Published: March 1st 2007February 28th 2007 Embrace the Fear
Is it a bird, is it a plane?
No it's a glorified Smarties tube.
"Be brave," says the poster on the wall. Qualifying it with, "even if you're not, pretend to be. No one can tell the difference."
Neither of us were feeling particularly apprehensive ahead of the jump
. Which may seem strange when you consider we were being taken 15,000 feet up into the sky, only to be thrown out of our plane.
Actually plane may be overstating things a little. It was more like a glorified Smarties tube with a hole in the side. We were reliably informed that it could hold 8 people. We're a little dubious given the little space left when the two of us were sat on the floor with our tandem instructors strapped to our backs.
It was an experience that goes to show how frustratingly dull a normal pre flight routine is. No shuffling through security with passports and baording cards at the ready. Just a fetching jump suit and a short wait while the pilot wheels the plane out on to the runway. Why waste fuel on taxiing eh?
The casual atmosphere was carried through the whole experience, with our pilot comfortably clad in jeans and t-shirt and the
Steaming on Champagne
The Champagne Pool, Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Park
response to the obvious "how do we land?" question being: "we'll let you know on the way down."
There was to be no on board safety demonstration either, just a quick "oh, here's an oxygen mask, you'll need that above 12,000 feet."
Now, you'd think at this point that we'd be reconsidering things, but actually we were just a little excited. When we told our pilot this, she was kind enough to reassure us: "Oh, you'll be scared when you get up there and they open the door." Yeah, thanks for that.
It's hard to describe the feelings on the jump itself. The ascent is rather strange. Especially when you catch a glimpse of your instructors altimeter and notice that you're at 3,000 feet. You're going five times that high, and already life below looks a lot like a hyperactive ant colony.
You're not really given a chance to back out, you get an oxygen mask clamped on your face and told you'll be ready to go in two minutes, and to remember to put your feet all the way out the plane when you sit in the doorway. Oh yeah, and bend like a banana.
Cathedral Cove, Coromandel Peninsula
You can't claim that the instruction was lacking in a certain lyrical quality.
And so, the red light turns green, the door opens, the mask comes off and you're blasted with a rush of incredibly cold, clean tasting air. Dangle your feet over the edge, stick your hips out and rest your head on your instructors shoulder, trying hard to ignore the fact that he hasn't brushed his teeth yet today.
Next thing you know, you're accelerating at a quite ridiculous rate to reach a terminal velocity of 200kmh in just 12 seconds. That's 125mph in old money. Now if you can imagine the force you feel should you hang your arm out of the car window on a (rare) sunny day at say 60mph. Now double that. Add a few. And apply it to your whole body. It's a truly incredible feeling. It's cold, it's quick and the ground is coming towards you rather faster than it rightly should.
Now, this is where you get the benefit of the extra few quid you shelled out to get to 15,000 feet, rather than the 9,000 or 12,000 options. At 15,000 you get 60 seconds of freefall before
Into the blue
Opoutere Beach, Coromandel Peninsula
your parachute is opened. Of course, this actually feels like around 6 seconds. Then you're floating sedately above the earth, taking in the scenery, when your instructor decides that you deserve the 360 panoramic view and starts spinning you towards earth.
Those of you who know us well will know that this is really not a good idea. David succeeded in persuading his instructor that his neck was perfectly capable of turning his head in any direction it so chose, and that the 'chute could just go straight thanks very much. Carolyn on the other hand, well, let's just say it was a little helter skelter all the way back to terra firma.
All in all an amazing experience. A unique view of things. And probably one we won't be repeating. The Bog of Eternal Stench
You don't need a map to find the Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Park
. Simply roll down your car window and let your nose guide you. According to the locals you get used to the eggy-sulphur smell generated by the geothermal activity underneath you.
There are more pleasant aspects to the park if you're prepared to brave the stink, bubbling mud and squelching
The Champagne Pool, Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Park
fart noises. Our favourite was the Champagne pool although if you tried to drink from this you'd scald your throat as it's something like 75 degrees C on the bubbling surface.
The multitude of craters and pools covering the park are all imaginatively named - devil's inkpots, artist's palette etc - but none of them smell nice.
Even on our campsite in Rotorua, the nearest town, whiffs of sulphur were still wafting around now and then. It wasn't such a bad place to stay when you could make use of the hot pools on site. Of course it was more relaxing when you could avoid certain chatty older campers who felt the need to tell you in detail how it helped their arthritis. Winding down
After the bright lights of Rotorua (well - it was a reasonable sized town for New Zealand, with more than one pub) we felt the need to get off the beaten track again. Perhaps we needed to recharge after the adrenalin rush of tumbling out of a plane. We headed for the Coromandel Peninsula
and spent a few days discovering deserted beaches and catching some sunsets. Neither of us felt like braving
a swim though. Hot water only thank you very much.
And so our time in New Zealand draws to a close in Auckland. Over half way through the trip now, and about to head to our 3rd continent (4th if you count the brief stop in Europe!), and our first attempt at properly getting to grips with the local lingo.
Hasta pronto amigos
David + Carolyn
There are more photos below