3rd June 2013 22:15
In Taupo, no one can hear you scream. Apart from your tandem master, who I'd imagine would have some fairly major hearing problems by the end of their career.
It's well known throughout the backpacker circuit that Taupo is the place to do your skydive. Not only is it a great view while you're jumping, but it's cheaper than other places in New Zealand - presumably as so many people go there. Also only one person goes SPLAT per week, so your chances of survival are pretty good.
Having already booked my jump online before I arrived, I was dismayed to arrive on the coach the day before to cloudy skies and rain. In these conditions, it's impossible for the jump to go ahead as you need visibility of the ground while you are falling (for obvious reasons).
Naturally I was hoping for the best the following morning as my alarm went off. When I arose it was cloudy, but not as bad as it had been the previous day. As a matter of course, you are instructed to phone the skydive company some time before you are due to be picked up by their shuttle. When I phoned the first time they asked me to call back in ten minutes, as they were waiting to see if the cloud cover that was over the airfield currently would clear with the wind. Ten anxious minutes later, I redialled their number. The cloud had moved... the jump was on. There was no getting out of it now!
Arriving at the airfield, I finally got to see what I would be *gulp* jumping out of. It didn't even look like it could take off, let alone climb to 15,000 ft!
After getting kitted up, and meeting my tandem master Elad (aka crazy person), I began my final walk to the plane. In total there were around twenty people on there, and it was a really tight fit. That was really the last thing on my mind though!
It takes about 15-20 minutes to get to the right height. You have a choice of jumping from either 12,000 or 15,000 ft. Everyone in our group had opted to jump at the higher altitude, so we had no delays in getting up there. Packed in like sardines, the noise from the engines drowns out any last minute prayers you may be making. As we got closer to the jump height, we were handed an oxygen mask and pumped full of gas. One would logically assume this is because the cabin isn't pressurised, and the oxygen levels are lower as you climb higher. You could also quite easily believe it's just to "take the edge off" and make you a little more compliant when your turn to jump comes around!
The 15 minutes were soon up. I was second in line to jump. The roller hatch was pulled up, and the guys in front scooted forward on their arse. Turning 90 degrees, they were then dangling precariously on the edge. The cameraman clambered out of the opening and was literally hanging off the side of the plane. He is the one who jumps at the same time as you, but separately, to film you with a helmet mounted camera. Heads turned to the left, for one last photo before the inevitable. Then, on the count of three, they were gone.
There was now a big empty space between me and the hatch. Any thoughts you might have at this point of scrambling backwards toward the front of the plane, and clinging onto the pilot for dear life are scuppered, as you are strapped on tight to your tandem master. Edging slowly forward inch by inch, we reached the side of the plane.
The cameraman did his Spiderman bit, climbing out to hang onto the side. It felt as if I was just dangling, as the tandem master is actually sitting on the edge, but you're just in front of him, held in the straps. Moving my head around, there was just time for one last photo (I went for abject terror, I think I nailed it), before I was hurled forward and begin falling. Very, very quickly.
At first things are, quite literally, a blur. Despite wearing goggles, the air still rushed around the edges and made my eyes water. The noise is huge, as air blasted past my ears. I felt a tap on my shoulder, an indication that I should extend my arms to make things easier for Elad. Up until this point, you are instructed to hold onto your shoulder straps.
I soon spotted the cameraman in front of us, who grew closer and began waving his arms around in front of him, as if trying to signal me to do something. This continued for most of the time we were free falling, hence the confused expression on my face for the majority of the video! Luckily I'd opted for the photos package too, so I could at least pick out some normal photos from those (or as normal as you could ever look falling through the air at approximately 120mph!).
After around one minute of freefall, another tap on the shoulder told me to grab hold of my shoulder straps again, and our descent was immediately arrested as the parachute was deployed. You can get a feel for just how quickly this happens by watching the cameramen in the video continue falling further down before opening their own chutes.
After what felt like complete chaos from the moment we exited the plane, a deafening silence took over and for the first time I could properly take in what was going on. I was worried that with some cloud still in the sky, it would spoil the view somewhat, but even with cloud in places the view was spectacular. It was completely unique too, obviously at no time would I ever be at that vantage point again, and it really was something else - as you can see from the stupid grin on my face!
Elad passed me the handles for the parachute, and let me steer us around for a while, going all over the place, which was so much fun. As we grew closer to the ground, he took control again and made us go into a steep spiral downwards which was awesome! We levelled out again, and directly below us was the landing spot where we could already see the first guys had arrived. We descended steadily, and as we approached the ground I lifted my legs as instructed and we came back to earth with a very smooth landing!
The adrenaline rush is amazing. Compared to the bungy, it was actually less scary believe it or not. I think it's because you're further away from the ground so you don't really have a perception of the height you're at. Overall it was definitely more fun than the bungy though, as it lasts longer so you have more time to appreciate it.
Once again I got extremely lucky with the weather, as it was like this shortly after we landed:
The second group that had booked the time after ours was actually unable to jump. They were given the option of getting taken back into town or waiting around to see if it would clear. Throughout the day it rained on and off though, so I was very lucky to have booked the first jump and actually been able to go ahead with it.
I can easily recommend skydiving to anybody. You'll enjoy it, I guarantee you. Even if you're terrified at first, after doing it you'll not regret it. It's amazing. Just don't forget the parachute.