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Published: November 9th 2009
Why jump out of a perfectly good airplane? The answer, we've found in New Zealand is why not?! But before we get to that, we'll update you on the first half of our South Island road trip. We travelled to the South Island via the Interislander Ferry. It was huge, and as we boarded we thought it looked more like a cruise ship then a ferry. We had a bit of a storm for the crossing so it was a little rough, but altogether a pleasant experience. We sailed through the scenic Queen Charlotte Sound as we approached the South Island. Arriving in Picton, we boarded the Tranzscenic train to Christchurch where we would meet our German friend Maike and pick up our rental car. The journey took the whole day, and the scenery was awesome despite the stormy weather. It had only been a few weeks since we last saw Maike in Darwin, but we were all happy to meet up again. We picked up our rental car in the morning and began our road trip. It was a feat to squeeze the three of us and all of our belongings into our compact Daihatsu Sirion, but we managed it
and headed north along the Pacific coast. We stopped in Kaikoura, where the tropical looking azure sea met a backdrop of snow covered mountains. We visited a large colony of New Zealand fur seals, some of which we were able to get relatively close to without disturbing them. After climbing to a panoramic lookout point we got back on the road. We hadn't got very far before we spotted something swimming not far offshore. Upon closer inspection we decided we were looking at sperm whales, which are often spotted in these waters though rarely seen elsewhere in the world. After a day of beautiful scenery and marine mammal spotting we set up camp just off a shell beach.
The morning saw us on our way to Abel Tasman National Park. We spent some time exploring the towns of Blenheim and Picton before taking the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive along the north coast. The route was very windy and there were many scenic lookouts (every 200 metres at some points!) so it was a long but very enjoyable journey. We reached the entrance point to the National Park in the evening and found another oceanside campsite. We had planned to
explore the park by kayak but when we discovered the rental price of $130 for the day we opted to travel by foot. We went on a half day hike along the coastal walking track and were amazed at the clarity of the water. From here, we decided to venture inland to see the other areas of the park. After another scenic drive, we arrived at Takaka Hill where we walked through an enchanted moss-covered forest to Harwood's Hole, which is New Zealand's deepest sinkhole. Without realizing we were at a high elevation, we set up camp for the night only to awake to our tent zippers being frozen shut! We blasted the heat in the car as we drove south. We arrived in Murchison, New Zealand's earthquake capital. They get several hundred small earthquakes annually, so we were hoping to experience such an encounter (on a small scale of course) but we had no such luck. We did however find a lovely camping park for the night where we were able to take some time to relax by the fireplace and watch a movie. Our tents were still standing in the morning and the ground was solid beneath us
so we decided to head to the west coast. Stopping at the Punaki Information Centre, we learned of a nearby cavern that we could explore. We grabbed our flashlights and headed in. We followed the marked trail through a large open area which narrowed into a small crevass. As we were navigating our way through the dark cavern we couldn't help but think of how close we were to the earthquake capital.... We found our way back out without incident and walked to the "Pancake Rocks." Towering out of the sea, these rocks have hundreds of layers stacked upon each other (thus the name) though scientists can't figure out why. We continued to take in the gorgeous scenery as we headed down the coast to Greymouth, the largest town on the west coast. It was small but busy, as the annual Labour Day motorcycle race around town had just finished. We spent some time on the beach and watched the fireworks that night.
After several hours of driving, we reached glacier country. After some research, we booked a full day hike on the Franz Josef glacier for the following day. We spent the afternoon hiding from the rain in
Franz Josef Glacier
the shops and cafes of the small village, hoping for better weather for the next day. We were lucky again, and awoke to a perfectly clear day! Our departure was slightly delayed due to high winds at the terminal face of the glacier but we were outfitted and on our way shortly. We walked through rainforest and the rocky glacial valley before stepping over the barrier ropes to the glacier. With our crampons strapped on, we started to make our way up the glacier, stomping our feet as we climbed to ensure good traction. The climb to the top over the moraine and ice was steep. We walked quickly through the "No Stopping Zone" to minimize the risk of being injured by a rock fall. We were well away from the ledge, but the near-constant fall of rocks kept us alert. The ice became a deeper blue as we continued to climb higher on the glacier, into a more active zone. Franz Josef is one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world, and at the top moves at an average speed of five metres a day! There were many waterfalls in the surrounding valley, and the sky was so
clear we could see right to the jagged peaks at the top. We were told that it rains 266 days of the year, so we were very lucky to have the beautiful weather! After a couple hours of hiking we stopped for lunch and took in the awesome views. Not long after we continued on, we came across a large blue ice cave! We had hoped to see one of these, but didn't think we would be so lucky. It was incredible - the intensity of the thick blue ice was awesome! After walking through the cave, we passed through many "waves" where we had to climb and descend vertical walls after our guides had used their ice picks to make "steps" for us. We came across a few narrow crevasses - some were so small we couldn't even stand with our feet together and others had ankle-deep water in the bottom. Our group made it to the high point and stopped for another break to take in the incredible views. After this, we headed back down the side of the glaciers, over the ice waves and across the flat area with a kea (a native mountain parrot) following us
Just before the collapse...
most of the way. We saw some little lakes and some smaller blue caves on the way back. What an awesome day! We got back to the campsite just before dark, made a big dinner, and crashed for the night, only to be awoken by a band of possums.
The next day we headed south again. We stopped at both Fox Glacier and Lake Matheson before continuing through Haast Pass. The rainy, misty weather precluded us from seeing the surrounding mountains, but there were many beautiful waterfalls and rivers along the way. We set up camp at the top end of Lake Wanaka. We were quite excited when we found out we were allowed to make a campfire - it would be our first in New Zealand. We got a great fire going with some drift wood off the beach and the weather was quite pleasant. Then all of the sudden, "It went from beautiful to shit in two seconds flat" as Andrew put it, and a wicked wind storm came down from the mountains. We rushed to grab all of our stuff that was blowing away and put out the fire since the ashes were blowing into the
woods. Maike's tent was folded in half and eventually one of the poles snapped. We disassembled what remained and got everything packed away and into our tent just before it started to hail. It ended up being a cold night, but the wind died down and our tent stood up strong! In the morning we drove to Wanaka, a cute little town centered around the lake and the surrounding mountains. With such spectacular scenery, we thought it would be a great place to take a scenic flight, and hell, why not jump out of the airplane while we're up there? We drove out to the "Wanaka Airport" (which is really just a field with a hangar) to book our jump. There were skydivers landing as we approached. It looked amazing, but they did seem to be going pretty fast.... When we got to the office, all of the newly landed skydivers were smiling and in one piece, so we booked an appointment for 10:00 am the next day. Our luck continued, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky the next morning. We drove back to the airport and found we would be in the first group of jumpers for
the day - they were just opening the hangars as we arrived. We watched the intro video, learned the proper skydiving technique, signed our lives away, and were ready to go. They split our group into three parties, and we got to watch the other two go first. The plane took off and had quickly moved out of sight. After a long wait and much speculation, we saw a glinting speck come out of the little plane high above us. The specks continued to come out of the plane and fall, and fall, and fall... We lost track of them for a while, and then suddenly a guy came flying over our heads. He was so close we thought he would hit us, and going so fast he sounded like an airplane! Turns out, it was one of the cameramen rushing down to film the skydiver's landing. Slowly but surely, the rest of the skydivers floated down and made soft landings. After we were outfitted and had our harnesses triple-checked, we headed for the plane with our tandem guides. Ten of us jammed into the back of the plane like we were cargo - but at least we didn't have
to be worried if the plane went down! Maike had hired a professional to jump with her and take pictures and videos, and was nice enough to share them with us so we can share them with you! The plane took off, and as we climbed higher, the scenery was incredible! All of the lakes and rivers are a brilliant blue colour and the mountains are even more impressive from the sky. I thought we were getting pretty high when Eric, my tandem guide, told me we were at 4000 feet - only a third of the way!! The plane circled as we continued to climb, giving us awesome 360 degree views. Next thing we knew, we were all being strapped tightly to our guides and the exit door was being opened. The photographer casually climbed out the door, and just held on there, ready to shoot. Next, Andrew was at the door. I could see him put his head back in skydive position and the next thing I knew he was gone! It was incredible how fast he just dropped and disappeared. Maike went next, and dropped equally as fast. I don't remember moving to the door, but I
found myself there. At this point the fear was gone, and it was just pure adrenalin. The first few seconds as we somersaulted out of the plane were indescribable - what a crazy feeling!! After flipping, we levelled out into the free fall. I was amazed at how much I could see and take in while plummeting towards the earth at 200 km/h. Falling that fast almost doesn't even feel like you're falling anymore, it's almost like being suspended in space. We spun around and around in circles as we fell - the scenery would be hard to beat anywhere! After 45 seconds of free fall, he pulled the chute and we began floating. Wow!! I can't believe I just jumped out of an airplane!
We floated around, spinning and swooping before making a soft landing on our bottoms. What an incredible experience and an amazing adventure! Would we do it again? Definitely!
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