Looking for High Adventure
Looking for high adventure, unique architecture and dramatic views? EDGE Contributor Richard Frisbie traveled to four countries on three continents to find enough death-defying stunts to satisfy the most jaded thrill-seekers. For everyone else, the breath-taking views and award-winning architecture he discovers are worth the price of admission.
Macau is a former Portuguese colony on the South China Sea that is now a special administrative region (SAR) of China, similar to Hong Kong. As one of the most visited gambling destinations in the world, some say Macau trumps Vegas! But money is not the only currency when gambling in Macau. You can also take a leap at the highest freefall in the world.
When it was built more than a decade ago, Macau Tower was one of the ten tallest freestanding buildings in the world. Rising from its needle base to the flying saucer-style, glass-enclosed observation deck at the top, the tower offers spectacular day and nighttime views of the surrounding city. On a clear day you can see all the way to Hong Kong -- 50 miles away.
For the daring, there's the narrow Skywalk X outside the observation deck that circles the tower 764 feet above the ground. Wearing a special suit harnessed from above, one could walk the skinny rail around the building's circumference. There is also an exterior ladder to climb all the way to the top.
The more adventurous can don a jump suit for a cabled "SkyJump." A "fan descender" allows a participant to plummet to the earth without rebounding or inverting, but with just as much of a rush. Couple that with the world's only exterior mast climb, and you have a one-stop outdoor adventure in the middle of the largest gambling complex in the world. In addition to the thrills, there's a casino, shopping and various restaurants, including one just below the observation deck with 360-degree views.
Sky Tower - Auckland, New Zealand
Just a hop, skip and (sky)jump from Macau is Auckland, New Zealand, where Sky Tower, the tallest man-made structure in the country, beckons. For incredible views, Sky Tower features the only revolving restaurant in New Zealand. The glass walls offer 50-mile views in every direction.
Part of the Auckland casino complex, Sky Tower is of similar design, but 135 feet shorter than Macau Tower. It features the same 4-foot-wide walk (again without handrails) around the outside of the building, necessitating the same full-body harness for adventure-seeking aerial walkers. There is also a skyjump similar to the one at Macau Tower. Admission to the national award-winning building and all its levels and facilities is $28. The skyjump is $225.
The Sky Tower is basically a one-stop Auckland experience. It is conveniently located in the heart of the city, just a half hour from the airport. Besides the views, the death-defying walks and the SkyJump, it features a casino, multiple restaurants and the top-rated accommodations in town -- the SKYCITY Hotel. Score a room on one of the higher floors and you won't need the SkyWalk to see magnificent views out over the harbor.
Glacier Skywalk - Jasper National Park, Canada
No more death defying feats, just pure, incredible views from more amazing architecture. When completed, the 1,300-foot-long Glacier Skywalk and glass-floored observation deck will be suspended from a cliff face at the Tangle Ridge Viewpoint on the Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park and offer the "only unobstructed, completely accessible glacier view in the world." The glass and naturally weathering steel design forgoes paint and toxic finishes. In addition, existing infrastructure is utilized as much as possible to guarantee a "footprint neutral" construction. Building on an existing turnout, developers claim this will have little impact on the environment, while critics say they will be charging $15 to $30 for a view that once was free. Not so, this suspended walkway extends nearly 100 feet beyond the cliff face to give unobstructed views up and down the valley and glacier far below. It also offers 100 percent barrier-free access to people of any mobility.
Brewster Travel Canada, the company behind the Glacier Skywalk project, has been running tours in the park for decades and already operates tour buses that go out onto the glacier's icefield. According to Brewster president Michael Hannan, their mission is to teach visitors "about the glaciology, the geology of the area, why it's so significant and experience the full power of nature." To that end, an additional 1,500 feet of walkway is dotted with interpretive kiosks highlighting the ecology, geology, glaciology and evolutionary history of the area.
Glacier Skywalk is scheduled to open May 1, 2014. It will be accessible by automobile or bus from Jasper and Banff along the Icefields Parkway, one of the most famous scenic drives in the world. Overnight accommodations are available at the Glacier View Inn, located on the top floor of the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre or in either Jasper or Banff.
Grand Canyon Skywalk - Grand Canyon, Arizona
If you can't wait for Glacier Skywalk to open to experience that suspended-in-mid-air feeling, travel to the arid southwestern United States instead of the Canadian Rockies to get a bird's-eye view of the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon Skywalk is a transparent horseshoe-shaped cantilever walkway projecting 70 feet out from the western rim of the Grand Canyon, overlooking the Colorado River 3,500 feet below. Built on the Hualapai Indian Reservation and recently taken over by the tribe, the $31 million Skywalk is the keystone of a huge development project that includes a museum, hotel, casino and shopping mall.
On your own, you could travel a long way on back roads, some of which are still gravel, for this unusual, isolated adventure. With fees to enter the Hualapai Indian Reservation, admission to the skywalk, free use of the shuttle and the cost of photographs (no cameras allowed) a couple could spend about $200 on the Legacy Gold Admission Package. However, the distant, multi-hued canyon walls make for spectacular viewing from your vantage suspended high above the Colorado River, especially at sunrise and sunset.
The Skywalk is made of 4-inch thick glass designed to hold 120 people at a time and survive sustained winds of 100 miles per hour. Opened in 2007, this engineering marvel allows a 360-degree view of the canyon around and below. While the cloth booties visitors must wear to prevent scratching the glass are not exactly haute couture, if you are noticing them you are missing the whole point of the visit. Nowhere in the world will you find views to match these!
Grand Canyon Skywalk can be reached by airplane or helicopter from Phoenix or Las Vegas.
Various packages offer everything from train rides through the Grand Canyon to helicopter sightseeing of nearby Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. Overnight stays are available, but everything should be booked with advance reservations, including, if you arrive by motor vehicle, the park and ride services from the Grand Canyon West Welcome Center.
Walkway over the Hudson - Hudson Valley, New York
Switching from modern marvels to the sublime, the Walkway over the Hudson is a 19th century railroad bridge that once allowed trains to deliver products of the east to the markets of the west. Its deck is 212 feet above the Hudson River's surface. The tracks were abandoned after a fire in 1974 but the bridge was re-decked and opened as a walkway in 2009. It was designated a New York State Park shortly after opening. At 6,768 feet (1.28 miles) in length, it is the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world, attracting half a million visitors a year.
There is no admission charged for a spectacular view that stretches for miles up and down the Hudson River and to the distant mountains both east and west. When completed, a 21-story elevator currently under construction will allow access to the riverfront park on the eastern side of the walkway, which leads to the nearby Poughkeepsie Amtrak and Metro North stations.
For information about specific LGBT events and accommodations in the Hudson Valley and surrounding area, visit www.biggayhudsonvalley.com.