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5 Ways to Cheat Death in New Zealand

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I've been researching New Zealand like mad for the past day or two, prepping for an upcoming trip. More than anything, what I've discovered is this: while there are an absolutely humbling number of relaxing things to do in beautiful settings -- winery touring, hiking without end, lazing on the beach -- New Zealand also boasts a tourist economy based in large part on assisted near-suicide. It was they who popularized bungee jumping, for instance, and skydiving enthusiasts will tell you there's no better country in which to jump out of a plane at 12,000 feet. But these days, bungee-jumping is old news, and as Kiwis continually try to outdo themselves in the adrenaline department, the list of semi-absurd, totally insane adventure sports grows daily. Here are a few of the strangest. Photo above by Peter McBride.

5. Parabungee

Jumping off a bridge or Auckland's 328-meter Sky Tower not high enough for you? Try parabungee, which looks like a normal tandem parasailing trip until you cut the harness linking you to the jumpmaster / parasail pilot. Here's a video of someone doing a 1000-foot parabungee jump, and then cutting the bungee cord, essentially base-jumping from the end of his cord. Yeesh.

4. Fly-by-Wire

wire.jpgA bizarre but exhilarating experience where you control a high-speed plane on a leash, at speeds of up to 170km/hr. From the sound of it, you'll feel (and look) a bit like Evil Knievel, without the broken bones. Compared to parabungee it's definitely tame, but strange nonetheless:

3. Canyoning

This ain't your parents canyon adventure. When most people hear "canyoning" (including, until recently, me), they think of canyoneering, which is the process of moving through canyons and finding your way, even if you have to climb out and rappel down into an adjacent drop. Not so canyoning. Going down is the point, and the more waterfalls you can jump or rappel down, the better. I'll let National Geographic's Tim Cahill, who's actually done this, explain:

We clipped into fixed ropes at the tops of waterfalls, and Ros showed us how to ride the falls to the deep pools at the bottom. You lie on your back, put your arms over your head so that you don't break your elbows on rocks, inch forward, and rush down with the water, sometimes falling almost a hundred feet. We rappelled into shallow pools, did a Tyrolean traverse across the stream at one point—"no worries," Ros said, "you'll be 'roight"—and at the bottom, we slid through a long, narrow, sinuous passage that Ros called "the Tunnel."

NZ.jpgPhoto: Peter McBride

2. Canyon Swinging

If rappelling down the canyon wasn't thrilling enough for you, there's always the canyon swing. It works like this: there are two cantilevered platforms sticking out of either end of the canyon, and a sort of bungee cord connects them. You strap on one end of it and jump. Again, Tim Cahill:

The world dropped out from under me. I plummeted 90 feet (27 meters), and then the swing started. I found it was rather faster than I'd imagined. This was a little different from the bungee, since I wasn't used to falling into a 300-foot (91-meter) warp speed swing from a sitting position. Meanwhile, as I swung under the station where my rope was anchored, I couldn't help but notice that the wall of the cliff rushing by me to the right seemed but a few feet (about one meter) from my face. (I was probably 40 feet [12 meters] away, but it seemed too damn close.) Then, soon enough, I was swinging gently back and forth, taking in the view. Double paragliders were doing loops overhead, jet boats were tearing across Lake Wakatipu below, and the luge-bikes were winding down a cement track at truly silly speeds. Ah, Queenstown. I was winched back up to the anchor platform by the safety rope.

1. Jetboating

Not particularly suicidal but definitely thrilling, jetboating is a Kiwi invention: "An inboard engine sucks water into a tube in the bottom of the boat and an impeller driven by the engine blows it out of a nozzle at the stern in a high-speed stream. The boat is steered simply by directing the stream." (Thanks, Lonely Planet.) I had never heard of jetboating before, but apparently it's doable in almost every New Zealand river town of any size, most notably Queenstown, where a bracing trip down the Shotover river -- the same one you can rappel down and swing across -- gets you within inches of jagged rocks. Wear a rubber coat and plastic underpants for this one. Here's some video:

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Paw Enforcement: A History of McGruff the Crime Dog
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Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Jack Keil, executive creative director of the Dancer Fitzgerald Sample ad agency, was stuck in a Kansas City airport at three in the morning when he started thinking about Smokey Bear. Smokey was the furred face of forest fire prevention, an amiable creature who cautioned against the hazards of unattended campfires or errant cigarette butts. Everyone, it seemed, knew Smokey and heeded his words.

In 1979, Keil’s agency had been tasked with coming up with a campaign for the recently-instituted National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), a nonprofit organization looking to educate the public about crime prevention. If Keil could create a Smokey for their mission, he figured he would have a hit. He considered an elephant who could stamp out crime, or a rabbit who was hopping mad about illegal activity.

A dog seemed to fit. Dogs bit things, and the NCPC was looking to take a bite out of crime. Keil sketched a dog reminiscent of Snoopy with a Keystone Cop-style hat.

Back at the agency, people loved the idea but hated the dog. In a week’s time, the cartoon animal would morph into McGruff, the world-weary detective who has raised awareness about everything from kidnapping to drug abuse. While he no longer looked like Snoopy, he was about to become just as famous.

In 1979, the public service advertising nonprofit the Ad Council held a meeting to discuss American paranoia. Crime was a hot button issue, with sensational reports about drugs, home invasions, and murders taking up the covers of major media outlets like Newsweek and TIME. Surveys reported that citizens were concerned about crime rates and neighborhood safety. Respondents felt helpless to do anything, since more law enforcement meant increased taxes.

To combat public perception, the Ad Council wanted to commit to an advertising campaign that would act as a preventive measure. Crime could not be stopped, but the feeling was that it could be dented with more informed communities. Maybe a clean park would be less inviting to criminals; people might need to be reminded to lock their doors.

What people did not need was a lecture. So the council enlisted Dancer Fitzgerald Sample to organize a campaign that promoted awareness in the most gentle way possible. Keil's colleagues weighed in on his dog idea; someone suggested that the canine be modeled after J. Edgar Hoover, another saw a Superman-esque dog that would fly in to interrupt crime. Sherry Nemmers and Ray Krivascy offered an alternative take: a dog wearing a trench coat and smoking a cigar, modeled in part after Peter Falk’s performance as the rumpled TV detective Columbo.

Keil had designs on getting Falk to voice the animated character, but the actor’s methodical delivery wasn’t suited to 30-second commercials, so Keil did it himself. His scratchy voice lent an authoritarian tone, but wasn't over-the-top.

The agency ran a contest on the back of cereal boxes to name the dog. “Sherlock Bones” was the most common submission, but "McGruff"—which was suggested by a New Orleans police officer—won out.

Armed with a look, a voice, and a name, Nemmers arranged for a series of ads to run in the fall of 1980. In the spots, McGruff was superimposed over scenes of a burglary and children wary of being kidnapped by men in weather-beaten cars. He advised people to call the police if they spotted something suspicious—like strangers taking off with the neighbor’s television or sofa—and to keep their doors locked. He sat at a piano and sang “users are losers” in reference to drug-abusing adolescents. (The cigar had been scrapped.)

Most importantly, the NCPC—which had taken over responsibility for McGruff's message—wanted the ads to have what the industry dubbed “fulfillment.” At the end, McGruff would advise viewers to write to a post office box for a booklet on how to prevent crime in their neck of the woods.

A lot of people did just that. More than 30,000 booklets went out during the first few months the ads aired. McGruff’s laconic presence was beginning to take off.

By 1988, an estimated 99 percent of children ages six to 12 recognized McGruff, putting him in Ronald McDonald territory. He appeared on the ABC series Webster, in parades, and in thousands of personal appearances around the country, typically with a local police officer under the suit. (The appearances were not without danger: Some dogs apparently didn't like McGruff and could get aggressive at the sight of him.)

As McGruff aged into the 1990s, his appearances grew more sporadic. The NCPC began targeting guns and drugs and wasn’t sure the cartoon dog was a good fit, so his appearances were limited to the end of some ad spots. By the 2000s, law enforcement cutbacks meant fewer cops in costume, and a reduced awareness of the crime-fighting canine. When Keil retired, an Iowa cop named Steve Parker took over McGruff's voice duties.

McGruff is still in action today, aiding in the NCPC’s efforts to raise awareness of elder abuse, internet crimes, and identity theft. The organization estimates that more than 4000 McGruffs are in circulation, though at least one of them failed to live up to the mantle. In 2014, a McGruff performer named John Morales pled guilty to possession of more than 1000 marijuana plants and a grenade launcher. He’s serving 16 years in prison.

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Watch a Panda Caretaker Cuddle With Baby Pandas While Dressed Up Like a Panda
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iStock

Some people wear suits to work—but at one Chinese nature reserve, a handful of lucky employees get to wear panda suits.

As Travel + Leisure reports, the People's Daily released a video in July of animal caretakers cuddling with baby pandas at the Wolong National Nature Reserve in China's Sichuan Province. The keepers dress in fuzzy black-and-white costumes—a sartorial choice that's equal parts adorable and imperative to the pandas' future success in the wild.

Researchers raise the pandas in captivity with the goal of eventually releasing them into their natural habitat. But according to The Atlantic, human attachment can hamper the pandas' survival chances, plus it can be stressful for the bears to interact with people. To keep the animals calm while acclimating them to forest life, the caretakers disguise their humanness with costumes, and even mask their smell by smearing the suits with panda urine and feces. Meanwhile, other keepers sometimes conceal themselves by dressing up as trees.

Below, you can watch the camouflaged panda caretakers as they cuddle baby pandas:

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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