Excerpt from Middle England to Middle-earth:
We knew Henry was planning it but had forgotten about it when, sitting beside Lake Wanaka after a pizza lunch, he suddenly announced: “Looks like a good day for a skydive.” The booking office was nearby, so he went for it. They booked him in for that day, luckily for him.
Henry went along with things quite unemotionally as usual, with no outward signs of nervousness. When we got there the place was buzzing with activity. People of different nationalities were milling round, some watching an instructive video in the building while behind them in the aircraft hangar parachutes were folded up and repacked and outside, planes were noisily landing and taking off.
Henry was paired up with an instructor who was a good few inches shorter than him, a guy with a Greek-sounding name. The plane was filled with four skydivers, four instructors, the camera flyer and the pilot — ten of them piled on top of one another in a single-engine plane. The ascent seemed quick. Henry looked down at the river curling away beneath them, and the lakes and mountains. He played up to the camera, pulling expressions of mock (or was it real?) fear.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to do a tandem skydive? Is it on your bucket list? If you have always fancied adventurous sport but never got round to it, skydiving is an opportunity for a one-off indulgence, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is pretty expensive for what you get though. A short plane journey followed by descending back to earth in a matter of minutes. So I’d say you have to be the kind of person who can live mindfully to get the most out of it!
New Zealand is well geared up for skydiving. There are over a dozen skydiving centres over the two islands. And if you haven’t quite mustered up the courage to do it for real, you can limber up with indoor skydiving at iFly Queenstown (the only centre for this in New Zealand).
Aged three, our daughter, Freya, did mock skydives, jumping about in our motorhome with a makeshift parachute. Now she is the only one in our family who hasn’t done a skydive. And she won’t entertain the idea. What a difference growing up makes!
A bungy jump or a skydive? A Swiss hitcher hiker who had done a skydive over Taupo once told me, “If I’m going to die I’d like a good view.” Awesome views are what New Zealand is all about and there is no better way to see them than floating through the air as you parachute down. That was the best bit for me. The freefall was thrilling/on the edge of scary but the floating down has to be, for me, what you can call a ‘peak experience’.
Our family skydives compared:
Julia’s at Vertical Descent at Glenorchy, January 2004. Now known as Skydive Southern Alps (and previously Skydive Paradise), it is located just outside Glenorchy. A World Heritage Area with stunning views of snow-covered mountains and a river delta pouring into Lake Wakatipu. In my opinion it was a small, friendly outfit and it felt like a very personal experience.
Henry’s skydive at Skydive Wanaka, February 2004. Still goes by the same name with the tagline ‘strap yourself to a beautiful stranger’. Though why would that be important when you have far-reaching views of the mountains, glaciers and the Clutha River to see? Our opinion was that it had more of a ‘production line’ feeling than Vertical Descent.
Joe’s skydive at Nzone, Queenstown, April 2018. Tagline: Embrace the Fear. A very slick, professional company which seemed suited to younger people so it was fitting that Joe ended up here. I booked Joe with Skydive Southern Alps, last year, after comparing it with Skydive Wanaka and looking at reviews. But there wasn’t a lot in it. As it turned out, poor weather prevented him from jumping at Glenorchy. After several phone calls I suggested Joe went to Queenstown where it was less windy, as Nzone is part of the same company. Great views again, of course. There was a lot of snow on the mountains in April, making it an even more dramatic backdrop to this photo of Joe and his instructor.
We noticed the differences between 2004 and 2018. When Henry and I did tandem skydives we were allowed to take a small camera up with us so captured our own aerial photos. This was not allowed in 2108. Maybe they had some mishaps, or maybe it is just a marketing strategy to get you to buy the photo/video packages. Henry and I had camera flyers with us. This was too expensive for Joe so he had the Go Pro filming on the wrist of the instructor. These guys are trained to skydive with you, not take photos they warn you on the website, but despite this, we were quite happy with the photos.
Another difference, Joe was able to control the parachute which Henry and I had not had the option to. He got his photos and video on a memory stick of course, but they keep copies for three months just in case you lose it on the way home. Skydiving is not something any of us thought we would ever do. But then, that was before we went to New Zealand.