Sunday, July 5, 2009
At 1:00pm New Zealand time we made our way downtown to the Nzone place where we'd be signing up for our first skydiving experience. After we paid, we went into a small room where other jumpers waited as well. The room was adorned with photos of people mid-jump, beaming smiles for the camera in their goofy looking jumpsuits. A tv played a DVD menu screen that kept cycling a quote from some guy about how we must recognize our fear and then get rid of it, and in the emptiness left in that space.... well bottom line it didn't help the nervousness.
After signing waivers that basically said "skydiving is dangerous, you could die so don't sue our asses," a guy came in an briefed us on how it would all go down. The drop zone (which I'll call the DZ in the hopes of sounding cool and military-like) was a 20 minute drive away and it was there that we'd fly out of. Not the airport, as Danny had previously thought. The guy talked about the option to take still photos and video, but when we found it it was a mere 180 bucks for still photos alone, we opted out of that. The way that guy in that small room was so nonchalant about what he was telling us, how he seemed almost bored with the information he was telling us since he'd said it so many times, made me feel at ease somehow. Skydiving is just a routine thing that people do multiple times a day. Without dying.
So after the guy briefed us, we loaded into the Nzone van and headed to the DZ. When we pulled in, it was basically just a wide open field with a building to the side that acted as the drop headquarters. As soon as we got off the van we were called to jump, so we literally went right from the van to prepping to jump. They gave us the jump suits to put on and after that, we met our tandem instructors. I had Scott, and Chrisanne had Fran. While Scott tightened up my harness and checked everything out, I asked him how many jumps he'd done. He told me that he doesn't count every one, but that he'd guess around 9,000. That was pretty reassuring, but I couldn't help thinking about how pissed I was going to be if my jump ended up being the 1 out of 9,001 jumps that went wrong.
It didn't take long for us to be suited up, harnessed up, and ready to go. Before we left, they told us that due to the weather, we couldn't go up to 12,000 ft as we'd wanted, but only 9,000. We asked if we still wanted to jump, which of course we did. Soon we were walking out across the field towards the area the planes took off from. Scott asked "Where's my guy?" and I said right here, since I was walking next to him. Well for some reason that launched Scott into some song he must have come up with himself about "Where's my guy / I'll always have my guy..." I asked him if the singing costed extra, to which he replied, "No, just to stop it."
The tiny propeller plane we'd be taking landed in front of us and stopped, ready for us to board. Scott and I went in first, followed by Chrisanne, Danny, and a random girl that was jumping with us, along with their tandem instructors. As everybody got into the plane, they positioned themselves in front of their tandem instructors who began attaching jumper to instructor. However, I was sitting next to Scott, so we didn't hook up, which made me a bit nervous. Visions of him just kicking me out of the plane and yelling "so long, sucker!" played in my mind.
The plane was just big enough for the 8 of us, so space was tight. The plane took off, and before we knew it we were above the mountains. It was scary looking out those tiny windows, thinking that I'd soon be out there, falling to my death. There was a red and a green light near the door of the plane, which reminded me of Band of Brothers. I wish I'd had the state of mine to enjoy that, but instead I was wondering why Scott hadn't hooked us together. I looked over at him and yelled over the roar of the plane "Are we gonna do that when they jump out?" I guess that jolted him out of lala land because he said that we'd do it now.
So for those of you who haven't skydived, let it be known that tandem jumping is a little awkward. That's because, after they've hooked you to them and everything's all tightened up, they are basically spooning you until the chute is pulled. Luckily, you're more worried about plummeting to your death at that point and don't have much time to dwell on that.
We get the steady green light. The door is open, and the random girl and her tandem move to the edge of the doorway. And then like that, fwoomp! They're just gone, swallowed up into oblivion. And now Danny and his instructor are moving to the edge. They pause, and then they disappear out the door just as quickly as the random girl and her tandem. Its all happening very quickly, and thinking about how I'll soon be next to be sucked out the door is a bit daunting. Chrisanne and her instructor edge to the door and drop out. It's my turn.
Scott edges us to the door, and as I stick my legs over the edge, the wind whips my pants around wildly. Before I can think too much about what I'm about to do, Scott pushed off and we're falling away from the plane. We're falling upside down, so that I can watch the plane grow smaller and smaller as we fall away from it. Then we turn right-side up and we're free falling! The wind is rushing by so all I can really hear is the roar of the air going by and me yelling wildly as I enjoy the rush. It was so exhilarating! I could feel my cheeks being pushed back by the force, and at one point we went through a cloud or something so that little ice particles pelted my face. But it was for a brief second, and then we were through it.
I'm not sure how long the free fall lasted, but probably only about 30 seconds or so. After that, there was a tug as Scott pulled our parachute, and immediately the roar of the wind rushing by stopped. It was amazing how quickly it went from roaring wind to blissful silence as we slowly drifted back to earth. Scott and I could now communicate, so he checked up on me. I think it was really obvious that I was thoroughly enjoying myself, because without asking me he just went into downward spirals. Doing that gives you that feeling of going over a hill on a rollercoaster, but the downside to it is that you fall faster. Still, I was able to take in all the scenery and marvel at how amazing the mountains and fields looked thousands of feet above the ground.
Because of all the spirals, we were actually the first to reach the ground. The landing was extremely easy. He just told me to lift my feet up as high as I could, and as we came in fast he was able to take the force of the landing all on his legs. When we slowed down he told me to stand up, and just like that we had landed safely on the ground. After Scott quickly detached us, I took a look up and watched the others come in around us. First it was Random Girl, then Danny, then Chrisanne. We all slapped eachother high fives with wide grins on all of our faces, exchanging our feelings about the jump.
When we got back into the building, it seemed like every person that worked there made sure to ask how it went and how we liked it. We thanked our instructors for a great jump and got our stuff to go. Before we left, they gave us all little certificates that documented our first skydiving jump.
So that was my first skydiving experience. I'm pretty sure I changed tenses mid-story, so sorry about that. I guess I just got really into it. Hope you all enjoyed my detailed account!
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Here's the link to those photos:
The photos aren't the best photos because I couldn't edit them on my computer before putting them up online. I just wanted to upload them anyways to give you an idea of our travels and the amazing views and scenery. The end of the Milford Sound album also has a few photos of Queenstown, which is where we've been staying the past day or so.
Today it was decided that we would spend the rest of our time in Queenstown rather than try to fly to Rotorua or Taupo to do things there. So we'll spend an extra day or so in Queenstown and the Chrisanne will take a flight back to Wellington to begin the journey home.
I shall update tomorrow night to let you know about all the fun stuff we did tomorrow.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
This is going to be a very long entry because we’ve had limited internet at the hotels we’ve been staying in. So I’ll start with yesterday.
Yesterday we went on a Lord of the Rings tour in Queenstown, which was really amazing. We got to see a bunch of different sites where they filmed different scenes and the views were fantastic. We got to see the place where Sam and Frodo were eating breakfast and then they saw the huge elephants go by, the river where they filmed the scene in which Smigel finds the ring in the stream, the area where Isengard was, and the best one – the river where the two Pillars of the Kings once stood. It was so cool to stand there and think that Peter Jackson or Vigo Mortensen or even just LOTR crew once stood on the same ground I was standing on, and sets once stood where I was looking right in front of me. I can’t even imagine how incredible it must have been to spend so much time filming in such a beautiful place.
Today we took a day trip out to Milford Sound. Before we even got there I was excited to visit a Milford in another country and I was eager to find out if this one would live up to the Milford in Mass. The scenery around us as we drove there was, as usual, amazing. At multiple points we were literally driving in the valleys between huge mountains. On the way we stopped a few times, one of the stops being Mirror Lakes. When we were leaving, we had a first for all of us – picking up a hitchhiker! Well, I exaggerate. A girl named Jen, who was a student from Canada, didn’t get back on her bus in time, and it drove off without her. Turns out she was headed to Milford Sound as well, so we gave her a lift and she was successfully reunited with her tour group.
Milford Sound was really awesome. It is one of the many sounds in the fjords that line the southwestern coast of the southern island of New Zealand. We took a boat, the Spirit of Milford, along the sound and out to the ocean, where we turned around and headed back into the shore. Before reaching the shore, we stopped at the underwater observatory. The underwater observatory was this circular station beneath the water that allows visitors to see fish and other sea life that can be found in the sound. It was really an awesome experience!
On the way back from Milford Sound, the weather got bad, and it started snowing really hard. After waiting 10 or 15 minutes in a tunnel that ran through a mountain, plows led us down the road, plowing the way for us and the other cars with us. Luckily the snow turned to rain and then stopped before we had to drive up any steep hills.
Unfortunately the internet situation has been a bit problematic lately, so I can't upload my photos now. I'll upload them as soon as I can, which will probably be when we leave Queenstown in a day or so. That’s all for now, thanks for reading!