Dizzy heights with skydiving, gondolas and luge running.
01.03.2010 - 03.03.2010 19 °C
We caught an early taxi to the airport and got a flight to Queenstown, less than an hour away. Queenstown is in the south west of the south island – a small picturesque town nestling on the beautiful bay of Lake Wakatipu (a fiord whose bed is below sea level). Unfortunately the weather changed and it was raining when we landed and it was below 19 degrees (cold!); however the surrounding scenery with the backdrop of the jagged mountains (the Remarkables) was stunning. We got the shuttle bus to our apartments in the town – luxury standard with all amenities and balconies overlooking the lake. We shopped for some necessary waterproof gear and mooched around the shops. I was booked to go skydiving but it was cancelled due to the weather. We had some lunch in Fergburger’s - a very popular, crowded haunt for all ages (‘had a huge tasty lamb burger which I could barely finish). While we were having a coffee in the Patagonian Chocolate Cafe (beautiful chocolate), it stopped raining so we decided to take a tour of the lake on an old steamship which was docked along the wharf. Built in 1911 it was refurbished a few years ago; it uses 10 tons of coal for fuel daily. It had a resident piano player and a bar on board. We were able to go down and see the engine room. The one and a half hour trip took us to the end of the fiord and back round the other side of it. They served some canapés on the outward journey and we had a sing-along with pianist on the inward one. By the time we disembarked it was a better evening; though it didn’t get dark until 9:00 in the evening (later than in Christchurch) it was also somewhat cooler.
After breakfast we walked into town and to the gondolas’ base to purchase tickets to get to the top of the mountain. As the weather was much better than yesterday this was popular with the tourists and the queue was long. We eventually bought combined tickets for the gondola ride and the luge. The luge has a separate track from the top to about half way down. We enjoyed great views on the way up on the gondolas – lots of photo opportunities. The top was well facilitated with shops, restaurant and cafe as well as two bungy jump bases. We took a brief chair-lift ride to where the luge carts started. The luge is basically a cart with small wheels in which the driver sits very close to the ground; brakes are managed by pulling the steering wheel closer to you. Gravity played a big part in accelerating the luge as you went down the track which had many hairpins in it. The ride itself was quite thrilling as long as you could slow down sufficiently to control the speed round the bends.
After a quick spot of lunch I checked in at N Zone to confirm that the deferred skydiving was going ahead today. It was, so at 3:00pm I joined the group waiting for the shuttle minibus to the airfield. It was a 10km trip outside the town. As it happened there were only two skydiving passengers doing the 12,000ft jump; the rest were going for either the 10,000 or 15,000ft jumps. The other person in my plane was a girl from Dorset on her gap year. We had a flight master and a camera man assigned to each of us. After receiving our flight instructions and getting kitted out in our jumpsuit, helmet and harness we boarded the small single propeller plane and took off. We climbed steadily towards 12,000 ft as the flight master instructed me on how to get out of the plane and what to do during freefall and landing. Just before the Perspex door opened I looked down and instinctively drew back at our awesome height above the ground – too late, I was nudged forward by the flight master..... 1, 2, 3 and out into the abyss! After a few seconds of freefall through the deafening wind, the flight master tapped my shoulder as a signal to let go of the harness and try out some stunts. Freefall seemed to last a long time but when the parachute opened everything was calm and silent with magnificent views of the land below. We glided gently over mountains, lakes and green fields; we circled and twirled slowly descending. The flight master guided us accurately towards the landing spot in the airfield where we had a faultless landing. Only when I was taking off the jumpsuit did I notice that my jaw was sore and rapidly swelling. I put an ice pack on it for a while but it made little difference. I think the flap from the harness must have hit me during the freefall. Back in town I met up with Catherine and Thomas who had hired bikes for the afternoon and were saddle-sore after cycling round part of the lake.