Keeping the adrenaline levels high

Trip Start Mar 30, 2003
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Trip End Jan 30, 2004


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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Friday, December 12, 2003

Summary:

After walking to the end of both Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers I did a heli-hike at the top of Fox Glacier. However, cloud rolled in quickly and my group had to be evacuated by helicopter early to avoid being trapped there overnight. The next day I celebrated my escape by throwing myself out of an aeroplane at 15,000 feet over Wanaka. I am now in Queenstown, having just returned from a couple of days spent in the Fijordland area, including a cruise on the stunning Milford Sound.

(As well as the photos above I also attached some to the previous entry after sending out the last email)

The rest:

When I last updated the travelogue I was waiting around for the clouds to clear over the mountains as I had a heli-hike booked on Franz Josef glacier. Unfortunately, the clouds stubbornly refused to lift so after a night at Franz Josef township I moved 25km down the road to Fox Glacier and booked a heli-hike there. By coincidence, within an hour I bumped into someone who was on my sailing trip in the Whitsundays, Queensland, as well as two guys who were on my camping trip to Ayer's Rock / Uluru, as well as Claudia and Nora, the two German girls who I walked with in the Marlborough Sound. Amazing for such a small place. I felt my whole travelling life was flashing before my eyes.

As I waited for my heli-hike the next day my group was told that it was a borderline call whether they would take us up because of the low cloud. They did anyway - perhaps they needed the money badly as the trips get cancelled about half the time. After getting our crampons on we set off for a walk on the ice. The guide explained that the glacier moved downhill about 1 metre per day and often more if it was a sharp descent. We saw quite a few interesting ice formations and colours in the ice caused by the effects of bush fires or dust storms in Australia. After an hour the cloud started to come down quite rapidly and the guide went off to mutter in to his radio, probably something along the lines of 'F***, get the choppers here now'. Helicopter was the only way out - apparently it was not possible just to walk or climb down. I did not think that my food reserve of a half eaten bar of Dairy Milk would have been enough for a night on the mountain, so I was glad when we did get down.

I drove from Fox through the Haast pass to Wanaka, a pleasant ski resort overlooking a lake of the same name. The town is noted for its 'Puzzling World' including a two storey outdoor maze.(I had to cheat by using an emergency exit to get out).The next morning I woke up wondering what to do and the idea of doing a tandem sky dive took root (see www.skydivenz.com). Wanaka is a good place to do it because of the views of the Southern Alps (which apparently cover a larger area than the European alps) including Mount Cook and Mount Aspiring.

So, I was not very nervous until I got into the plane and it took off. My two fellow jumpers had opted to go at 12,000 feet, whereas I went for the maximum altitude possible for a tandem jump - 15,000 feet. It did make me quite nervous watching the others jump, especially the sound of the screams disappearing into the distance....

My 'other half' on the jump was a Serbian with an unpronounceable name. Since my life was in his hands I decided not to make polite conversation about Kosovo or Slobodan Milosoviec, instead confing myself to questions such as 'have you got the parachute on?' He pointed out some mountains to take my mind off such details. I was somewhat concerned when I asked how to land and he just laughed and he said that we would think about that on the way down!

So, the time sequence went:
t - 2 seconds: he pushes me to the open plane door. He is strapped to my back (quite well I hope) and the parachute is strapped to him (I hope).
t - 1 second: Ok I want to abort and go back to bed!
0 seconds: the Serbian bastard has pushed me out the plane door and we begin tumbling head over heels into nothingness.
t+1 second: I try to scream but no sound comes out.
t+3 seconds: the Serbian taps my arm, the signal that it is time to spread out arms and legs so that we fall in a more controlled manner
t+10 seconds: I start to breath again and get used to the feel of the air in my face. We accelerate to fall at terminal velocity (200 feet per second)
t+60 seconds: the parachute opens and we are jerked up before beginning a gradual descent

After the chute opens I could take my camera out and get some pics. The Serbian wanted to do some acrobatics, spinning and swooping around. I threatened to be sick over him if he didn't stop. Landing is acually easy - I was told to just left up my legs and we came down on our backsides on the grass. Afterwards I felt a little dazed, but very elated by having done it.

From Wanaka I drove to Queenstown via the touristy former gold rush town of Arrowtown. Queenstown is world capital of adventure activities. The first bungee jump opened here in the 80s and it is now the home of the highest jump. Apart from that it is possible to go jet boating, do sky dives, go canyoning (clambering over rocks, abseiling down waterfalls etc) and every other conceivable adrenaline-inducing activity. The town has therefore become a major tourist centre with gap year students reliving their bungee jumps in the many bars at night. Tomorrow I have a turn on the Canyon Swing ride booked. This involves freefalling from 109 metres high attached to a wire that will then swing me in a huge arc. It is the world's biggest swing, so wish me luck!

After one night in Queenstown I set off towards Milford Sound, breaking the journey by stopping at Te Anau on the way. Like Queenstown and Wanaka Te Anau is scenically positioned on a lake with mountains behind and is the gateway to the fijord country. Given how much I had enjoyed the Waitomo glowworm caves on North Island I took a cruise across Lake Te Anau for a tour of the glowworm caves here too.

The three hour drive to Milford Sound must rank as one of the most spectacular drives in the world. You almost expect to see a bunch of Lord of the Rings characters gallop by on horseback. As for the Sound itself, see the pics. It attracts many coachloads of Asian tourists who take cruises on the Sound around midday, so it is best to aviod the rush and stay there overnight (there is only one place to stay). The Sound has sheer walls and mountains rising up a mile high with waterfalls gushing down the sides. The marine eco-system is unusual - freshwater from the waterfalls sits on top of salt water coming in from the sea. I went in the underwater observatory to see the coral and fish life. It all looked very different from the Great Barrier Reef.

Now, I need to think about my abseiling options....
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