People often say, “third time lucky.” This was definitely the case for us when it came to skydiving in Glenorchy with Skydive Paradise.
We originally booked a skydive with Skydive Paradise on the 16th February, which was unfortunately cancelled when we called up for a weather check early that morning. It then turned out to be a beautiful day in Queenstown, so we went to visit the Skyline Gondola instead.
So, we then re-booked for the 17th February, which turned out to be an absolute tease. That morning, we were given the all-clear during the weather check, so we went to the office to sign all the necessary forms and were then driven out to the drop zone… Only to watch the clouds descend in Paradise during the 45-minute drive. The staff were very good at stalling time for us in the hope that the clouds would lift for us – we were introduced to all the instructors on site at the time, given the skydive briefing, and even driven into the Glenorchy village for a spot of coffee! Unfortunately for us, the clouds did not budge during the hour we waited and our session was cancelled again. It was at this point that I was beginning to think that us and skydiving was just not meant to be. Maybe we were just not meant to tick this off our bucket lists during this visit to New Zealand!! We spent the afternoon experiencing the famous Shotover Jet rides to ease our disappointment. (Not quite the same type of adrenaline rush we were looking for, though!)
F and I then regrouped and discussed our options. We decided to re-book again for the 24th February after our travels through the Fiordland National Park. Sure, this was going to cut into our planned rental car roadtripping days, but we had our heart set on skydiving with Skydive Paradise from very early on in our planning of this trip; the company had excellent reviews online and F loved the fact that the drop zone was over “Middle Earth” (we can both be considered as minor fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy). If our third booking was to fall through, our back up plan was to check whether the other skydive companies in Queenstown were operating before giving up for this trip.
We woke to beautiful sunny weather on the day of our third attempt at skydiving. We picked up our rental car and then started to make our way towards Glenorchy, where we were going to spend the day exploring regardless of the status of our booking. When we stopped next to the beautiful Lake Wakatipu on the way to Glenorchy to make the weather check call, we were given the all-clear for our skydive. Fingers and toes still crossed, though (given what happened last time). When we arrived at the drop zone, we learnt very quickly that the on-site generator was unfortunately out-of-action. The staff told us that this meant three things: (1) we could still skydive if we wanted to, but (2) we could not pay by card and (3) we would not be able to get our photos and videos edited immediately after without the generator and power. But heck, WE COULD STILL SKYDIVE!! Third time lucky, definitely! That was a really close call. And so, the preparations began…
We watched two others prepare for and complete their skydives before we were to go up ourselves. Speaking to them afterwards and the staff on the ground really helped ease the nerves a little. One of them said to me that in the plane, she realised that everything would be out of her control, so she decided to completely trust her instructor and enjoy the experience for what it was. I thought she was pretty spot on about that… After all, we were not performing the skydive ourselves – we were just going along for the ride. All I had to do in the air was to stay in the “banana” position and keep my head up (or scream) so I could breathe. Besides, the whole ordeal would be over in a few minutes, which is a mere moment within a lifetime. Her observations really helped me to overcome some of my nerves and fears (I’m afraid of heights!), and I was determined to stay fairly calm and focused throughout the whole thing. Suiting up in the skydive gear didn’t phase me too much; nor did learning that we had to carry a life jacket, which we would have to blow up and put on mid-air in case of a water landing. Overall, I thought I did really well mentally throughout all the preparations. Perhaps it was because I had already mentally prepared for this twice before!
I decided to do the 15,000 ft (4,572 m) skydive. Might as well go for it, right?! I have to admit, though, that I had already been at higher altitudes on land in South America… Which is a strange thought. This particular skydive height roughly translates to:
- a 15-20 minute scenic flight, which is only truly scenic if you’re last on the plane or get to sit near the big window;
- 60 seconds of freefall, during which you will reach terminal velocity; and
- 5-7 minutes under the canopy of a parachute.
The flight up was pleasant enough, despite the fact that I was sitting near the front of the plane where the windows were quite small and too high up for me to see out of. My instructor, Karl, was excellent at both keeping me calm and making the whole experience fun for me. His big piece of advice for me was, “just smile – skydiving is all about looking good on camera!” The fear really kicked in when I watched F leave the plane and tumble through the air. It’s a common misconception that one jumps out of a plane during a tandem skydive. How it actually works, is that you and your instructor move toward the opened doorway whilst facing the outside of the plane. You both then edge closer and closer until your instructor is sitting on the edge of the plane’s doorway and you are completely hanging outside of the plane (whilst still strapped very tightly to him/her). This was the most terrifying moment of the whole experience for me. It was more terrifying than watching F and her instructor leave the plane. All I could do was to acknowledge that I no longer had any control of what was about to happen to me. It felt like an eternity had passed as I waited for Karl to push off the plane and take me down with him. This is the edge of the point of no return. Then, we were gone, too.
Freefalling was absolutely crazy. It’s just you and gravity. We must have tumbled at least twice after leaving the plane, as I remember seeing the sky twice before Karl made us face the ground. Then there was the feeling of accelerating through the air, as well as the slight pain in my left ear as it struggled to “pop” for a while. All I could think of was: banana… breathe or scream… and smile for the camera. You can’t really hear yourself scream during freefall, which is probably a good thing for the instructors. It’s over before you know it. It really did not feel like 60 seconds had passed at all!
I was very relieved when Karl pulled the cord and the parachute opened! We survived! Karl then (thankfully) loosened our strapping a little and showed me how to fly the parachute by myself. It was super fun! (Despite experiencing a little bit of motion sickness when Karl taught me how to send the parachute into a spin). The real reward for actually going through with a skydive is getting to fly under the canopy. The scenery at the Skydive Paradise is stunningly beautiful. Below us, I could see Glenorchy, Paradise, Lake Wakatipu, and Dart River; but all around us were so many incredible mountain peaks (some of which were snow capped). At some points, with the aid of Karl’s direction, I could see as far as Milford Sound in the Fiordland National Park, Mount Aspiring National Park, and even Mount Cook! This is some spot for a skydive, for sure! Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end eventually. Karl told me to lift my legs straight and to let him do all the work as we headed closer and closer to ground. We had a perfect landing.
I think skydiving is a very accessible experience, if you can afford it and if you can make the mental leap to decide to do it. My tips for first-time tandem skydivers are:
- Try to be the first to skydive on your plane, so you don’t have to get even more nervous whilst watching others leave the plane. This usually means boarding the plane last.
- Learn to smile with your mouth closed during freefall if you’re being filmed. The air can often do funny things to the lips of an open mouth as you accelerate towards the ground.
- Don’t just look down, but also look around! That way, you’ll see a lot more of the scenery than just the ground.
- Pick somewhere pretty for your first skydive, especially if you’re only going to do this once in your life.
- If you are travelling and have your heart set on skydiving in a particular place, book it for as early as possible in your trip. Skydiving is weather dependent, so this will allow you to re-book in the event of a cancellation.
- Seriously consider Skydive Paradise if you’re planning to skydive near Queenstown. We could not have been more impressed by the staff, the location, the equipment, and the whole experience. They are a really great bunch of people, too.
Skydiving was such an awesome experience. I still cannot believe that I actually went through with it and I am very proud of myself for how I handled the whole ordeal. On reflection, my skydive didn’t change me much at all – it has not made me more adventurous, more courageous, or less scared of heights. But, I really love the fact that I now hold membership to a small and exclusive group of crazy people who can truthfully say:
“In a world in which we are all slaves to the laws of gravity, I’m proud to be counted as one of them freedom fighters.” (Anon.)