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A skydive is one of those things that appears on everybody’s bucket list. Considered to be one of life’s must-do’s, it’s also a great way to celebrate a birthday. So on my recent 35th, I decided it was time to tick this item off my own list. And where better to do it than what is arguably the most beautiful place in the world, Lake Wanaka, New Zealand.
When I walk into Skydive Wanaka’s colourful hangar, I’m immediately struck by the infectious energy; people are clearly stoked to be here, and that’s just the staff! The alluring catchphrase strap yourself to a beautiful stranger is emblazoned in huge letters across the width of the hangar’s end wall. Friendly and efficient, the crew have me briefed, suited up and harnessed before I even have time to ask “does my bum look big in this jumpsuit?”
Beautiful strangers indeed. The tandem masters are a colourful and enigmatic bunch from assorted nations. My instructor Jon introduces himself. He’s tall and dark and of sunny disposition, and is appropriately resplendent in a bright yellow jumpsuit and fluffy hat. While he checks and tightens my harness, he chats away reassuringly as if we’re about to do the most ordinary thing in the world, and we walk out to the plane. It’s bright orange, like some big flying Jaffa, and I can’t help but giggle as we climb in.
The view from the plane as it ascends is breathtaking. The snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps, including the majestic Mount Cook, are set against a backdrop of deep blue sky; they seem close enough to touch, yet they stretch out as far as the eye can see. Turquoise lakes reflecting the sun are dotted between the mountains, and I can’t take my eyes off the stunning Clutha River meandering in horseshoe curves across the landscape below.
Jon invites me to sit in his lap while he secures my harness to his, It’s a curious level of intimacy to be having with a beautiful stranger, but who’s going to argue at 15,000 feet? One by one, the jumpers before me shuffle to the door, pause on the edge for photos, and disappear into oblivion amid squeals and whoops of delight. Before I know it Jon and I are perched in the doorway, he on the very edge and me hanging off the front of him with nothing but sky beneath me. It’s the most bizarre feeling in the world. I assume the required freefall position—legs and head back—and there’s a moment of total disorientation as we tumble out. We stabilise, and although we’re plummeting belly-first toward the ground, there’s no sensation of falling. It feels like we’re floating on a big bed of air. Unbelievable!
All too soon I feel us slowing abruptly as the parachute opens, and the noise of the wind ceases. I’m grinning so much my cheeks hurt. Jon lets me fly the parachute for a while, and I’m amazed at how much strength it takes to turn, and how fast it spirals towards earth. He regains control and brings us in to a smooth and safe landing. Totally elated and buzzing with adrenaline, I throw my arms around Jon and thank him for the most unforgettable experience ever.
Done! Now, what to do for my 40th?
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