Proving something to myself - £300 for the best five minutes of my trip so far
23.03.2013 - 26.03.2013
Unfortunately the weather didn't improve for our time in Franz Josef. Three of the girls in our room woke up early to take a helicopter ride up onto the glacier to hike across it however when Lea and I headed down for breakfast we found them sitting in the lounge, their trip cancelled due to the weather. Lea and I had planned to do the cheap option; taking a shuttle bus from town and then walking to the bottom of the glacier. The walk took am hour and a half but we found see the glacier, despite the drizzle and low hanging cloud, from early on in the walk. Up close we were just three hundred meters away from what looked like a giant frozen waterfall. It was kind of weird and pretty cool and I couldn't understand why so many people were back at the hostel hiding from the rain instead of grinning and bearing it and seeing a glacier. That being said, when we arrived back at the car park our jeans were soaked through. With still forty five minutes until out pick up time I ran a couple of the shorter walks in the area whilst the others sheltered from the, now heavy, rain.
Back in town there wasn't a whole lot else to do. We'd spent the previous afternoon in a hot tub so instead we sat in a cafe, drank coffee and shared a plate of 'fries' before returning to the hostel and getting into bed for the remainder of the afternoon. I spent some time googling glaciers (apparently some of them can move up to thirty meters a year!) and researching the world's fattest nations (Tonga apparently).
The next day we left to continue the journey south towards Queenstown. A couple of the girls chose to stay in Franz Jospef in the hope that the weather would improve and they'd have the chance to get out and explore the ice. But it wasn't looking promising and, being on too tight a schedule, it wasn't a gamble that I was willing to make. As we drove southward the rain was relentless. Supposedly that stretch of West Coast scenery is supposed to be one of the most scenic drives but I could see little more than the rain on the windscreen. We stopped at Lake Matheson, supposedly one of New Zealand's most beautiful lakes with its reflective waters and mountainous backdrops featuring frequently on postcards but all we saw were raindrops breaking the surface.
Finally, as we approached Wanaka, the sun appeared briefly (although somehow raindrops were still falling) and the scenery of mountains, some snow-capped, shelving down in to vast lakes, again was stunning. The rain held off as I went for a beautiful evening run around Lake Wanaka (not all the way around it as it covers an area of around 74sq miles!) but far enough that any frustration I was feeling having spent a rainy day on the road began to dissipate and I felt a little better about life.
The following morning it was a beautiful day and Wanaka looked even more stunning that had the previous evening. And so, a bit of a last minute decision, I decided to take advantage of it by jumping out of a perfectly good aeroplane from 12,000ft. One of the girls at the hostel had signed up for the skydive the previous evening and as I enquired that morning whether it was too late to join her, I secretly hoped it would be. It wasn't. And so, as the rest of the group went for a morning hike up Mount Iron or of to Wanaka's Puzzle World, Johanna and I sat quietly and nervously waiting to be picked up for our skydive.
I signed disclaimer after disclaimer before being given an orange jumpsuit and strapped into a harness. I then met Jerry, my Slovenian 'instructor' and paid £300 for 'the greatest five minutes of my life so far' (pretty good value considering that that had to pay two jumpers, a pilot, ground staff and an awful lot of insurance!) Jerry's safety briefing went something along the lines of, 'when we jump bend like a banana, put your head back on my shoulder and keep your legs together to make my job easier'. Although short and simple, I wasn't sure how much I'd remember of this whilst plummeting towards the ground at a speed of 200kmph! I'd paid extra to have a photographer jump with me, not only for proof but also for the comfort of having someone else in the sky with me that I could see!
And before I knew it we were sat facing backwards on long benches in a small orange plane taking off for the fifteen minute flight to reach 12,000ft. We'd been in the air for a while when Jerry told me that we were now at 5,000ft, the height at which he'd open the parachute. Much as I tried not to, my brain calculated that that meant a 7000ft fall, which given how high we were at that point seemed like a bloody long way. I tried not to think about it and focus on Jerry's chat - he was busy pointing out the various lakes and mountains we could see around us. And I was not as nervous as I'd have expected. After ten minutes or so, he attached my harness to his and, comfortingly, I could barely move I was so pressed back against him. But when he pulled my goggles over my eyes and the side of the plane slid up it became much more real.
I was first to 'jump' from the group. Which was both a good and a bad thing as, terrifying as that was, I think watching my fellow passengers disappear one by one would have been far worse. So first my photographer moved to the doorway and, clinging to the edge of the plane, just sort of hung there as Jerry and I shuffled towards the exit (or more accurately, Jerry shuffled me towards the exit). Once there the plan was to sit on the edge, I would bend my legs back under the side of the plane, Jerry would pull my head back onto his shoulder and then push us off the edge. And sat on the edge of a plane, eyes half shut, wondering what the hell I was doing we jumped. For a second my stomach lurched. We twisted in the sky rolling over and over before stabilising and rushing downwards and I desperately tried to be banana shape.
Somehow I opened my eyes and saw the photographer who, amazingly, had complete control over his movements whilst free-falling and was able to get close to us, go below us and then move far away. But my eyes were open and I could see everything. Jerry had tapped me on the shoulder, the signal for me to let go of my harness and, arms wide open, we sailed through the sky and I began to enjoy myself - I felt safe and happy but mostly couldn't believe what I was doing or had just done.
After forty seconds, which seemed like both a very long and a very short time, I felt a jerk as the parachute opened and we moved from falling horizontally to a sitting position. Having just gotten comfortable with free falling, it was surprisingly unpleasant! Especially when Jerry slightly loosened my harness - although it had been digging painfully into my legs and chest, being loosened from your 'safety net' thousands of feet in the sky isn't really what you want!
But again, I settled into it and was able to enjoy the view, at a now more leisurely pace, of the southern alps and two great lakes. I could see the others parachutes higher above us and watched the photographer open his much lower ready to capture our landing. The parachute ride lasted around four minutes before we landed comfortably, but at what still seemed like quite a speed, on the grass next to the runway. And as Jerry asked me how I'd found it, all I could do was sit there stupidly on the grass, legs out in front of me saying 'I don't know, I don't know' over and over again with a slightly dazed grin on my face.
But it had been amazing. Not only the feeling of rushing through the sky at such speed, arms stretched out like wings as well as the incredible views on such a day in such a beautiful place but also the knowledge that I'd voluntarily fought all natural survival instincts and dropped from a open plane at such a height. It was an incredible feeling and at that moment I felt that I really could do anything.,
I later discovered that had I changed my mind, I wouldn't have had much choice in the matter as skydive planes are not installed with the safety equipment to land passengers so once you're in that plane you're jumping out whether you want to or not!
As Jerry bounded off to do the whole thing again - apparently he jumps out of a plane on average ten times a day! - I watched the footage of my dive back and I could barely believe that it was me. As a gigantic wimp who is everything-phobic, I felt incredible and the rest of the journey to Queenstown passed in a blur where I mostly looked out of the window in a daze thinking about how awesome I was.