8 years ago


In Rotorua, David Whitley encounters a 70-year-old woman taking on a challenge that most 70-year-olds wouldn’t consider


The generically obnoxious “electronic dance music”, as purveyed by talentless dullards such as David Guetta and Flo Rida, blasted out in the changing rooms. The pictures on the wall featured teenagers jumping for action shots.


It’s fair to say that Gaille wasn’t the target market. As she handed over her $45, she had to put her age on the waiver form. 70, she wrote. This, I had to see.


But it was my turn first. I was driven up the hill, and the big plastic ball was rolled out to the start line. These Ogos are perhaps better known as Zorbs, but that’s the rival company in Rotorua, so they probably won’t thank me for mentioning it.


Suffice to say, they work in the same way. Water gets poured into the hollow centre of the ball – they’re three metres in diameter and look like something a terrifying giant mutant hamster would power – and the rider has to leap in head first through a hatch.


If it sounds tremendously silly, it is. That’s the point. And once you start rolling down the hill, sloshing around in the water, it gets even sillier.


Any attempts to stand up and remain dignified are soon vanquished. You quickly find yourself sliding in all directions, at the absurd contraption’s mercy as it bounces side to side. The Sidewinder track, at 350m long, is apparently the longest in the world. It cuts a zigzag down the hillside, and the ball follows the path of least resistance. If it slows down, push the front, and it takes off again, sending you sploshing back into the water.


By the end of the run, I was soaking wet, giggling like a child and sporting a massive simpleton’s grin. It’s as close to a pure definition of ‘fun’ as I can imagine.


As Gaille was taken up to the start of the track, I parked my sodden swimming shorts on the bench next to her husband. He asked how to get continuous action shots on his new camera. I asked what they were doing here.


They were on a coach tour, he replied. “A SKI trip – that’s Spending Kids’ Inheritance.”


They had just come from the luge, an activity best described as downhill go-karting, and had walked up to the Ogo site. No-one else on the bus would join them. But Gaille really wanted to try it.


“She had polio as a child,” said Graham. “People who have beaten polio will do anything. Not so long ago she went up in a plane to 14,000 feet. And she jumped out of it – the kids couldn’t believe it.”


Slowly, she came tumbling down the hill in her daft plastic cocoon, until it charged past us at the bottom.


We watched as she emerged. She was soaking wet, giggling like a child and sporting that exact same grin. It was pure joy. An infectious joy that would undoubtedly get passed to anyone who she told about the experience, or saw photos of it.


They timidly asked if I could possibly give them a lift back into the city. Nothing could have given me greater pleasure. When I’m 70, I want to be like Gaille. And I’d hope that I’d be able to find a charmed young pup with a car willing to give me a lift back into town.


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