on October 6, 2009
Zorbing (or sphereing as it is more generically known) is the delicate, sophisticated and mature sport of climbing into a giant inflated and padded sphere and rolling down a hill. I went zorbing in Rotorua, New Zealand in April 2009. There are, admittedly, various similar places in the UK that offer a similar experience, but the Rotorua site is where the sport originally began 14 years ago, so when I encountered it on my travels, it seemed the logical place to try it.===The different types===At Rotorua, there are two main types of zorbing available – ones where you are harnessed in the ball and ones in which you roll freely accompanied with several litres of water. And you can choose between rolling straight down the hill and ones where the ball goes down a zigzag track. I asked around for what was the most fun and was told the zig-zag water zorb was the best option, so that's what I went for.===The cost===At NZD$49 (about £20-25) for one ride, it's not a cheap way to pass the time, but it's a lot cheaper than most adrenaline sports; and in the spirit of "you get what you pay for", whilst it is a whole heap of fun, it is also correspondingly extremely tame in comparison to bungee jumping.===Restrictions===When I was there, the maximum weight in the sphere was 120kg sum total of all occupants (which meant riding individually). However, the web site says that, for the water version, the current limits are 130kg per person with a 250kg total weight limit, with no height restrictions and a minimum age 6. For the harnessed in version, it claims a 100kg limit, minimum age 6, minimum height 1.6m (though I don't know how many 5 foot 3 six year olds there are likely to get!).===The experience===After filling in some forms on the computer absolving them of all responsibility, we paid our money and got weighed and tagged (together with reassurances that this was for scanning how many rides we had paid for, not for purposes of identification of mortal remains). Then we got changed and waited for our ride in the truck up to the top of the hill.As we waited at the viewing platform, we saw many "zorbonauts" on their trips down the hill – the spheres bounced and tumbled every which way, then when stopped, the occupants fell out before standing hesitantly up and grinning wildly. Judging by the number of people who were heading straight back up again, this is a popular pass-time, though at that price, presumably part-time jobs pay really well.After a few minutes of nervous anticipation, our lift arrived. We left our shoes and valuables with our supporters down on the viewing platform and climbed on in to the van, hanging on for dear life as it zigzagged up the hill. In reality, this was probably the most dangerous part of the trip (no seat belts!).At the top, we were scanned in and queued waiting for the spheres to be brought up on the lift. From the top, the hill looked pretty high, so there were a few butterflies, but mostly just excitement.Finally, my zorb arrived. The inner sphere sits cushioned with air springs inside the outer sphere so that there is about a foot gap between the two. The only way in and out is a narrow tunnel that you have to wriggle through headfirst in a most indelicate and inelegant manner. Then they added a few litres of warm water, and zipped me in to my very own personal hamster ball.When the route down was clear, the ball was released, and I started running to get it going. The moment the ball hit the first corner, I was flung to the floor, then spent the next 20-30 seconds being flung around like I was in a washing machine, before coming to a halt. This was extremely soggy but not very uncomfortable – it reminded me of being on a water slide. When the sphere finally stopped, I discovered to my surprise that I was on the wrong side of the slope – my friends told me that I had bounced clear over the wall of the zigzag course in a very alarming way and ended up at the end of the main runway. Being in my own spinning world, I was completely oblivious to all of this, and figure that I just got the best of both of the two routes down the hill. At the end of the ride, the zorb is unzipped, the water gushes out, and you wriggle out of your giant pod again, this time feet first and smiling for the cameras. Cries likening the process of emergement as being reborn are entirely optional. Then, if you have more time and money than we did, go try it all again! Or you do what we did and buy the T-shirt ($25, about 10 pounds)===In conclusion===I would recommend this as a gentle introduction to New Zealand's adventure sports. Plus I was left with a whole new respect for low water washing machines: I couldn't have been soggier if I'd jumped in the river.Review may be posted elsewhere.
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