July 27, 2004

New Zealand 3 days, 4 nights


Flight NZ144 heading to Wellington (NZ) after a drawn out week in Sydney, the film is shite, one of those ‘animation/real actor’ bugs bunny films. So I tuck into the in-flight mag and start to feed my head on what I will find in NZ. The usual ‘Lord of the Rings’ Middle Earth reference is everywhere, lush images of landscapes and amazing views.

23.55, I stumble into arrivals… Paul D and I head into Wellington to the efficient and sufficient YHA. Its right in the centre of the city so we crawl out to a bar and sink a few.

Stomachs full of porridge, we point the car in the direction of Lake Taupo, roughly in the middle of the North Island.

14.00 we pull into ‘Great Lake Skydive’ centre, we’ve talked about this, jested about it, but now we’re here. The plan is to do the biggest skydive we can, 15,000 feet (about 3 miles high), this means a freefall at 120 mph for about 60 seconds… gulp.

These guys are super efficient, before I can think about it I’m wearing a red jumpsuit, then a harness is drawn between my legs over my shoulders and is tightened, and tightened again. There are about 6 of us who head towards the plane, by this point most people are partnered up with their skydiver. I on the other hand walk solo wondering if I’m doing this on my own or not.

My skydiver has now found me; I sit between him and the bloke who’ll be filming, photographing this whole experience. Reassuringly he announces that he “hasn’t checked my harness” this of course is rolled out with a laugh.

I’m being shown this altimeter every 2-3,000 feet, like I really want to know. At 12,000 feet we say goodbye to everyone except Paul and his and my entourage. Ears are popping the altimeter becomes a clock, counting up to this decision I considered only a moment ago.

“15,000 feet”, yeah nice one mate, “you feeling nervous?” no, no.

I didn’t actually feel nervous when we got there. I’d decided I was ok. The hesitation is the hard part, sitting on the edge of the plane, there’s a guy hanging from the fuselage just in front of me. This is not the time to be taking pictures.

Earth, sky, and earth – falling forward from the plane, the wind is so intense my hands are freezing. I’m shouting my head off, what I’m saying I have no idea. The acceleration is mind-boggling. My arms and legs are flailing all over the show. We stabilise once I realise that I am the source of the problem.

Whilst all of this is going on, there’s a bloke skydiving backwards below me, cameras pointed in my face. With that he glides towards me, grabbing my hands, for a moment all three of us are connected, collectively falling at 120 mph. I’m expected to grin and do silly things for the cameras, I oblige.
Suddenly the approaching earth slows, my arms and legs shoot forward and I seem to be going up. We’re gliding and the harness suddenly becomes rather restrictive. For the first time I’m taking it all in, the beauty of our location, what I’ve just done and where I am now.

Paul suddenly comes into sight, his like a corpse floating in the air with a pained expression on his face. Totally weird chatting to each other at about 4,000 feet, wide eyed and shell shocked.

The parachute is very manoeuvrable, and we spiral towards the lake and the airfield.

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Posted by benhamin at July 27, 2004 09:22 AM