I have wanted to go skydiving for years now. I have no idea why I didn’t do it yet, maybe I just like the idea of going more so than the action of doing it. But oddly there was just something about New Zealand that makes you want to jump out of airplanes, or bungee jump off bridges, or any other sort of random extreme sport.
I wasn’t really thinking of skydiving while on the South Island until I met Eric over in Queenstown. We were chatting, he really wanted to go skydiving, but was looking for someone to do it as well and I figured what the heck. We attempted to do skydiving twice in Queenstown but had no luck with the weather, and then I tried another time at Franz Josef Glacier and again the weather did not want to cooperate. At this point I was determined to accomplish a task that I had originally not even set out to do, and I was running low on time. This probably would be my last chance.
I have a bit of time to kill so I figure I will drive around, see where Abel Tasman Park is, check on sky diving for tomorrow, etc. I make my way to the sky diving place, ask about tomorrow and basically they jump when people are around and if they have people available to go. I say I’ll be back tomorrow and hopefully I’ll be able to go (I don’t want to miss seeing Abel Tasman Park in the morning)
I get back there the next day in hope of seeing if I can get a dive if I’m not too late. I park and slowly make my way around the building to the entrance. There is a large field in the back with flags to signify the drop zone that ends up doubling as the runway. The skydive facility itself is what I would imagine a frat house for skydivers would look like. There was Foosball, couches and a TV, and even a couch dropped on the back porch to sit and watch folks on their jumps. I think this was my kind of place.
It was getting a bit late and they were trying to see if they would have time for me. There is a guy in a pink furry suit watching his jump movie on the set of couches inside with his stag party friends which enhanced the frat house ambiance. Also in front of me there was another set of couples waiting to jump. A couple from England Ania and Stu if I recall and their friends who they had met while in Australia (and who had also themselves met in Australia). Ania’s friend Fiona worked at the Skydiving center and they came to visit her and also to sky dive as well. Very cool indeed.
I wandered a bit, chatting with them some and Fiona and Dave who both worked at the facility as well. David was another guy from England who found himself in NZ working in Sky diving with the plan to soon move to the US to work at a company out there. If the world doesn’t seem small enough he was going to move to the town next to where I grew up that has only about 10,000 people. How that happens I will never know, but it’s the amazing part of travel and the world.
They finally confirmed they would have time for me and that I would be the last jump of the day. I figured I would get the photos and videos and higher jump, but at that point I would have agreed to most anything as my mind was only partly paying attention to what they were saying. I was getting both nervous and excited about what was about to come. This was finally going to be the chance that I had been trying to get during my entire stay in New Zealand.
They lead me in the back to get dressed in my skydiving onesie. I tried on a jumpsuit, a hoodie, harness, and goggles, I was either getting ready to jump out of a plane or handle hazardous material. All my personal belongings were put in a box under the counter for later and I was pacing around waiting for my turn while the last set finished up their dive. The brought me to the side, introduced to my tandem master and the photographer and then started filming my video as well. They asked me a couple questions of which I don’t recall too much now! I guess my mind still wasn’t quite focused on the task at hand. They lead me over to the plane, it was a long tube inside, and there were no chairs just enough room inside for probably a maximum of four to six people. I was strapped to the one gentleman in preparation for the jump and the plane started traveling down the makeshift runway and then soon started gaining altitude.
As we started lifting higher I could see the ground below me appear to get further and further away. It was something I have seen so often being in planes most of my life, but the first time I was doing it in anticipation of leaving the plane early. He started giving me a bit of a tour of the area, pointing out sights, Abel Tasman Park, nearby towns. It was so beautiful out there, the sky was starting to change colors as sunset was quickly approaching; it was definitely the most beautiful time of day to get the chance for my jump. As we passed 13,000 feet they handed me some oxygen to help with the altitude and I think it just made me more nervous as I realized our 16,500 foot elevation for the jump was soon approaching. As we got near our jump height, he took my oxygen, signaled me to move towards the door as the photographer opened it up himself. The photographer exited first, and he had me dangle my legs over the edge. I could feel the air starting to rush by quickly, my heart pounding faster, and as he told me to look at the camera on the wing for a last photo we were outside the door. I have so little memory of leaving the airplane, I know we were turned at some point and then I was facing the ground as it was rushing up. I can say that anticipation of the jump was the most nerve-wracking thing. At this point in the jump the fear had left me and I was just able to enjoy the free-fall. I guess I figured there is little else to do but enjoy the experience as we had already passed the point of return.
The free-fall started to feel forever. It was only expected to last about a minute, but it felt as if time itself had slowed down. I was staring at the ground looking around, screaming things of excitement. I don’t even recall breathing perhaps, but I know I must have, there was just so much to take in. The photographer came back up to us, he was trying to say something to me, but I have almost no clue what it was. My tandem master was saying something to me as we were falling towards earth, but I can barely even recall. Soon the canopy deployed and we slowed considerably as we continued to float down. I was still feeling the rush of the free-fall but was also finally able to just enjoy how beautiful the area around me was and the beautiful sunset as we approached our drop zone. He gave me a bit of control to let us spin around a bit, and talked a bit about my trip, and the area there, until we finally touched down perfectly back to where we had started. I smiled, undressed, and wandered around chatting with the same euphoric high I had been experiencing since I left the plane. When it was ready I grabbed my DVD of photos and the video, let them close shop, and made my way back to Nelson.
Strangely I only looked at the CD once to post a few jump photos before leaving NZ and still have not seen the video. Sadly I’m not even sure where the disks are anymore. Hopefully the disks will resurface one day to let me return to the experience for a bit of nostalgia.