I’m falling out of a plane from 19,500 feet in the air and I’m not even screaming. I’m terrified but too terrified to scream. Plus I’ve been told that screaming while falling 200 kilometres an hour produces the dreaded flap mouth, which isn’t attractive for anyone who watches the video filming the sky dive. I was held in stunned awe of the green landscape of New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, of the 144 puzzle-piece shaped islands that scatter around the peninsula at the top of the North Island. It was just after 8:30 a.m. so the bright sun cast a mirrored spotlight across the water and over the rolling green hills. Gavin Horrell is strapped to my back and holds my life in his hands. Or the right hand that pulls the parachute chord. He owns Sky Dive Zone and has been sky diving since he was 18 in the British army, so I’m quite confident in his inability to not let us slam into the ground to our deaths. Also, death of a Canadian journalist doing an adventure story in New Zealand doesn’t make for good press. But still, the fear consumes me for 85 seconds as we free fall. We fall about 1,000 feet every five seconds. As we approach 5,000 feet from the ground, Gavin counts down for the camera, 3, 2, 1. The red white and black parachute opens and we’re jolted away from the free fall, into a comfortable float. I let myself relax and open my arms, striking a starfish position in the air. It feels like we’re just suspended there, pinned against the whiteboard of the sky. Slowly we float closer to the ground and Gavin lets me steer the chute. As we hurl toward the brown grass of the KeriKeri airfield, I pull my legs up and let the professional break our fall against the ground, which now seems so foreign. My legs are like jelly and I can barely stand as the adrenalin rush consumes me. I’m just laughing and breathing heavily and trying to communicate my experience to the Go Pro camera.As we were suiting up before the jump, Gavin and his crew were full of wise cracks to loosen up the three nervous jumpers heading up in the Cesna 206.
“If you fall we only get paid half,” said Andy Lovemore, in typical dry British humour. The 19-year-old German couple, Frauke and Hannes aren’t laughing and Andy has to reassure them it’s a joke.
The six of us, three jumpers and our tandem partners, are crammed into the tiny plane, which has a little sliding clear door keeping the cold wind out of the plane as we make our ascent.
“Are you ready?” Andy asks the Hannes. “Definitely not,” Hannes says. I watch the two jump out of the plane at 12,000 feet and we’ve got another seven minutes of ascent until we’re at 19,500 feet.
I had less than 24 hours to mentally prepare for the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I was convinced to do the sky dive in Bay of Islands just the day before, based on a few factors: the next day was set to be a clear, sunny day and many sky dives in the south island are cancelled several days in a row due to inclement weather; it’s less expensive than other sky dive outlets in New Zealand and most importantly, it’s the highest jump in New Zealand. Go big or go home, right?What a perfect way to kick off my story about adventure travel in New Zealand.