A Long Read – New Zealand: Falling with Style in Queenstown

Amongst the many things New Zealand is known for (for background on this see, Travelling: The telling the parents moment), it is considered the global mecca for adrenalin-inducing sports. Everything from bungee jumping to zorbing was invented here, and many tourists come here to try it out for themselves.

But I had my sights set on something else.

The weather hadn’t been great at the other locations in the North Island, or views not as spectacular, or proverbial gonads not big enough. For a whole host of reasons and excuses, I was running out of time and opportunities. So after thinking about it probably too much, I signed myself up for a skydive.

Check in was 10am the day after we arrived in town but I turned up at the centre eagerly at 9.30am. I was too excited (read: nervous) to eat much and mostly just wanted to get on with it! I bought a 12,000 ft jump with photo package to capture the terrifying moment.

After signing my rights away to sue anyone should it go wrong, a bus ride, a long wait and finally a suit up, it was 1pm by the time I met my tandem instructor. He immediately undid all the straps the assistant had spent the last 10 minutes putting on and did it himself – this time tighter. He whizzed me through the procedure and the body position one should adopt when you jump out of a plane (a banana shape in case you were wondering) and started filming me.

By this stage, I was shattered and all adrenalin-ed out. I had been buzzing since 7am and now I was crashing. I was hangry (angry/hungry). So to the question; “Are you nervous?!” I replied grumpily with a “Not really. Let’s just do it now – I am so ready”.

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Here goes nothing…

This Is It

We boarded the tiny plane and I sat third to last in, facing backwards and in between my tandem instructors legs. The plane trundled down the runway and we took off. Immediately my instructor started the process of strapping me to his harness and tightening up the various bindings as the plane made its ascent over the Remarkables mountains.

The mountains were named The Remarkables by Alexander Garvie in 1857, because supposedly, they are one of only two mountain ranges in the world which run directly north to south. They also happen to be very beautiful.

I looked out the tiny window next to me to enjoy the view, not feeling too nervous yet as my mind had lapsed into believing it was just another scenic flight. The view was stunning and the weather was perfect; the mountains were bathed in bright sunlight and the lake was a deep rich blue. I enjoyed the ride but every now and then I felt the pull of him tightening my cords on my back, reminding me there is only one way down…

As the plane levelled and came to around 9,000ft, the door slid open. The two guys sat in front of me got the green light. Nervously they edged forward and in a matter of seconds, fell out of a moving plane. Immediately they were whipped around the plane tail and sucked out of view. Gone.

Now it had sunk in.

Shit.

“Five more minutes kid.” My instructor patted me on the shoulder.

(Gulp)

We reached 12,000 ft and suddenly I found myself next to the hatch door without even realising how I got there. As it opened, very cold hard air hit my face, leaving me almost breathless. I deliberately did not look down, but I did look out – we were above the mountains now, by around 2,000 ft, and I could see their snow-capped peaks.

High. Really too high to compute, but the air whipping around me gave the whole thing a jolting reality.

I was frozen with fear and my heart was beating in my ears, but in a blind panic, I did as I was instructed and wrapped my legs under the plane and leant back . I looked up at his hand – still holding the rail above the hatch. The only thing keeping me in a moving plane.  With one rock back, I was finally thrown forward and I started my fall into nothing.

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Bye bye plane…

The Descent

The say you don’t feel the fall in a skydive. Well, I felt it.  My stomach dropped into my pelvis as the oxygen-lacking air pressed into my face and the deafening beating noise of my body going against the wind filled my ears.

I felt a pure all-encompassing fear.

Ironically I was in complete flight mode.

Within milliseconds, we had reached terminal velocity (200km per hour or 124 miles per hour), and the freefall had begun. It lasted for forty-five seconds.

Somewhere during this time I began to be present in the moment again. I looked at his camera, tried to smile, though it looks like a grimace on the replay. I looked down at the world rushing towards me and out at the view passing before me. It was then that I realised I had wrapped my arms around his – I can’t remember what I did with my hands when we pushed out of the plane but they were now tightly holding his arms. I must have needed the extra security that he wasn’t going to let me go! I unwound my arms and pushed them out.

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I will not let this man go…
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Ok, I will…woo!

I’m flying! Or should that be…falling in style?!

I felt him reach behind. The parachute opened and we were pulled backwards with a huge force as our fall is suddenly slowed.

We glided silently and I became aware of other things; the pain in my fingers – the wind had chilled them to the bone and how hard it had been to breathe, just moments before. My mouth was a desert of dryness; all the moisture gone from smiling and screaming like a loon.

We turned through the sky like a bird in flight and I started to make out cars, buildings, people. The harness straps were now on too tight and he loosened them. I shouted nervously to him that please can he not to drop me. After roughly seven minutes of stunning views, we swung back towards the grassy field next to the visors centre.

“Legs up now Kid”.

“Yep. Got it.”

I tried lifting both legs up in front of me and suddenly realised how heavy my body was.

“I can’t.”

“That’s fine, just as much as you can!”

We came in for a perfectly smooth landing and I slid my trainers on the grass as we slowed and stopped.

“WAHOOO” he shouted enthusiastically.

“Wow,” I say in reply.

It is all I could have managed.  My legs were like jelly and my whole body shook.

“That. Was. Crazy. How do you do that for a living?!”

I took off my suit, warmed up my numb hands and hurriedly messaged my parents to tell them about their daredevil daughter as I tried to process what had just happened.

It was all done in ten minutes.

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I’M ALIVE!

By the time I returned to Queenstown it was 3pm and I treated myself to a Fergburger (voted by meat experts as the best burger in the whole entire world) as a thank you to my stomach for holding up, up there and a thank you to my taste-buds for the joy of still being alive.

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Thank you, kind, kind world.

I picked up my video recording and relived the whole thing much later on in my trip. For that night, I was happy to be on solid land.

What A Feeling

I would sum it up as: nothing else comes close. It is in a league of its own for adrenalin. It is every emotion you’ve ever felt, the whole spectrum from nervous excitement, to fear and terror, to being at peace to pure joy and happiness. Amazement and disbelief came when I had landed. Along with gratefulness to my instructor!

Would I do it again? Yeah, I think I would…maybe with gloves, though!

And as for the video, well that is only coming out at my wedding…I was assured no one looks attractive doing a skydive but mine is pretty horrific…

Notes:

I did my skydive with NZone 

Being in Queenstown, it was expensive, particularly when you add on photo packages as well. There are cheaper options in New Zealand and particularly in the North Island. I loved my tandem pilot and had a great experience once I had met him and got going. On the logistics side though it took forever. I have no idea if that is usual because we weren’t told anything otherwise, but I suspect it shouldn’t take an additional two hours for admin and waiting around. For a 10 minute jump, it took five hours of my day, which was a shame as I didn’t have too long in town.

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