NZ10+ : Day 09 : WAITOMO to TAUPO

The day I decide to jump out of a plane at 15,000-feet, and then follow it up by using Star Trek pub-quiz trivia to win drinks.

Tuesday 25/03/08

We are on the way into Taupo now. I have put my name down for the skydive and the hike near “Mount Doom” tomorrow. Looking forward to both. I was going to do a bungee instead, but with everyone else doing the skydive (I don’t even know them all properly!) today, and with Taupo being the cheapest place to do one, I should say that I “thought” sod it. But I’m not actually thinking at all. If I stop to think, common sense will kick in and I won’t do it. Should do really. Money!

Will have to prepare for the hike too, it sounds gruelling. Seven hours. If that isn’t the ultimate fitness test, I dread what else New Zealand may throw at me. Hike starts at 6:20am tomorrow.

(Writing on the 26th)

Whew, a lot happened yesterday! The most important thing being the skydive. There were two options, and because I was on automatic, I opted for the full package. The full 15,000-foot drop, complete with DVD and pictures. Didn’t get nervous at all, you just kind of go along with it all.
I got fitted into a jumpsuit by my rather intimidating Jump-Master. Got chatting about cameras to him though, and that seemed to break the ice a little. They packed us into the plane quite tight as Trios. Jumpers (Myself, Danielle and Rebecca) plus our individual jump-masters and photographers. We were told that the jump was oxygen assisted, but nobody offered me any until quite late on the ascent, and it didn’t seem to do that much.

Gonna have to stop writing, as I am currently in a park on the grass, but there are bugs all over me!…


Right, I walked back into town and I am currently sat at a little bistro, overlooking Lake Taupo itself and waiting for a brew. Where was I?

So, we were in the plane and I realised that we had been given no instructions, guidance or anything at all. We were literally just strapped up and sent in the air. Don’t suppose they want to bog it all down, as if it goes wrong, no amount of instruction manuals are ever going to save you.
I was second out of the plane, and it was scary watching Rebecca go before me and just DROP. Then it was my time to shuffle to the edge and perch there. Never occurred to me not to do it and chicken-out though, even then. I get to the edge, then I was flung out…

We were so high above the clouds, it didn’t seem scary from that point of view – you don’t see the ground, as it is too far away to begin with. The G-Force is insane as you fall out. Your stomach thinks “Okay, this is enough” but it just gets worse for a good ten seconds or so. What is scarier, and what they don’t tell you, is how hard it is to breathe. You almost concentrate so hard on taking your next breath, that you miss out on the awesome scenery.

I had written the words “Hi MuM” on my palms before the jump, and so between posing to make sure at least one shot came out on camera, and the effort of breathing, I didn’t take as much in as I should.

Finally, the chute was pulled after we had done a few spins. The harness was really painful on my legs, so much so that I just wanted to get down. Once the chord is pulled, it also goes really, really quiet. The parachute being open made me feel ridiculously safe. It wasn’t scary anymore, just painful. My Jump-Master kept quiet. The others later said that their Jump-Masters had given them a bit of a commentary and had pointed out scenery to them, but not me. A few more spirals, and we were nearly back down. I saw a chute already out on the ground, and for a second I thought someone had crashed, but it was just someone rolling their chute back up. Landed on my arse to finish. A very surreal experience.

We clambered into the viewing room to watch the DVDs being made. Glad I spent the money. Got an excellent angle on both the DVD and the still pics, with the camera below me, looking back at me with the sun providing some backlight with some nice lens flare.

We got back to the hostel and got ready for the pub quiz. We had a massive quiz team, but so did everyone else, so the questions were super tough to compensate. We ended up in 5th place, which wasn’t bad at all. Beat Laurence at pool, again. It’s really getting to him. Some Australians were there with a pink hippo they were putting in all manner photos, so we posed with it on the pool table. Somewhere out there is a photo of me with an Australian pink hippo.

Quiz master was full of banter. Between questions you had the chance to win free drinks for the best chat-up line and the best joke. The chat-up line that won was excellent. “I know I can’t have your virginity, but could I have the box it came in?”

I did win a free beer eventually though. We were asked “How many years apart is it where Dr Spock has to mate?” Knowing that Vulcan Ponn Farr is every 7 years, we got the answer right, but I shouted out to the whole pub that “Spock wasn’t the Doctor. McCoy was the Doctor, and Spock was just Spock.” Quiz-Master stopped proceedings and asked the “smart arse” who shouted that to come up front, so I did and he gave me a free drink! Because “I’ve still got vouchers to use up, and he is actually right, Spock isn’t a Doctor, I can’t argue with him.” The first, and most likely last, time that Star Trek knowledge has won me a drink.

We left Mulligans and went to Elemental, the hostel bar, and partied until late. Tracy and Danielle were off on the “East A’s” trip the next day, so I said my farewells and got off to bed earlier than everyone else (1:00am!) so that I could get up for the hike…

SOUNDTRACK: “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty


Okay, first of all, here is the video of the skydive!

Indeed, quite a lot to unpack here! There are two things I feel I need to address and corroborate from the diary entry first of all.

The first is this notion of being on auto-pilot, which may have a wee hangover tinge to it. On the whole, I remember not “over-thinking” the decision whether to do the skydive or not. Much like normal flying, or any other scary situation, there can be a danger in over thinking it to the point that you scare yourself into total inaction. I knew that I had wanted to do a skydive. I knew that if I started to overthink it, I’d find some nonsense practical, financial or physical reason to dodge it, and so I remember putting all of this out of my mind as much as possible. The clipboard to sign-up was passed round the bus, I saw a longish list of fellow wannabe skydivers, and I added my name to the list without a second thought. The diary entry and this note are not meant to make out as if I was super confident, rather, I somehow made myself deliberately apathetic.

This self-induced apathy did of course start to fade the closer we got to actually jumping. I do remember it being quite surreal signing the litigation form. “In event of death, this notifies your loved ones that you signed up to jumping out of a plane completely willingly. So, your family cannot sue us for this stupid, insane decision you have made.” Or words to that affect.

The second point is about me describing the jump itself - it almost reads as if I wasn’t nervous at all. But if I can expand on the diary entry, I believe that I was genuinely relatively calm (right up until the last few seconds) for two main reasons. Firstly, I wasn’t bothered about the flight up to 15,000 feet. After all, only a week had passed since I had spent almost 24 hours aboard aeroplanes getting to New Zealand to begin with. True, those planes had a lot more room, and did not have an open door… But still, at that moment, I was fine with flying. Secondly (and this is the key difference to something like a Bungee jump) is that I was not really required to do anything, in order to do the skydive.

The skydive itself is a tandem-jump. This means that you have a trained skydiver (the jump-master) tied onto your back, and it is they who wear the actual parachute that will bring you both down to safety. A third person, the camera-person, makes up your jump-team trio. As the customer and ‘Jumper’, all that you are actually required to do, apart from not freaking out, is scoot your bum to the edge of the airplane. Yes, this is a massive achievement in and of itself, and for others who have done skydives, this part of the process could have been your own personal crisis and challenge. But for me, getting to the edge was easy. The actual action and decision to jump was made by my jump-partner – not myself.

There was a brief “Are you ready? Good. Ok, we’re going to rock backwards and forwards as we count down from three. Ok? Three, two, one.” DROP.

So, there was only a small moment where it felt like “I” made a decision to execute the jump. Yes “I did a skydive” and this is a huge achievement, but then (as now) I was struggling to process it. I would have thought that I would have had more of a mental challenge to overcome, but in the end, it sort of ‘just happened.’

I hope this doesn’t read as overly negative, but I am trying here to just make sense of what I was feeling at the time, and what I was alluding to in the diary. I do remember struggling to put words down, it’s hard to convey just how bonkers a skydive is, and what it does to your brain!
To add some lighter recollections to balance the above, I do tell a good yarn about “not being scared” in the plane. It turns out I’m a bit of a git when I’m scared or nervous, in that I find myself coping much better if I can wind someone else up. Rebecca was a Spanish girl with us for the first week on the bus. Her jump trio was first out of the plane, and so whilst we were circling up to 15,000 feet, I kept pointing to Rebecca’s jumpsuit and pointing out holes in places. I knew these holes were harmless (the jumpsuits seemed to just be an outer aerodynamic layer, worn over your own clothing) but now I could focus on Rebecca being nervous about her suit, rather than worrying about myself becoming nervous. Yeah, I’m a git.

My come-uppance was only a few seconds away, as when Rebecca dropped, that’s when my apathy finally disappeared completely. When you watch a skydive from a jumper’s point of view on TV, the camera-person and jumpers all appear to ‘float’ with each other at the same speed. It looks exhilarating, and also a bit like flying. What is less often seen, and what I had never seen until this point, was the camera angle from inside the plane when somebody jumps out. I keep using the word ‘drop’, because that is exactly what happens. Rebecca, her tandem-jumper, and her camera-person all went from being three full-sized humans cramped into a tiny plane alongside me, into three figures no bigger than this full stop -> .

As I had been winding Rebecca up, right up until the last few seconds, I had forgotten that my own Jump-Master, who was literally strapped to my back, must have seen everything. Noticing that I must have went rigid when Rebecca’s trio had dropped, he simply clapped a hand on my shoulder and said into my ear, “Not so cocky now are you?”

No, I was not!

The jump itself is pretty well described above, so I won’t repeat myself here. But yes, it was hard to breathe, and what should have been a beautiful tranquil glide back to Earth, in perfect silence, was marred by the excruciating agony in my legs. My harness was just not on right. Again, maybe a bit of Karma due my way, for the git-ish-ness I’d displayed.

Once back on the ground, I do remember being a bit freaked out after the fact. Post-adrenaline or delayed rationalisation? Either way, I felt a bit wobbly. I remember trying to process it all as we retired to a small editing suite, where the Editor was literally turning the films of our jumps around in the space of 15 minutes.

Rebecca, Danielle and I all watched each other’s jumps, and quickly worked out a pattern. Each jump lasted about 60 seconds or so, all in. In the last 15 seconds or so, the camera person would grab our arm or leg, and then send us all into a controlled spin. After the spinning, we would be stabilised by the jump-master, we would all pass through the lower layer of cloud, the image would go white and foggy, and then we would re-appear on the other side of the cloud for a microsecond before the parachute is pulled. Cue slow motion, music drop, fade to black.

The two Irish guys, Niall and Laurence, were in the plane after us. True to form, Laurence’s jump did not follow this pattern. In the part of the sequence where the photographer was meant to grab onto Laurence’s leg for a controlled spin, good old Laurence instead thought it was a game. So he grabbed back onto the cameraman’s arm with both of his, and hung on for dear life!

In skydiving terms, this is really, really bad. If two groups of people hold onto each other for too long, and enter into an uncontrolled spin, then neither party can open their parachutes without risking a tangle. Yet here we were, watching video-Laurence on the big screen, gripping his cameraman for dear life, whilst real-life-Laurence is sat on the sofa, cackling like the madman he is!

The screen goes white. We all watch with baited breath as Laurence’s trio re-appears… and they are still all attached to each other! It was weird! Laurence was sat in the room with us, so we knew he was alive! But we were watching him plunge to the ground and certain death with (what we thought was) a delayed parachute pull!

After some energetic pulling to and fro on the cameraman’s part, eventually they separate. The relief was palpable, and the parachutes are all pulled safely. Laurence is none the wiser that he nearly messed up his jump, and when told about how it ‘should’ have gone, he was actually quite chuffed that his ‘skydive lasted a bit longer than all of yours.’ Madman.

I don’t recall what the rest of the day held until the pub quiz occurred, and that is recounted above, complete with pre-requisite Star Trek mention. Needless to say, I thought I was going to be sensible, only drink a few, and prepare for my Mount Ruapehu (aka Mount Doom) hike the next day. So, though the diary says that I left slightly ‘earlier’ than everyone else, the many, many J├Ąger-bombs that I had already drank with my new sky-diving buddies, meant otherwise.