Wellington was actually a fairly cool city. We went to the top of Mount Victoria to look at the views and then the Weta Studios where we learnt how the props were made for movies such as The Hobbit and Thunderbirds. We also went to the Te Papa museum (the museum of New Zealand), that has free entry and you could easily spend hours there.
Saying goodbye to Ritchie, Lorraine and Jason was sad. During my travels, I haven’t really spent so long and been so close in people’s companies until now. You literally spend nearly all day, every day with these people so you can’t help but become such close friends, feeling like you’ve known each other for months, when really it’s only been 2 weeks. But I always tell people, if you like each other enough, it’s never a goodbye, but a see you later.
So on the 25th April I was set to get the ferry from Wellington to Picton, the South Island. I got an Uber to the ferry terminal as everyone had said it takes an age to walk there. Then I realised they lied and I could have saved myself $7.82. I knew no one else catching this ferry from the last bus, so sat alone in the corner and watch Labyrinth. Great movie I haven’t watch since I was little. Fortunately this passed the time pretty quickly.
The stray bus passengers were asked to wait at the terminal for our driver to pick up the bus to then come and get us. I recognised a couple of people here, Bastian and Line who had met but not really spoken to much. After 20 minutes, Hunter, our new driver, arrived in a smaller shuttle bus. It was cosy. And we started our journey to Abel Tasman. There’s not really much opportunity to talk to new people on the bus whilst you’ve moving, so I didn’t really get to know anyone until that evening.
Over dinner the girls and boys seemed to separate. I got talking to Lara from Canada, Katie from Missouri, Georgina from Kent, and Line was also there. It was nice to meet new people and listen to different stories. I didn’t opt in for the group meal, but Georgina let me have her dessert as she can’t have dairy. Yoghurt, marshmallows, berries and malteasers. Surprisingly not that bad. After dinner we all just sat round the fire and talked about random things. Hunter kept lying about his age, first saying he was 29 with a baby face, then 23, then 20. We’re kind of sure now that he’s 23, but who knows?!
The next day almost everyone did an activity. The cheapest one, the water taxi, involved an 11km hike. Unfortunately I was still limping at this point so I decided to have a chill day. I didn’t get out of bed til midday, spoke to Hunter for an hour in the kitchen, went back to bed (didn’t sleep) and only came out the room when it was dark and everyone was around the fire again. Some may say that it was a waste of Abel Tasman, I would agree, but there’s not a lot I could do about it. It was another chill night again and we all headed to bed fairly early ready for the journey to Westport the next day.
Gathering onto the bus, I saw Suz from my North Island bus hop on! It was nice to have another familiar face there. It was a fairly long journey to Westport, not arriving until three. We spent probably too much time fussing over the owner’s cute little dog, Poppy. At four, all the girls, Georgina, Suz, Line, Mathilde, Katrine, Anna, Katie, Lara and myself along with Hunter went to a local brewery and ended up getting drunk on different types of beer and cider. Fortunately we had a BBQ to look forward to afterwards, but by that point we were all giggling and bloated. Luckily no one spilt any beer!
We headed back to the hostel, I vaguely remember rolling around on some grass at one point, don’t know why, and we spent the night, again chilling, and talking to some other guests at the hostel. In the morning, it was completely pouring down with rain. I think it put everyone in a bit of a down mood as we were heading to Frank Josef and all wanted to do the heli hike on the Glacier, and I also planned to do my skydive here as well. So if the weather stayed like this, it would be unlikely we would be able to do these activities.
Before we even got to the hostel, we saw stunning scenery. In the South Island, there are so many more mountains, everywhere you look. Clouds were covering the Glacier, but that didn’t stop it from being beautiful. Once at the Rainforest Retreat, we were invited into the bar where the owner told us about the hostel and where everything was. He also said that because he was feeling nice today, he would give us our accommodation for $26 instead of $32. Obviously bullshit as every stray and Kiwi passenger who came through paid $26 for their accommodation.
I was in a room with Georgina, Anna from Austria and Mathies, a quiet and mysterious guy from Denmark. We all went for drinks at the bar that night and ended up playing several games. Hunter taught us a couple of games he played with his cousins, but the most intriguing game was definitely Never Have I Ever, where Hunter said ‘never have I ever got with someone on the stray bus’ and he was the only one that drank. He was also encouraging us to drink more, however, our heli hike was to be at 9am the next more, so we were not keen to be tired for it. Also, it was ok for him because Stray pays for his drinks and food; although $5 is cheap for NZ, after 3, you feel like you’ve spent enough.
The heli hike was magical. We were taken in a helicopter over to the Franz Josef Glacier. I almost wasn’t allowed to go because of my ankle, but I lied and said it was fine. We were given big ski jackets and boots and had to attach spikes onto the bottom of them once on the Glacier. Because there had been rain, the ice was smooth, so Andrew, out tour guide, had to us his pick axe to forge a path with steps and everything.
We first headed towards a waterfall. On the way, in the distance we saw/heard ice falling off a cliff. It looked like it was falling in slow motion and was incredible to witness. Andrew told us these blocks of ice were size of three storey houses, it from a distance they looked tiny. There was a rainbow at the waterfall and it just looked like we were on a different planet. It seemed like we were only hiking for an hour, but really it was nearly three. Towards the end we walked through a crevice, something which was more claustrophobic than I thought, but it was amazing just walking through a massive crack of ice. We got the helicopter back, all of us having had such a brilliant experience and wishing it had last longer.
So it was time to get ready for my skydive. Turns out this Ricky guy who I met in mission beach in Australia and had coincidently met at random points throughout Aus, and had even been on the heli hike before ours, had booked to do his at the same place and the same time as me. So strange. A group of us were taken from our hostel in a minibus to the little airport where they did the skydives. It took about 30 minutes to get there in which time I spoke to a few different people, all from the kiwi experience bus. I still wasn’t really nervous, I felt more just oblivious to what was about to happen, yet still knowing I was about to fall 13000ft out of a plane. Odd.
We arrived at the mini airport, were weighed and waited whilst watching their little plane taking off and returning with a few less passengers. One of the skydivers, a funny Italian guy, gave us a quick briefing of what we were to do when we were up there. Hands on harness, knees together and banana shape whilst hanging out the plane. Easy. After that he called five of us up, including myself and Ricky, to get suited up. He then told me that we’d be going together so long as he survived going with another girl first.
We had to wear these big, coloured boiler suits (don’t be jealous when you see the pictures), a glamorous hat and a massive, heavy harness. We carried on waiting for about another 45 minutes and in that time we discovered that Ricky and I would be going up together, just us two with our divers. It was just such a weird coincidence. Mauro, my diver, took me to the side to start filming my video. It was so lame, he was asking me silly questions like why I was dressed up how I was and then he asked me what I had to say to my friends and family, and my mind blanked; I was trying to think of something funny ended up saying I love you and I hope I don’t die.
And then before we knew it, we were getting onto this little plane. It was so quick, we took off and Mauro was strapping himself to me. He went through the safety bits again and what I had to do. He told me when we reached 7000ft and the views outside were incredible. I started to feel a little nervous, but still kind of numb to what was going on. The look on Ricky’s face was funny; it was blank and serious, he was definitely nervous.
My leg began to shake, but weirdly my stomach didn’t feel nervous at all. The door was opened and suddenly Ricky and his diver had jumped and completely disappeared. We shuffled over to the door; I was hanging out waiting for Mauro to push us. It was cold and the wind was rushing in my face and it felt like ages I was waiting for us to start falling. And then we went. We did a flip in the air and I remember seeing the underneath of the plane getting smaller before we turned to face downwards and started free falling towards the earth.
The sensation of it was indescribable. It felt like a lot of wind rushing past you and it got cold very quickly. Mauro kept turning the camera on for my video and I tried to stick my tongue out but the wind dried up my mouth and I couldn’t do it properly and had to try and keep my mouth closed… This looks incredibly strange in the video. Some people had told me that the free fall lasts no time at all, but I actually felt like it went on forever. It was such an amazing feeling just falling, but it didn’t feel like falling. It’s so hard to describe.
There were clouds below us, and as we approached they started to thin and we could see the earth beneath us. I think at that point, when we were going through the cloud, that’s when it felt like falling because I could see the ground getting closer and closer fast. Then Mauro pulled the parachute and with a jolt and a swing of my legs, we started gliding and I screamed that was the best thing ever. It was so peaceful and quiet up there, just flying around. I could see Mount Cook and the Fox glacier; it was an absolutely beautiful view. The happiness I felt was beyond anything I could remember feeling. Mauro loosened my straps a little so they weren’t so tight and then gave me the handles to control the parachute, which was scary but awesome.
We span around in fast circles, changing directions quickly which pulled on my harness. But I didn’t care, I was having the time of my life. I could see Ricky and his diver below us about to land. Mauro told me to practise bringing my legs up for when we landed. I didn’t want it to end, but I could see the ground coming closer and we were directly above cows in the adjacent field to the one we were aiming to land in. And then Mauro told me to lift my legs up and we landed on our bums. We were then tangled in the parachute ropes and had to wait for someone to help us.
This experience was the best of my life and I would do it again and again. The feeling of it just has no words besides the most amazing thing I have ever felt. I have wanted to do a skydive for years and years now, probably since I was around 12. And now I’ve finally done it and I can’t stop smiling.
Overall, this day has been my favourite and I wouldn’t change any of it.