choose either the straight or the zigzag track. You can go on a Zydro ride solo or with up to two friends, but only the solo riders can follow the zigzag path.
Taking the plunge Zorbing in Rotorua will set you back around NZ$50, and the price falls minimally if you go with a friend. On the other hand, a pack of three rides is only NZ$108. It is admittedly expensive for a ride that lasts under ten seconds; but if you can afford it, it truly is a priceless experience—a fleeting feeling of freedom and silliness rolling down a lush green rural hill in the adventure capital of the Adventure Capital! New Zealand zorbing is a uniquely exhilarating experience, and, surprisingly, is on many travellers’ bucket lists.
When to Go to Zorbing New Zealand
Rotorua is well set up for tourists, and there is an obvious tourist centre downtown where the staff are happy to help you find your way from site to site. They will explain how to get to the Zorb site, which is just outside the city and easily accessed by a bus, which will drop you off right outside the hill and pick you up directly across the street.
Odds n' Ends
The good news is that if you get unassailable last-minute nerves, and decide against rolling down a hill in a giant plastic ball, most activity centres offer a free refund.
There are branded Zorb clothing that you can buy to ride the Zorb, such as shorts and t-shirts, but mostly a bathing suit or your own clothes is the best option unless you specifically want souvenirs.
If you’re under 18, you will need consent from your parent or guardian
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