“Keep your eyes open to enjoy the views, folks. There’s only one way of doing this” the cheerful instructor barked in his thick Australian accent, handing out our forms. “Oh, and lift your legs when you’re about to hit the ground. You don’t want to hurt you asses!” he guffawed.
Great, I thought sardonically. I’m signing a waiver form and could possibly end up bruising my bottom. It had better be worth it, I thought, signing the form.
12,000 feet, it read. You have a fear of heights and you’re jumping 12,000 feet, I thought to myself.
We, my husband and I, were at the office of N-Zone, New Zealand’s first and ultimate tandem skydiving company. We were in luck, apparently, as the previous day had presented unsuitable conditions for diving. Today, a cloudless sky smiled down on the adventure capital of New Zealand, Queenstown. It seems that every adventure junkie who was intent on challenging the laws of physics made a beeline for the cheerful town on the banks of Lake Wakatipu. In my case, my enthusiasm was merely the spill over of that of my husband, who couldn’t wait to get onto a plane and jump out of it.
That, and I really didn’t want to miss out on the experience.
20 minutes later, we were pulling up into the N-Zone drop site near Woolshed Bay. Colourful specks against the piercing blue sky could be seen floating towards the ground. As our group watched fascinated, people must have had second thoughts as one of them asked “What happens if we get onto the plane and we don’t want to jump?” The instructor looked at her funny. “We jump anyway!” he said, laughing a booming laugh.
No wonder we were told to keep our eyes open!
As we registered ourselves and entered the hangars, we were introduced to our personal instructors, known as Tandem Masters, who’d be jumping with us. A cheery lot, I thought, as they began joking around with us and introducing themselves. 2 females, my husband and I were the first jumpers of the day. “Enjoy the experience, guys” my Tandem Master Colin said to us, handing out marker pens “Write down something on your hands to commemorate your first dive!” We put on our diving suits and shoes, grabbed a pair of goggles each and were guided towards the plane waiting for us. We also had with us 4 photographers who’d be taking individual photographs of our dives. The 15-minute flight was pretty uneventful, as the instructors and photographers joked around and took photographs with us.
Suddenly, the pilot said something garbled and I found myself gasping for breath as Colin got down to business, tightening the straps that connected our suits. Without any warning, the photographer nearest to the door swung it open. I think I barely heard an “All away!” as I saw my husband’s smiling face near the door.
The next second, he wasn’t on the plane. Plonk, plonk. I saw both females drop away before my eyes and suddenly my throat was parched. “Are you ready?” screamed Colin, and without waiting for an answer, he slid to the door. “Smile” my photographer urged as he held on to the plane as if hanging out of a slow-moving bus or something. As he went out next, I caught the first glimpse of the beautiful Otago region landscape. Holy shit, I thought, my legs are dangling out of the plane. The next second, I was hurtling towards earth, having somersaulted out of the plane.
For 2 seconds, I really couldn’t breathe, and I panicked, wondering how people stayed alive doing this. The air at 12,000 feet hit my face and my skin, and I finally breathed deeply, thrilled and fearful at the same time. 2 seconds later, I’d gotten used to the freefall. Another 2 seconds later, Colin tapped my hands, and I felt brave enough to let go of the gear, spread them out and lifted my head.
I let out a huge ‘Wohoo!’ as we plunged at a heart-stopping velocity, something I never thought I would do. Colin somersaulted mid-air again, leading me to clutch my gear in fear, but as heaven and earth became one I felt fear leave me. I was strapped, safe and I was literally defying one of nature’s most acute laws in the most thrilling way possible.
All this time, my photographer floated around me and Colin at all weird angles, taking photographs. Soon, Colin pulled the parachute chord, the freefall ended with a jolt, and we were floating towards the ground. The Wakatipu glistened beneath me, and I could see the snow-clad mountains of the Halfway Bay on one side and the dry hillside ranges of the Double Cone on the other. The verdant drop zone appeared beneath, and I could see sheep grazing. Colin kept quiet till I’d taken it all in, and then couldn’t get chatty enough. He told me that we had overshot our drop from the airplane, and that I was the only one to have directly jumped over the deep end of Wakatipu! He took to turning the parachute at all angles, showing me the farthest visible ends of the boomerang shaped-Lake and Remarkables range. As we dropped lower and neared the drop zone, I suddenly feared that I’d bruise valuable assets. Luckily, we lifted our legs high and landed safely on the ground, all bones intact.
For a minute, I didn’t respond to Colin’s shouts as he unbuckled me or my husband’s, who was running towards me screaming. I clambered to my feet and breathed deeply – I was scared of heights and I had jumped 12,000 feet from an airplane. The freefall velocity had been 200 km/hour for 50 seconds!
We greeted our fellow jumpers and masters excitedly, took pictures and spoke to them for a few minutes before heading back to the hangar. After we changed, we bid our instructors goodbye, but not before finding out that on a good day, they did this at least 13-15 times! The ride back to Queenstown was quiet – I guess everyone was reliving the experience. As for me, my eyes have been skyward since – for once I tasted flight and had been there, it was there that I longed to return.