Thursday 31 December 2009
It’s my last day in Queenstown. And it’s New Years Eve. There’s only one thing I want to do. S K Y D I V E. Unfortunately I wasn’t organized and didn’t book in advance. So call Skyjump and they only have a free spot at 1.30pm which is too close to my flight. Still want to get back to Auckland for New Years Eve celebrations (though let’s be honest, spending New Years partying up in Queenstown is much more attractive).
Change of plan. W, V & I hit up paragliding instead (because handgliding is also booked to the max…all these people and their extreme sports, grr!). We made a reservation with the wonderful company Elevation (http://www.elevation.co.nz/index.htm, they even have a blog, http://elevationparaglidingqueenstownnz.blogspot.com/)
and met up with the bus in front of the Shred shop. Around 10.30am, we’re on our way up the mountain. The van is filled with pilots. They will be flying tandem with us and controlling the chute as we glide down the mountain. They have already been up in the sky for the early morning flight. Squishing into the van with all the gear trailing in the back, adrenalin pumping, we’re rearing to go.
We make the trip to the base of Coronet Peak and wait at the landing field for the first batch of flyers to go first. W and I are watching the handgliders as they fly down the mountain. They look like specks of dust in the cloudy blue sky until they start swirling in the air.
The pilot does a manoeuvre called a spiral dive to descend faster in preparation for landing.
Handgliders position their body as if they are sleeping on their stomachs and land by sliding the front of their torso along the grass, bit like sliding down a water slide. Seems counter intuitive but at least they give you a bit of padding to cushion the impact.
Finally it was our turn to ride up to Coronet Peak about 840m (2,755 ft) where we do the jump. Coronet Peak is one of the most popular ski resorts and the first one to commercially open in New Zealand. Apparently it’s wonderful to paraglide down the mountain during winter too. Though I can imagine it gets really chilly high up there. The van lurched to a stop and we got out, grabbed the gear and trekked up to the edge.
I was paired up with A, a very nice English fella, who had paraglided commercially all over the world before he decided to settling in NZ. He gave me a huge backpack with a harness and laid out the chute.
Once we were tied together, my instructions were clear: run off the mountain and keep running, despite feeling the drag that will be pushing me back until we are clear of the mountain. Sounds easy enough. So I start running and suddenly it feels like the wind is beating my body backwards. My ankle is sore from the stupid fall yesterday. And I don’t feel like I’m moving. But all of a sudden, I feel like I’m lifting off the ground. So I keep running…
harder and harder until eventually…
I lift off the ground. I’m in the AIR!
And just like that, I was flying. Well technically no. I was strapped to my pilot who was controlling a parachute which was helping me glide down. But it felt as close as I’ve ever been to flying!
It felt liberating. And empty. And exciting to not have my feet firmly planted on the ground. And breathtaking to see the scenery. In fact, it made me feel proud to call myself a Kiwi!
Surprisingly there is a lot of downtime up in the air. I’m up there for about 15 minutes, enjoying the mountains, the water, the town below us. The grass, of course there is always plenty of grass.
We took a couple of photos and chatted before A decides to do some acrobatics. So this is the good part! He did a manoeuvre called a wing over. Basically it feels like the chute is tipping from side to side and naturally I go with it. Almost as if I have swung about 90 degrees laterally and come down again. It’s more fun than being on a rollercoaster because the thrill lasts for longer and you can see a lot more ground which makes vertigo kick in. Plus the wind is gushing past my helmet giving me a bigger rush.
Sadly though. What goes up must come down. So after the manoeuvre, which made us descend very quickly, A does a couple of spiral dives and we’re the first to land. In some ways I’d love to sit up there all day. Of course it’d make basic human functions pretty difficult. But it was so nice and I was sad to come down.
I get to see the other folks fly down and land. There is a huge smiley face cut into the grass where most of the gliders land. Very cute.
After the flight, we pack up, stuff ourselves in the van and leave to catch our flight.
Awesome ending to my fantastic trip in Queenstown I must say.
I will definitely be back for more fun! Hopefully in winter 2010, I can go skydiving (if I don’t freeze up there) and snowboarding in Queenstown!
For now more pictures to remind myself how awesome this entire adventure was!