Jump around

Trip Start Jan 16, 2007
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Trip End Aug 20, 2007


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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Friday, May 4, 2007

Though the drive form the west coast over to Queenstown is meant to be one of the most spectacular in New Zealand, I don't really feel in much of a position to comment. I'm sure it's fantastic when you can actually see something, but when the mist/fog is covering pretty much everything above 200 metres, all you have is a sense that something big's there, but you're not too sure what, or how big. Atmospheric it may have been, but it was not condusive to skydiving. My initial idea was to skydive from Wanaka, primarily because it's surrounded by mountains and cheaper than in Queenstown. However, the weather was not with me, so Queenstown it was.

On the way to Queenstown I thought I'd pop into AJ Hackett's Kawarau Bridge to see some people jump off bridges (though obviously with rubber bands around them). Rather than do the (relatively) small jump of 47 metres from the bridge, I thought I might as well jump off something bigger. The biggest on offer from Hackett was the 134m 'Nevis' highwire bungy. A pod strung between the walls of a vast canyon is the jump platform, and the only way to get to it is on a 4WD track then in a pimped-up milk crate on a wire, before finally arriving at the pod. All signed up, that was something to look forward to.

As something a little bit more sedate before I reached the death defying centre that is Queenstown, I made a slight detour to Arrowtown. It was here that I had possibly the best pie I've had in a long time - venison and something. Venison's pretty popular over here, launched in the 70s when helicopter pilots with obviously too much time on their hands starting popping off the deer that had taken over Fiordland (untamed area of big hills to the south-west), and deer are now farmed in much the same way as cattle. A slight diversion here, but listening to New Zealand local radio can be something else. As NZ's rather odd for first world nations (agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than anything else) you get some rather wacky suggestions in how to stop the cows from farting. Obviously you can't just put a bung in them (well, you could, but it may get messy) and the locals joke about fitting catalytic convertors (or whatever the correct mechanical equivalent is) onto them. Oh the laughs they must have thinking up those in the cow shed.

Back to throwing myself off things, the next day dawned and the moment to jump from a very high thing to the ground crept up. Unsure what I'd feel like when the moment came, I didn't really feel anything. I tried not to think about it, and this seems to have been the best policy. Some of the people who jumped (mostly the girls, but also some of the blokes) had obviously been thinking how far it is to the ground, and were complete wrecks. The whole process of being strapped onto things is pretty secure, though there are weight limits for such a high bungy. With only 10 metres between you and the valley floor at full extension, there is limited margin for error. The only bit I thought could be a bit tricky was releasing my feet on my second/third bounce up, so that i could be sitting upright in my body harness when they raised me back to the platform. If I didn't manage to do this, I'd spend the journey back upside down. Thankfully I managed, but quite a few didn't and ended up looking like strung up turkeys.

The jump itself was like something I've never experienced before. The freefall is 8 seconds, and the ground rush is quite amazing. Aware of the speed you're falling at due to the scenery rushing past and towards you, it is quite a start to the day. As the cord's made of latex, there's a fair bit of bouncing around at the end (hey, if it's good enough for condoms...) but I didn't experience any of the supposed horrow stories that some people claim to have after jumping. My eyes were still in their sockets, were not bloodshot, and I had no whiplash. All good.

As I'd done a jump, I could get other stuff cheap from Hackett. Rather than opt for another bungy, I went for the 'swing' at the top of the gondola. The weather was crystal clear - the best it had been for days - and the Remarkables (mountain range around Qtown) were, well, quite remarkable. The swing involved being taken out to one side of the 'Ledge' bungy platform that overlooks the town, getting strapped in, sliding down a wire, before pulling a release cord. Spat out over the town, it's only about a 60 metre arc, but still not bad.

Keen to jump off something a bit higher than the Nevis, I'd got myself onto a skydive (once I'd cased out the weather for the next day). I plumped for the 12,000 feet, with 45 seconds of freefall, reaching 200kmph. It was a tandem skydive, as there's no way you'd be able to learn how to do a solo safely in the amount of time that most people have. It's all pretty safe though (white water rafting's worse than bungy and skydiving combinded, it's just they get the bad press when it all goes pear shaped), and the bloke you're strapped to has done over 1000 dives before being allowed to go tandem. Up in the air, there were fantastic views of Mount Cook in the distance, and all the other mountains around us. We were stuck up at 12,000 for about 10 minutes, as there were quite a few commercial airliners coming in to land a Queenstown. Would not be a good idea to have a collision with them. Tumbling out of the plane, it does not feel as though you're falling at all. It's more like there'a huge jet of air pushing against you. As the scenery's so huge, it's difficult to get a sense of speed from that as well. It's only when you see the other person jump out of the plane and plummet towards terra firma that you realise how fast you're heading towards something very, very hard. This is especially so when your sky-chap's put the parachute up and they're still free-falling. It was an absolutely awesome experience though, and one that I think everyone should do at least once.
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