Byline: By Andy Fletcher
It is renowned for its adventure sports and has become famous the world over as the home of Middle Earth. Andy Fletcher hits the heights in New Zealand
NOT for nothing is New Zealand known as the adventure capital of the world. The country that gave us the bungee jump is a magnet for extreme sports addicts and adrenalin junkies from across the globe.
These are not categories I would have placed myself in before arriving here, but perhaps it's time to reconsider.
The thought of jumping out of an aeroplane or leaping from a bridge attached to a piece of cord had always fascinated me, but I wasn't sure I would be able to cross that psychological line. It was time to find out.
Picturesque Lake Taupo lies smack in the middle of New Zealand's North Island. Nestling in the shadows of historic Mount Ruapehu - otherwise known as Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings films - it was created by one of the biggest recorded volcanic explosions in history.
These days it is also one of the best places in the country to go skydiving.
I decide to take the plunge, literally, so the first step is to book a dive.
The voice at the other end of the line tells me to bring a warm jumper and "your brain, so we can rip it to shreds".
As a first-time jumper, and not a huge fan of great heights, I am naturally a little nervous on arrival at the airfield the following morning.
A little calming reassurance is called for.
Instead myself and the three others who will be jumping this morning are told: "Okay, guys, we'll just round up some instructors and then we'll throw you out of an aeroplane!"
Mine will be a tandem skydive under the expert eye of Tony Green, a veteran with thousands of jumps under his belt.
I get suited up and fitted with a lifejacket.
"You'll be all right if we have to land you in the lake won't you mate?", Tony demands, before it's time to take off.
"Okay, Andrew, we're going to go up to 12,000ft, fall back down to earth at 120mph until we reach 5,000ft, then I'll open the parachute and we'll come down.
"How does that sound?", demands Tony.
Strangely enough, it sounds pretty good, and I find myself actually looking forward to the jump.
As we approach 12,000ft Tony connects our straps and we are ready to go.
The exit flap is rolled up, the first jumper is away and we shuffle over to the doorway. After a brief pause, and one last stomach-churning look down, I feel us falling forward.
It is an unbelievable feeling as we bullet towards the ground, an exhilarating combination of fear and pure adrenalin.
It's also over much too soon, with the freefall lasting just 45 seconds before the parachute opens and we gently glide to the ground - Sunday mornings will never feel the same again.
Our quick tour of the North Island also takes in Auckland, the beautiful Bay of Islands and the Waitomo Caves.
In Waitomo we try our hand at black water rafting, which involves abseiling 35m into a cave, jumping into an underground river and climbing through waterfalls. …