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?)
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!|