Tuesday, 27 March 2012

#13 See a performance at the Sydney Opera House

Whenever people ask me if I like travelling alone I always tell them it has its pros and its cons. On one hand it's nice to be able to decide exactly where and when you want to go and what you want to do and you meet far more people. But on the other, there are times when you really miss being with people who know you and sharing your special experiences with someone.

One of the drawbacks of travelling alone - getting someone else to take your photos. This was the guy's first attempt, clearly didn't understand that I actually wanted the Opera House in the picture too.
This was his second attempt. After that I gave up.
That's how I felt about the opera. I've always loved going to the theatre and for me the build-up to the performance is just as fun. When we were kids going to see a show was a real treat and we always used to get dressed up for it and even though I was very lucky in my last job to get to to go to the theatre regularly to review shows, I still loved to wear something nice and go out for dinner beforehand. Somehow it's not the same when you're doing it by yourself.

Nevertheless I was determined to go and while my backpacker's budget couldn't quite stretch to the 100 pound tickets, I had a plan. I'd heard that the Sydney Opera House releases ten standing tickets each morning for that evening's production. I checked it out the day before and the man at the box office told me it was probably best to start queuing outside at about 8am. Of course, trying to be smart, I thought I'd better get there for 7.30am - just in case he'd been telling everyone else 8am too.

I felt very proud of myself as I stepped out of my hostel door at 7am. Only to discover that as well as being beautiful and all-round fabulous, the residents of Sydney are also early risers (don't you just hate people like that?). Half of the city was already up and about and, unlike me, the women had actually managed to put on a bit of mascara and do their hair.

About a month ago absolutely everything I own started to fall apart and I mean everything - my rucksack, my clothes, even my shoes. I have never in my life used my emergency sewing kit but this time I've actually used up all of the thread, although I am wishing I paid more attention in Brownies when we learnt how to sew. The other day I got off a bus at a rest stop and felt a draught on my bum, fearing the worst I rushed to the toilet only to discover one of the seams of my trousers had completely split. As the rest of my luggage was stored in the bus hold I had to improvise for the rest of the day by wrapping a scarf around my waist. Anyway, as a result of all of that I turned up to buy my opera tickets in jeans with rips in both knees, looking like some throw-back from an 80s girl band.

And, obviously, I was the first to arrive. But I needn't have felt so smug as an hour later I was still the only person there. Luckily there wasn't a dress code to buy the tickets so I managed to get one to see Puccini's Turandot.

Hmm...probably didn't need to be this eager.

But it was worth the wait.
Although I had to eat my dinner at my hostel - where it seemed every single 18-year-old visiting Australia was also staying - I at least managed to put on a fancy(ish) dress.

My ticket was restricted viewing so my seat was right up at the top of the stalls but it was a great spot to people watch and to see the orchestra tuning up, which always makes me wish I'd practised the violin just a little bit harder at school to get past the howling cat stage.

The Opera House itself is beautiful inside and the scenery for Turandot, which is set in Peking was gorgeously ornate (and the designers obviously thought so too as there was a strict 'no photos' rule enforced inside due to copywrite reasons). As soon as it began I couldn't take my eyes off the performers. Their costumes were stunning and their voices were amazing. Turandot tells the story of the Prince of Tartary who tries to win the heart of Princess Turandot by answering three riddles and the highlight for me was the performance of Nessun Dorma, which was so beautiful I actually had a few tears.

During the intervals it was brilliant to stand outside in the warm evening looking at the beautiful Sydney skyline. And I don't want to get all X-Factor about it by saying: "Little old me from Scarborough watching a performance at the Sydney Opera House". But there was a moment when it all felt a bit strange that the girl who had never even been on a train by herself when she started uni had somehow managed to make it to the other side of the world to watch Turandot.  And as I, quite literally, skipped home I realised that it doesn't really matter if I'm doing these things alone. Because the point is I'm doing them. On this trip I've met so many people who have waited so long to fulfil their dreams of seeing Iguazu Falls or doing the Inca Trail. But I've had the chance to do so many things I've always wanted to do, sometimes on a weekly basis, and for that I feel very, very lucky.

#13 - I did it!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Falling in love...

I have a confession to make and this may shock some people and even cause some of you to de-friend me on Facebook, but I didn't love New Zealand when I first arrived. Sure, I thought it was pretty. But South America is pretty. The people are nice. But no more or less than anywhere else really. I've met some absolutely lovely people, like the lady who gave me a free night in her hostel because I couldn't stand the one I was staying in; but I've also met some really grumpy people - particularly it seems bus drivers and tourist information centre workers. Bus drivers you can kind of understand, it's annoying when people arrive late or bring hot food onto your bus, but tourist information - isn't it your job to deal with annoying questions? Anyway, you get what I mean. It just wasn't quite what I expected. I've spent years and years listening to people tell me how great New Zealand is and I was kind of expecting more.

Everything here is very quiet and calm and ordered. In short, everything I'm not, and I missed the crazy hustle and bustle of South America. When you get on a bus there you really feel like you've earned your seat as you've usually had to fight your way to the ticket office through the non-existent queueing system; made sure they're selling you what they say they are selling you and had some kind of disagreement - all in a language you can only just about grasp. In New Zealand everything is nice and easy and I missed the challenges - and even the frustrations - of South America.

But as time went on I started to see some interesting stuff. I loved experiencing the Mauri culture at Waitangi weekend, I started to appreciate the beautiful scenery which surrounds even the biggest cities and I started to do some seriously cool stuff. Every few days I found I was having amazing experiences: sky diving in Taupo, swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura and walking on the Franz Josef glacier, to name but a few. I also started 'tramping' (trekking) by myself and really enjoyed the challenges of carrying all my own equipment; coming up with new meals to cook and meeting people from all over the world in the huts.

And slowly but surely - like one of those people you meet who is so different to you that you swear you'll never be friends but then over time you start to see all the good things in them; or the boy you think you'll never like and then one day you look at them and realise you've fallen for them - I fell in love with New Zealand.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

E is for Earland Falls and Emily Creek (continuing wtih the alphabet challenge)

I was starting to get a bit worried about finding E, as it turns out nowhere in New Zealand begins with this pesky letter. (Ok to clarify, before everyone emails me with places that do, nowhere I visited begins with an E.) But then suddenly, like buses, two came along at once on the Routeburn Track.

I'd once again donned my hiking boots -seriously I'm getting quite attached to them and may actually find it hard to ditch them for the heels when I get back - and was taking part in a three-day trek. I'd been told by an Israeli girl that the Routeburn was worth doing and when you get a recommendation from an Israeli you take their advice - they know their tramping.

I'm getting quote good at this trekking malarkey now. Whereas it used to take me hours to prepare for a trip I can now throw some waterproofs and thermals into a bag and I'm ready to go. The same with the food: dried pasta, porridge oats and teabags. Done.

I also quite like doing it by myself as it's one of the few times when you're backpacking that you're truly alone and you're not falling over someone else's bag; trying to avoid their dirty dishes or getting involved in random debates about which animal would win in a fight. With so much free time on its hands your mind goes a bit crazy and you start thinking about all sorts of things: people you haven't seen in years; secret ambitions and what on earth you're going to do when you finally get back home...

The Routeburn Track crosses the Southern Alps, linking Mount Aspiring with Fiordland National Park so the scenery basically switches from beech forests to mountain tops - so pretty good views all round. The first day of my walk was 12km, as well as an additional side walk to Key Summit which, as well as providing me with my first snow of the year, also had fantastic views over the Humboldt and Darren Mountains.

Surrounded by mountains...

...you look.
 The highlight of the day was rounding a corner and suddenly being confronted by Earland Falls - a 174m high waterfall. The path crosses quite close to the falls and as the wind blew the spray into my face it felt almost spooky to be there completely alone. It sounds cheesy but when you are stood that close to something so awesome it really does make you realise how insignificant you are in the grand scheme of things.

An absolutely awesome sight.
My hut that night was next to Lake Mackenzie and watching the sun set over it was a perfect way to end the day. I love staying in the huts as it's a chance to meet people of all different ages from all over the world. Everyone is tired and hungry but happy with their day so there is always a good atmosphere until lights out at 10pm, when everyone is so exhausted they crash out. In one of those crazy travel moments I also bumped into a retired school principal from Holland who I'd first met about a month ago on another trek so it was lovely to catch up.

Not a bad spot to spend the night.
The next day was another 11km walk, with a few steep climbs but the weather was gorgeous which meant amazing views of the snow-capped mountains in the distance. I also took another side trip up Conical Hill which provided the best views of my entire trip - 360 degrees of mountains. I tried to remember my old geography teacher's tips for taking panoramic photos but think I failed miserably to do the views justice.

So you just keep turning round in a circle, right?

Rocking that raincoat.
After another cosy night in a hut it was just one more 9km walk out. The views back down into the valley were as beautiful as ever and despite being warned it was going to rain, the sun continued to shine. The water in all of the streams and lakes was perfectly clear and you could see right to the bottom, no matter how deep they were. On the way there were a number of swingbridges to cross, never my favourite as they bounce over the water, but I was happy when I discovered one called Emily Creek Bridge and amused a few other trekkers by getting a bit over-excited. Obviously a sign I'd been away from civilisation for far too long...
This much excitement means it's probably time for home.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Lessons from Christchurch

The first time I went to Christchurch, like many tourists, I completely wrote it off. I arrived the day after the one year anniversary of the February 2011 earthquake which killed 185 people and the city was quiet and the mood sombre. It was difficult to believe a whole year had passed since the magnitude 6.3 earthquake, as it looked as though it had happened only a week before. The entire central business district (CBD) is still closed off and is declared a "red zone" and while there are lots of gaping holes where unsafe buildings have been torn down, many more are still waiting to be bulldozed.

Empty spaces are a common sight in the city.

Most of the CBD is still in the "red zone".

For the residents of Christchurch who chose to remain in the city it has become a way of life, finding new ways to get to things and using new landmarks to give directions, but for tourists it can still be quite unnerving. It feels strange and almost a bit insensitive to look at and take photos of the destruction and as a result many people don't stay long in the South Island's biggest city.

Repairs are still ongoing in large parts of the city.
I only spent one night there before catching the train across to the west coast and thought I would just return to the city the night before my flight to Australia. However the more people I spoke to on my trip who were doing the same, the more I started to think about it. It had been a year, something must be going on in the city.

I started to research it on the Internet and discovered there actually was quite a lot being organised by both the local council and tourism board, as well as by groups like Gapfiller, which was set up following the earthquakes to help people to make use of the empty spaces which appeared where buildings had been torn down.

I decided I'd like to try and write an article about the effect of the earthquake on tourism in the city and returned there a little earlier than planned. My first interview was with Coralie Winn, the project co-ordinator for Gapfiller. It was brilliant to meet her and to hear how she and her partner Ryan Reynolds had set up the organisation with absolutely no funding following the first big earthquake in September 2010, when Coralie was made redundant from her job at the Arts Centre where she ran public programmes. She told me: "People felt very disconnected and disempowered. We couldn't do anything about the situation and were just waiting for the rebuild to take place. We wanted to demonstrate that temporary use of space could bring a lot of life back to a place."

However the February earthquake hit everybody hard and Coralie herself lost her home. At first she said the group discussed whether to continue with their work but there was a call from the community to keep going so they applied for funding and now have one full-time staff member and one part-time. Activities have included building community gardens; creating a giant community chess board and putting up pieces of artwork where buildings once were. Events such as a bike-powered cinema have also taken place and when I met Coralie Gapfiller was about to run a Dance-O-Mat, where people could pay $2 to have 30 minutes of their music played through a washing machine. The aim of Gapfiller is not just to be in charge of organising events but to encourage and enable the city's residents to plan and run their own activities.

Community chess set.

It was really inspiring to meet Coralie and I loved the enthusiasm she had for her city. Personally it also made me remember all of the things I love about journalism, meeting people and hearing their stories. Sometimes when you're in a busy office everyday, working long hours and constantly having to hit deadlines, it's easy to forget what it is you like about your job but having the time away has really made me appreciate all of the good bits too.

Coralie - a woman on a mission.
The next Christchurch resident I met was Josie Yeates, a retired teacher, who works for a non-profit organisation called Guided City Walks. I was the only person to take the tour that day so we spent a great couple of hours wandering around the city. Josie had obviously had to change her regular route following the earthquake but she saw it as a new way to explore her home. She said: "Now that some places are closed you find yourself going to new and different places." The thing I loved about Josie was how positive she was. She too had lost her home and is still living in rented accommodation but she always looked on the bright side and seemed to get quite cross about the people who complain about the situation.

Everywhere you go in Christchurch you can still hear people talking about the earthquake. It's just a part of daily life now. I overheard people saying things like "Oh no, I lost that in the quake" and "Do you know that building's gone now?" In the Canterbury Museum an exhibition has been put up about people's experiences and some of the city's famous landmarks, such as the Christchurch Cathedral bell are now installed there. It felt strange that an event that is so recent, the effects of which can be seen on a daily basis, is now a part of history.

In the museum I also came across my favourite New Zealand story, about Fred and Myrtle's Paua Shell House in Bluff. Over the years the couple had decorated the walls of their home with paua shells which Fred had collected for Myrtle. Word had spread over the years and more than a million visitors went to their house which was open seven days a week, eight hours a day. In a video Myrtle said she liked the company. When the couple passed away the museum brought their house shell by shell to Christchurch so that people could still enjoy it.

During my time in the city I also went to one of its suburbs called Lyttelton which was badly damaged by the quake. Most of the buildings in its main street have now been pulled down. I met Maree Henry, a shop owner, just as she was saying to two policemen "All people ever talk about these days is the earthquake" and she was then horrified that I'd overheard her when I told her why I was there. Like everyone I spoke to in Lyttelton, Maree praised the sense of community which kept everyone's spirits up. She also had an infectious sense of humour and a positive attitude towards something which is entirely out of anyone's control.

The day I was due to leave New Zealand I heard that a short route into the "red zone" would be opened for the weekend so that people could say goodbye to the cathedral (it had just been announced that it would have to be knocked down as it is no longer structurally safe). Early in the morning I joined the crowds walking towards it and got talking to a lady who had lived in the city for more than 70 years. She said it was going to be a sad day to lose something which had always been part of her life. The atmosphere at the site was very quiet and reflective. It is a strange feeling to be in a place with so many people but be in almost complete silence. But it felt like people appreciated the opportunity to see the cathedral for one last time.

A chance to say goodbye to a landmark.
Meeting the people of Christchurch and spending time in the city totally changed my view of it. I discovered there is still so much to do there and the residents I met taught me some important lessons. Coralie taught me to never give up on something you believe in and to never doubt that a small group of individuals can make a big difference. Josie taught me to always look on the bright side of life and to be grateful for the things I do have. Maree taught me to see the humour in things and to appreciate the people around you. And Fred and Myrtle taught me to hang on to what other people may see as tat because you never know when it will come in useful!

Fred and Myrtle.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

#12 Walk on New Zealand's Franz Josef glacier

The night before I went on the Franz Josef glacier I saw a couple shivering over the hot soup offered by the hostel. "Have you just been on the glacier hike?" I said, going with the obvious conversation-starter (the others being "Have you just arrived?" as people walk into the dorm carrying all their bags and "Are you cooking dinner?" in the kitchen.)
"Was it fun?"
The girl shuddered, "It was freezing."
"Oh, ok, but was it fun?"
The girl looked at me as though I was not quite comprehending the situation. "It was freezing."

Bearing in mind that I hate being cold, and especially wet and cold, I packed for the trip in the same way I would pack for an Arctic expedition. I took every piece of warm clothing I own, including my thermals, much to my guide's amusement. And, of course, as a result of that the sun shone all day.

I'm getting used to the fact that if you want to do something cool here you have to wear a silly outfit. It's kind of like an off-set scheme. You want to have fun? Ok, but you have to look stupid first. So we donned the obligatory knee length jacket, waterproof trousers and huge red bum bags which contained our crampons, and set off.

Working the bum bag look.
Seeing the glacier for the first time was pretty amazing. Even though it's receded a lot in the last few years, the sheer size of it is still incredible. The first part of our walk was over rocky ground, which not too long ago was covered in ice.

An impressive first view.
Before setting off we had to put ourselves into groups according to how fit we thought we were. It was so funny to watch most of the men rushing to group one, while the rest of us mingled around group three and four, with no one wanting to admit they belonged in group five. It was like school all over again. However by the time we reached the ice it was interesting to see how the groups changed as people realised it was actually a lot more difficult than it looked. As a result of being by myself I got shunted around the groups to make up the numbers and eventually ended up in group three. After going through the rigmarole of fitting our crampons and taking off/putting on layer we were finally ready to go.

We all followed our guide Jeff in single file, with his warning that one step out of place could have us falling through the ice ringing in our ears. As we went he checked the ice in front of him by hitting it with an ice-pick and it was quite a scary sight when it gave way sometimes. Walking on the ice felt really strange at first. Even though logically you know you're not going to fall because of the crampons, it takes a bit of time to get your head around it. But as soon as you do it's almost easy to forget that it's ice you're walking on.

Follow the leader.

Ice hiking made easy.

The trek was made easier by the fact that the guides (who had obviously had a very early start) had hacked steps into the ice at difficult points. So it was just a case of using ropes to haul ourselves up and squeezing through crevices which were feet taller than us. And for those of you who are constantly trying to reassure me that I don't have a big bum - I was the only one who got wedged into a crevice. The shame. I thought we might have to all stand and wait for the ice to melt around it but luckily I managed to haul myself out. Note to self: Stop eating cake.

Does my bum look big in this?
The views were absolutely stunning. In the end I just had to stop taking photos of every amazing thing I saw or I'd have done nothing else. As we got further up the glacier, the ice became more blue and everywhere we looked there were beautiful patterns caused by the ever-changing shape of the glacier. We stopped for lunch and had a perfect view back down the valley.

Not a bad lunch spot.
Afterwards the guides became very excited when they discovered an ice cave and we all had the chance to slip and slide through it on our stomachs (with thankfully no stuck bottom incidents).

Everybody breathe in.
Jeff then decided we had proved our worth and were good enough to continue climbing without steps. He was also determined that we should be he group to walk the highest on the glacier - just to prove a point to group one. It really was an incredible experience,with over six hours on the ice. I've been wanting to do this ever since I saw someone's photos of it eight years ago and it was worth the wait!

That's #12 done and dusted!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

#11 Swim with dolphins

Imagine for a minute you're a dolphin (just go with me on this one people). You're merrily swimming along with about 400 of your mates when you come across a group of strange creatures, wearing silly looking masks and fins, who are madly making squeaking noises in an attempt to attract your attention. Of course you're going to have a bit of fun with them right? Which is how we came to find ourselves in Kaikoura surrounded by dolphins swimming up beneath us, back flipping next to us and making us dizzy as they whizzed around us in circles.

I think loads of little girl grow up wanting to swim with dolphins. We all used to watch those films where the boy becomes best friends with a dolphin and secretly thought that, if only we could meet a dolphin, we could do that too. On the boat on the way out the crew warned us that they couldn't guarantee whether we'd see anything, as they do not feed the dolphins or entice them in, so it would be up to them whether they decided to interact with us. (I was kind of hoping that they'd take that option seeing as we'd got up at 5.30am to see them.)
The early start meant we got to see a perfect sunrise.
After about 25 minutes we started to see dolphins following the boat. I've seen the odd dolphin before but I've never experienced a whole pod together. But moments later between 300 and 400 had surrounded the back of the boat and we were told to jump in. At our introductory talk we'd been told to make noises to attract the attention of the dolphins by either singing or squeaking but I think we all felt a bit silly about the idea of it, especially as other people in the boat had opted just to watch. But as soon as we got into the water we didn't care. I thought it was probably best not to attempt the singing, as I don't think everyone would have thanked me if I'd managed to scare away the entire pod. However I was all for swimming about making a selection of ridiculous squeaking noises, no doubt entertaining both the people on board and the dolphins.

Dusky dolphins are one of the smallest species, but they were still as long as me (I know that's not too difficult, but you know what I mean.) When I put my head under the water I could see six or eight at a time swimming so close to me that at times I thought they may actually touch me. It was such a fantastic feeling and I kept ending up with mouthfuls of sea water as I was laughing so much.

The dolphins are ready for playtime.
The crew had also told us a good way to play with the dolphins was to make eye contact with them before swimming around in a circle, which might encourage them to copy you. I decided to give it a go and caught the attention of one before madly trying to propel myself around. He looked at me as if to say: "Ok, so we're playing this game," before swimming around me so quickly that it made me dizzy.
Fancy a spin?

It was the most fun morning ever and I was truly in awe of being able to be so close to wild animals. After three swims it was time to head back and by this time I had started to succumb to seasickness so I was feeling pretty keen to get back to dry land. However as I was sat shivering in my swimsuit, with a blanket around me, clutching a bucket (a very attractive look), the skipper suddenly called us all to the front of the boat - regardless of seasickness. We all ran up like kids on a school trip and then stood waiting in silence. You could feel the excitement in the air and when an orca's (killer whale) fin appeared out of the water there was actually a collective "oooh" as though we were at a firework show.  It was so incredible to see such a magnificent creature in the wild and the crew told us it was something which only happens every three or four weeks so we felt very lucky. Eventually it was time to head back but just as the boat was pulling away I saw the whale do a full-on Free Willy jump out of the water, which actually made me scream with excitement. (I'd be rubbish if I had to film a nature documentary.)
The photo doesn't do it justice, but a 2m fin is an impressive sight.

I know I tend to throw the word "amazing" around quite a lot (mostly because many things in life are) but swimming with dolphins - and then being lucky enough to see the orca - is honestly was one of the most amazing things I have ever done.
#11 done and I'm still managing to smile - despite the seasickness!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

#10 Do a skydive

Ok, first of all I have a confession to make. Despite asking people for ideas for my 30b430 list, I really did not want to add this one to it. The suggestion came from one of my best friends Tina (an interesting fact that it seems to be my closest friends who have chosen the things I think I'll least enjoy...) My reluctance to throw myself from a plane was as a result of the following reasons: a) I hate flying b) I'm scared of heights c) I'm the biggest wimp there is when it comes to fast rides. So, taking all of those factors into account, something told me I probably wasn't the best candidate to do a skydive.

However, anyone who knows Tina will know that she is a pretty persistent person and she kept reminding me of her suggestion at every available opportunity. Thinking about it I realised that one of the points of making my list had been to take myself out of my comfort zone. I can be a bit of a baby at times and after six years of working in journalism I tend to always think of the worst case scenario (parachute failing, emergency parachute failing, etc, etc) so it is good to have something which forces me to take a bit of a risk sometimes.

So I kind of had it in the back of my head that at some point in New Zealand I might give skydiving a go. I'd imagined it would probably be in Queenstown in the south island, where many of the adventure activities take place so I was a bit surprised to find myself jumping out of a plane over Lake Taupo on the north island.

I'd arrived in Taupo early in the morning, planning to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing the next day. But as I had the rest of the day free I asked Henry, an English guy running my hostel, what he would recommend to do. After running through a list of walks, waterfalls and lake viewpoints he said: "That's all I can suggest really. The main reasons most people come here are for the crossing or to skydive." I'd like to be able to say I just recklessly decided to do it there and then, but in reality it took a lot of umm-ing and aah-ing until eventually Henry, obviously deciding he'd better nudge the decision-making process along a bit, said he would call the company to check whether they actually had spaces for that day.

That was at 11.20am. At 11.40am they came to pick me up. Personally I think they come that quickly to stop you changing your mind. Anyway it worked, as I had little time to think about it before I was putting on one of the attractive red jumpsuits (what is it with me and this trip and having to wear stupid outfits?)

Looking good...

Then came the hard sell, when the staff tried to talk us into buying a dizzying array of dvd/photo/t-shirt combos. I decided I would look unflattering enough jumping out of a plane and I didn't really need photographic evidence of it. I've watched Bridget Jones enough times, I know what would happen. But telling the staff this was pretty much like telling them I wanted to jump without a parachute. "But what are you going to show your friends?" they asked, seeming to completely miss the point that it's more about the experience than showing off to people when you get back home.

Finally it was time to board the plane. One of the things I'd been dreading the most was the actual flight up to 12,000ft. I'm not a fan of flying at the best of times and especially not in tiny little planes, which look as though they'll have a hard time getting up in the sky, let along staying there. There were five of us jumping and we all slid in backwards on benches, sitting between the legs of our instructors, until we were packed in like sardines in a can. Three of the other 'jumpers' were having videos made so, unbeknown to me, a video camera was being passed around the plane and while everyone else was waving excitedly, I was sitting with my eyes closed, looking white as a sheet. So despite the fact I didn't buy the dvd, at least I know I'll be keeping family and friends around the world entertained.

There's no turning back now.

As we were flying my instructor Andy began to strap our harnesses together. It is absolutely terrifying to know that your safety is in the hands of someone else but as he told me he does an average of ten jumps a day I assumed he knew what he was doing. All around me the other instructors were giving their partners high-fives and telling them how great it was going to be. As he gave me my helmet and goggles, Andy gave me the following words of encouragement: "You only get one shot at this - don't mess it up." Great, thanks for that.

Andy prepares to give his pep talk (and I'm already closing my eyes!)

Eventually we reached 12,000ft and the others began to jump out of the plane one by one. The worst thing was watching them go, as the minute they jumped from the plane they were sucked away like a scene from a movie. To say I was terrified would be an under-statement. Luckily everything happened so quickly that I didn't have too much time to think about it. Before I knew it I was sitting on the edge of the plane with my legs dangling underneath it and my head tipped back. And then we were faaaaaaaaaaaaaaallllllllllllllllliiiiiiiiiinnnnnggggg.

The free-fall lasted for about 30 seconds and was incredible. Seeing the ground coming rushing towards you and feeling the sheer force of gravity as you're pulled down is incredible. Time seemed to slow down and it did actually start to cross my mind that Andy may have forgotten to pull the parachute cord...

But just as I was starting to get a bit worried, he did pull it and we shot back up as the parachute opened. I was actually speechless for a few seconds (a first, I know) and it was amazing to look at the beautiful Lake Taupo below us. Then Andy told me to hold two yellow straps, as I was just doing absolutely everything he told me to do I didn't really think anything of it, until he said to me: "And now you're flying the parachute." Sorry...I'm what?!

Look, I'm flying! (I didn't mention how bad I am at driving...)

As we continued to float down Andy, who was obviously keen to push my fear levels as far as they could go, casually asked whether I wanted 'to go for a spin'. Clearly my head was saying 'no' but my mouth, which obviously has no concept of fear, said "sure". So Andy told me to pull one hand down and lift the other up which sent us spinning around in what can only be described as a terrifying 10,000ft fairground ride. I decided I probably enjoyed watching the view more. So when he asked me if I wanted to go again, I'm not quite sure why I went through the whole head 'no', mouth "yes" ritual again.

As we circled closer and closer to the landing site Andy warned me it was going to be a fast landing. "Don't forget to keep your legs high," he said. His warning from the plane came back to me and I kept an eye out for pigsties. Actually coming into land was one of the scariest bits. In the sky it felt like we'd been travelling nice and slowly but we sped up as we came into land and I could just see the ground coming closer and closer towards me. Fortunately my landing was pretty graceful (or as graceful as it can be when you're landing on your bum).

So I survived and I have to say the experience was absolutely brilliant. Even when I think about it now I can still remember the feeling of free-falling. It also made me appreciate my list and all of the people who contributed to it. There's still a couple of spaces free, so if you think of anything - let me know!

#10 done - thanks Tines!