New Zealand is well known for bringing fantasy worlds to life. The craggy island nation, after all, is home to Hobbiton, the Lord of the Rings-themed destination made in the bones of the movie location. It was also where The Chronicles of Narnia was filmed. It’s also home to Skyline Luge where you can come close to re-enacting yet another childhood classic: Mario Kart. Except without all the banana peels and spiky shells.
The word “luge” likely conjures images of winter Olympians shooting down an icy track at speeds upwards of 80 mph while wearing outfits that make them look like Cirque de Soleil extras. Or a shot-drinking apparatus someone busted out after your frat’s winter formal. This Luge resembles neither. But it’s a hell of a time.
The course is a wide, twisting speedway that clings to the slope of Bob’s Peak, a 5,735-foot mountain located in Queensland on New Zealand’s South Island. Riders navigate 3-wheeled scooters down the mountain, each of which is designed specifically for the course and equipped with brakes and a steering apparatus. None of the carts have engines; they’re all gravity-powered.
But do not let the lack of power fool you: these carts cruise. Since they’re gravity fed, your speed depends entirely on your weight and how hard you’re willing to push it. (It also means you can smoke your tiny kids on the course). Depending on how fast you dare to go, the course takes between 15 and 20 minutes. At the bottom of the mountain, you can take a chairlift back to the top for another round of racing.
Skyline Luge debuted in New Zealand in 1986, and has now expanded to 4 more courses in Singapore, Calgary, Quebec, and South Korea. Its designers intended to make it a more interactive version of Alpine Slide, the popular off-season ski resort activity which lets riders shoot down a mountain inside a greased metal tube. But while the fixed track of the slide means that riders only have control of the brakes, making for a very predictable experience. Skyline Luge carts do not go quite as fast as the Alpine Slide, but riders have total control and therein lies the real thrill.
After a quick lesson with an instructor, guests (children 110cm or taller can ride alone; those shorter need to ride with an adult 20 years or older) are let loose on the mountain course. Riders choose from 2 different tracks. The Scenic Track is all long, leisurely turns, giving maximum time to enjoy the intensely picturesque scenery. The Advanced Track is chock full of tight bends, big bumps, and a series of fully enclosed tunnels. Fear not about your kids going flying off a mountain: a sturdy barrier prevents you and your young speedsters from flying off the ledge.
While the ride is exciting, the view over Lake Wakatipu and the Southern Alps might just be the best part. The well-named Remarkables rise up sharply to tower several thousand feet above the lake, and on clear days other lakes are visible in the distance.
The greater Otago region is also a world capital of adventure sports and home to the best skiing in New Zealand. So, on the off-chance the off-chance Skyline Luge does not quite get your heart racing, there’s a staggering variety of extreme pursuits to try out such as bungee jumping, hang gliding, and Zorbing. Plus, the lakes are home to a full spectrum of aquatic amusements. But really, what could compete with your very own motor-less cart and that fresh mountain air?