I asked my parents if, for my 16th birthday, I could go skydiving. Funnily enough they said no. So I decided to wait until I was 18 when I wouldn’t need their permission. 12 years later I’m being taken 12,000ft up to go skydiving in Queenstown, New Zealand, for the first time.
In a tiny noisy plane we gain height quickly. “You see those mountains?” asks the guy I’m strapped to. I nod; they’re the Remarkables, their jagged shapes famously framing Queenstown. At the moment we’re level with the tops of them. “We’re halfway up,” he says.
Halfway? We’re going twice as high as those mountains?
Now I love doing crazy things, and I particularly like heights. I’d wanted to skydive for years and years. I’d deliberately not skydived at 18 because I wanted to do it somewhere really kickass and beautiful. I’d decided that New Zealand would be the place for me to do it.
But at this point in time I got that funny sensation when you realise you’ve messed up big time and are about to get into serious trouble; like when you’ve just been found out at school by the headmaster. That kind of feeling.
Just to make it worse the plane banks sharply right. Through the hatch door to my right, which is transparent, I can see the ocean. I squeal and grab the rail next to me. My friend, who is sat next to it, does the same. Terrifying!
It doesn’t take long before we reach the full 12,000ft and the hatch opens up. My friend is going first, I’m second. She looks at me with pure terror as she and her tandem instructor shuffle along to the edge.
They rock back and forth a few times and then suddenly turn into tiny red dots. I am totally stunned at just how quickly they disappear. But I don’t have long to think about this.
In another few seconds it’s me hanging over that edge. I can’t even see my friend any more. There’s a photo of me dangling over this edge with a facial expression I didn’t even know I could make. I’ll share it if I get enough peer pressure!!
In the first or perhaps only half second of falling I have a thought: this isn’t so bad, I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Everything is so calm and quiet. Then it hit me. After that fraction of time I start to scream my head off. My view of the ground becomes the plane above us as we flip over, then after that I screw my eyes up so tight and scream even more. My next thought is considerably less collected.
In a few more seconds that crazy roller coaster feeling calms down and I start to relax and become aware of my surroundings again. We’re tearing through the air and it feels both loud and silent at the same time. The air rushes through my nose and mouth and feels a lot like sticking your head out of a car window when it’s going some. But it’s not hard to breathe. It’s amazing! Below me Queenstown looks stunning.
I try to move my arms around and feel just how strong the air resistance is. I look around me, wave, and do a bunch of goofy things. Then with a sharp little tug I’m now facing upright. That’s it! The parachute is up. Any residual fear of dying disappears and I start to laugh uncontrollably.
This next part of skydiving is seriously awesome too; those 5 minutes of gliding back down to earth are beautiful. It’s so fresh and quiet 6,000ft above the world (in those 45 seconds of free fall you drop half of the distance, your terminal velocity is 200km/h!!). And the view! Oh my. The instructor takes you for a bit of a ride on the parachute, where you can go from floating gently to spinning in circles so fast the ground turns to a circular blur.
And in no time the ground gets closer and closer, and finally you touch down. Just wow.
My friends and I were on a high for the rest of the day. A serious high. It felt like we’d been drugged.
About the company and location
Skydiving in Queenstown is a little pricier than the rest of New Zealand, simply because it’s the iconic place for extreme sports and pretty touristy. Lake Taupo in the North Island is one of the cheapest places to do it in NZ, at about 25% less. Even Wanaka, just an hour drive north, is better value for money. But for me the extra cost was worth it just to be able to do it above this awesome place.
My friends and I skydived with a company called Nzone – one of the most established companies doing it in NZ. And I must say that they were great – the people were friendly, professional and helpful, and the guys you tandem with are lovely. You can tell that this is just another day at work for them (they’re all pretty chilled about the whole thing), but not in that impersonal touristy way where you feel like you’re on a human conveyor belt. I felt totally assured and safe – well, as much as you can when jumping out of a plane!
The media package you can buy is pretty expensive (the most comprehensive one will almost double your cost), but it is the only way you’ll be able to record your experience.
I was, however, a little disappointed with the amount they had filmed: they didn’t film the whole skydive. If you’ve paid for your tandem instructor to film he’ll film your initial fall but once the parachute goes up he’ll only do some small clips here and there. If you have paid for a second person to jump with you and film, they’ll record the whole free fall and parachute opening but don’t take any more photos or footage after that until you land. I thought that this was a little mean – seeing as they’re making the same journey anyway they might as well keep the record button on. Oh, and the fact that it costs a small fortune.
The video they make for you is also pretty cheesy with a lot of filler, but I didn’t mind about that as the staff were kind enough to give me all the raw Gopro footage (and photos) they had shot of me and my friends. This was totally invaluable for me as I could make it into my own video.
One more word of warning: you will look hilarious.
Skydiving in Queenstown is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most awesome experiences I’ve ever had. It’s just beaten to the top spot by snorkelling in the Barrier Reef (that’s coming in another post!).
Yes it’s expensive, but it’s one of those once in a lifetime things that everyone should do. I can’t tell you how much I loved it. And my two friends who did it with me (who are both scared of heights) loved it too. Set aside a little bit of your travelling budget and treat yourself to one of the world’s greatest highs!!!
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