Strap yourself to a beautiful stranger… Standing inside the hangar of Skydive Wanaka, as I read these words plastered across the wall, the enormity of what I was going to do sunk in. I was going to jump off a perfectly good plane soaring 10,000 ft off the ground.
We had arrived in Wanaka the day before and had instantly fallen in love with the beautiful town. Wanaka is the perfect location for skydiving. During the flight and the jump, you’ll be treated to spectacular views of lakes and mountains, if you don’t shut your eyes out of fear that is.
Now, if you’re thinking that I’m an adventure seeker or an adrenaline junkie, you’re dead wrong. On the contrary, I’m more like the scaredy bear. But as we planned that trip to New Zealand, I just knew that I had to skydive – call it conquering your fears if you will. Despite all the hesitations and second thoughts, I did manage to pull through. (Check out also – New Zealand with Kids: A Road Trip Through the Scenic South Island).
Skydive Wanaka & The Process
Since 1995, over 85,000 people have tandem skydived with Skydive Wanaka, the oldest being 92-years-old. According to their website, Skydive Wanaka has the best tandem skydive safety record in New Zealand.
The staff at Skydive Wanaka were friendly and made us feel at ease. Before your dive, you will watch a safety briefing video, after which you’ll be asked to sign some forms/disclaimers. You’ll then be escorted to an outdoor waiting area with comfy bean bags, where you can watch other skydivers while you wait your turn.
Then, it’s payment time. In all fairness to Skydive Wanaka, they don’t ask you to pay till it’s almost time for your flight, so you do have plenty of time to change your mind. As I paid the non-refundable amount of 478 ND, I remember thinking that it was an incredible amount of money to pay for doing something so incredibly foolish (not really). By the end of the dive though, I was ready to change my statement. Far from being a folly, I count this as one of my best travel experiences ever – I’ve never felt more alive.
Once you’ve paid, you’ll be escorted to the hangar and helped into a jumpsuit and harness. I had managed to stay calm so far, but as I donned my jumpsuit and saw the bright orange plane outside, I found myself having some serious second thoughts.
Just as I was contemplating making a run for it, a stranger walked up to me and introduced himself as Ingemar, my instructor and tandem diving partner. This was the guy I was going to be strapped to when I jumped. This was the guy who would open the parachute and make sure that I landed in one piece.
The Flight and the Fall
The plane flight to altitude is about 15-20 minutes and is spectacular, with views of majestic mountains, glaciers, valleys and lakes. It can be hard to enjoy those views though, with the thought of the upcoming jump occupying your mind.
I remembered one of the staff mentioning that in 18 years of operation, they’ve had 4 people who decided not to jump after they got on the plane. At one point, I was sure that I was going to be the 5th one. What did not help were the extremely loud screams of the first diver as she proceeded to the gate of the plane.
Just as the screams grew fainter, I found myself perched at the open plane door, my heart in my mouth and Ingemar asking me to tilt my head back and assume dive position. And then I found myself hurtling into space, Ingemar repeatedly asking me to smile for the camera (seriously?).
When you’re freefalling at a speed of 200kmph, 45 seconds can be a very long time. The first few seconds of freefall were terrifying, but as the thought that I was alive sunk in, I was able to smile and even talk. Then the parachute opened and I experienced the most blissful seconds of my life. Floating peacefully over Wanaka, I finally got to enjoy those unrivalled 360 degree views of the Lord of the Rings country.
By the time we landed, not only did I have a big smile on my face, I also felt like a million bucks. I might still not be willing to attempt the reverse-bungee in Clarke Quay, but I’d like to return to Wanaka and dive from 15,000 feet some day.
*(A version of this article was originally published on Urbandesis.com in 2014)
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