New Zealand Week 4: Napier -> Paihia (Part One)
Trip Start Jan 22, 2006
18Trip End Aug 17, 2006
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
After Wellington we got back on the bus and drove to Napier, a city decimated by a huge earthquake in 1931. It was completely rebuilt in the style of the times and is now called the art deco city of the world.
Our new driver Scotty took us first to Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre where we took A Short Walk Through A Rainforest - should I ever write a book about these travels, that will certainly be the title - to take a look at the rare birds and animals there
While there we also got the chance to see a kiwi which are normally very difficult to find as they're nocturnal and very endangered. In fact, their numbers have apparently diminished by 90% over the last 30 years. It took us a few minutes to try and see the bird in the pitch black with only infra red light to help see through the glass. When we did find her it was really lovely and we stood there a good 15 minutes just watching her poke around in the leaves an inch away from my face. Of course it would have been nice to see these birds in the wild but we'd never have been able to get so close that we could see the pattern in its feathers or the nostrils on the end of its beak. It's a lovely bird and much bigger than I expected, slightly larger than a chicken. I hope they can be seen for years and years to come and that the next generations don't have to look at pictures in a book to see the bird that gave New Zealand it's nickname.
We got back on the bus with the promise of a $2 beer tasting session at the Tui brewery
The rest of the drive was rather long and boring with stops being a waste of time with nothing open. We arrived in Napier over 2 hours earlier than expected and got picked up by a minibus to take us to our home for the night. We'd chosen to stay at a hostel that up until 1993 had been a prison and before that an asylum. Our room was a converted cell where they'd basically ripped out the prisoner's bunks and bunged in a proper bed! It was brilliant if not rather creepy but I knew it would be quite an experience!
We made ourselves a snack and I came across some scales for the first time since the beginning of our America trip. Convinced I'd put on at least 20 pounds thanks to our pie-for-breakfast diet (next time someone asks you who ate all the pies, you'll know the answer), I jumped on and found I'd actually managed to lose half a stone. Not only was this a miracle but it also meant I was well under the weight limit to do a skydive..
Scotty persuaded us to take a walk down to the town to look around a market we'd passed earlier (along with a pumping Jesus concert) so we headed off down a steep short cut down a mountainside. We walked for 20 minutes at a ridiculous pace (curse these short legs!) only to find it had closed an hour ago and everyone had packed up. We took a walk around the town (which was eerily empty as it was Easter) and ended up in the pub so the starving Scotty could get some food. Dan and I got a bowl of chips to share so we could buy some beer and that was apparently legally enough (for the Easter drinking laws) to allow us to drink for the next 6 1/2 hours! That's got to be one big bowl of chips.
After a couple of hours of chatting we were joined by Scottish twins Izzy and Maz McCracken who genuinely have a brother unfortunate enough to be called Phil and another brother Chris whose work email address "C.McCrack" had to be changed as people thought it was spam. They'd been on the bus with us for quite a while now but we'd never really spoken to them before. It was a shame actually because they were really good fun. Eventually the table grew (number wise - I was only joking about the bowl of chips being big) with several other Magic Bus people joining us until there were 11 of us sat there
Toward the end of the night we were discussing how different nationalities talk after the non-English speakers admitted they couldn't understand anything the McCrackens were saying! Some Irish girls sat at a table behind us (who we hadn't even noticed before that point) seemed to take great offense when Scotty said something in Gaelic and apparently hadn't pronounced it correctly. They became very aggressive and kept telling the "f*cking pommy" to go home. There are several ironies in that comment and even if you ignore the fact that they weren't New Zealanders either (I suggested we all get our plane tickets together so that we could get a bulk discount) it does seem rather unfortunate that they picked the only guy there that was actually from New Zealand. They then spat out some drivel about how backpackers go travelling and then spend their time talking to other English people, which also didn't really stand true as out of the 11 people only Dan and I were from England. In my opinion one of the many fantastic things about travelling is the opportunity to talk to people from all over the world, and with 6 nationalities covered in the 11 of us there I think we'd taken full advantage of that. They continued to pick on Scotty (unfortunately the best insult they could think of was "how can you go out in public when you're that ugly"! Good one!) who behaved impeccably despite being pretty wound up by their unjustified vitriol. He was embarrassed that this would be the lasting memory of our time in Napier which was such a contrast to all the friendly places we'd been to before now. We continued our evening purposefully ignoring them knowing it would wind them up further and they proved us right when they repeatedly tried to calm each other down by saying, "ok, stop it now" but then continued to stage whisper insults and threats of what they wanted to do to us
I didn't sleep too well that night thanks to a combination of skydive fear and hearing footsteps out in the prison corridors that made me wonder briefly whether the stories of the prison ghost - several people had been hung only metres from our cell - could perhaps be true. It turned out to be one of the rare moments when I was glad it was just a selfish backpacker who didn't care about making noise.
We finally got up at 6.15am and had a shower after laughing at the sign warning us not to drop the soap. I was getting pretty nervous about the jump by that point but ran into a guy in the showers who told me that his 90 year old father had recently done one and loved it. After that I wasn't left with much excuse. We got on the coach and when Scotty asked who was thinking of doing a jump that day, knowing full well that I was, 10 grinning faces turned and looked at me expectantly. I reluctantly put my hand up and he passed me the sign up sheet. I put my name down for a 15,000ft jump, the highest one you can do (in for a penny etc!), and wrote "holy crap!" in the comments section which seemed to make people laugh when they read it.
A few hours later we neared Taupo and I was hauled off the coach on my own (meanie Dan couldn't be bothered to come and watch! Charming!) and into the Taupo Tandem Skydiving minibus with the personal number plate "MAXBUZ". The driver Dave was really friendly and turned out to be from Birmingham (where I lived briefly) and he had gone to college in Farnborough and so frequently went out in Reading. After a previous bus driver Eric told me he'd lived in Tilehurst near Reading, I was beginning to wonder if these people were following me around!
The weather was beautiful when I was dropped off and I nervously gave details of my next of kin in case I "left my things in the locker". That made me laugh (probably too much) and I wondered how many nervous skydivers would have understood the allusion. I signed up to have a camera person jump with me and then jumped on their scales which proved Napier Prison's set were indeed accurate. Damn it. I was then shown through to the waiting area where I put my stuff away and watched the parachute packers do their thing. I then sat outside and watched the plane take off with 8 scared people and their instructors and 20 minutes later saw them reappear as tiny dots in the sky. It was brilliant fun to watch, particularly when I noticed they'd all made it down alive and came back to the changing area buzzing with adrenalin
Shortly before I was due to go up, the sky suddenly clouded over and I sat with the other people waiting to go up as we listened out for the weather report. After 20 minutes of watching them entertain themselves with acrobatic lifts they'd learnt together (looked good fun!) we heard the bad news that the clouds weren't going to move and the jumps for the rest of the day had been cancelled. I was so disappointed that I'd hyped myself up this much for nothing. The good news was that I could rebook the jump. The bad news was that it was for 7am the next morning. I texted Dan to let him know, got my stuff and Dave drove me to the YHA. We spent the rest of the day walking around town, doing some shopping and having lunch at the pub.
The next morning I got up at 5am (which was quite early for a girl like me) following another disturbed nights sleep waiting for the Skydive of Doom. I had a shower and waited anxiously for 6.50am to arrive so I could ring to find out if the jump was still on. Having seen the black angry skies, it came to no surprise to me to hear from another disappointed traveller that it had been cancelled once again. I called anyway to find out if there was any hope of rebooking for later and was told the weather would be "shitty" for the rest of the day
With a whole day to spare we had a leisurely breakfast and had a chat with the girls who had broken the news to me earlier that morning. We took a walk to the supermarket to get some nice deli food for lunch to cheer me up and spent most of the rest of the day booking things for Australia. It poured down with rain the entire day and I had little hope that it would clear up completely by the next morning.
The next day it was another 5am start (which was early for a girl like me) and this time I'd actually slept a bit better, starting to believe that the jump would never happen. We woke up to still pretty cloudy skies but for the first time there were patches of blue - well, navy at that time in the morning! I rang at 6.50am and was told the jump was indeed going ahead
Dave picked me up at 7am and was surprised to hear how unlucky I'd been. This time the minibus was full and I listened as Dave gave them the spiel and showed them where everything is, all the time saying "Lynne, you know all this by now!". When we got there, I overheard him having a word with the people behind the desk telling them that I'd already had 2 failed bookings and asking whether they could stick me on an early flight to ensure I went up. I heard them promise they'd get me on the 2nd or 3rd plane. I walked through to the waiting area and was pleased to see locker #7 (my lucky number) was free - I'm happy to be superstitious when I'm about to plummet 15,000ft to the ground! Just as I was locking it up, they started announcing the names of the people on the first plane. After rolling out 7 names, they added "oh and Lynne, we're going to get you on this plane too." What?! Oh. My. God.
Five minutes after I'd arrived I was putting on my red jumpsuit and climbing into a harness. I met my tandem instructor Benny who I later found out is the New Zealand skydiving champion - wish I'd known that before we went up! He tightened my harness so 'efficiently' that I was barely able to walk and my legs stuck out akimbo! We were ushered over to a TV where they played a video telling us what to do and I looked around to make sure no one else was able to pay any attention either. None of it sank in whatsoever because frankly there's quite a lot of stuff going through your mind at that point. But before I could worry too much, Benny was walking me over to the plane
I was the only one doing a 15,000ft jump as most people jump from 12,000ft so I had to be first on. While we were waiting I also met Ceri, my camera woman, who was from Wales and very tiny and cute. We waited for 10 minutes while the clouds passed over (had the jump been cancelled then I'd have flown the plane myself and jumped out) and the tandem instructors nagged the pilot to take off as the clouds would be long gone by the time we got to 12,000ft. We loaded ourselves on (with me walking like I'd pooed myself as my harness was so tight!) and the realisation that it was definitely going to happen started to kick in. I didn't really feel any "fear" by this point, just a few nerves and a constant feeling of "is this really happening?"! I was glad to see I wasn't the only one with bad thoughts running through my head when a girl behind me asked her instructor how many jumps he'd done so far which her friend managed to somehow mishear as "How many people have died so far this year?" When the guy answered "over 8000", the poor girl almost fainted!
We sat in the small plane straddling a tiny bench and got rather intimate with the people sitting around us. I have never seen anyone more petrified than the guy sat next to me. I tried to joke with him but I think his thoughts of death overcame his sense of humour
When we got to 12,000ft, the door was opened and the plane became freezing cold in a reminder of how high we were. I watched excitedly as each pair shuffled over to the door, sat on the edge and then bent round awkwardly to pose for their exit photo, desperately trying to pretend they weren't terrified. The instructor then pulled their head back against their chest and fell out of the plane into oblivion. Unbelievable.
Ceri kept looking at me and grinning while I kept saying "I must be crazy!" over and over. Later on she told me she couldn't help staring at me because my face looked such a picture! Before I knew it, I felt Benny lift me up and shuffle me toward the door. The moment had come. Ceri opened the door and crawled outside, clinging onto a bar by the door while she waited for us. I don't actually remember getting from the bench to the door (it's about 2-3ft between them and I wasn't sure how we'd get there when we were so tightly strapped together) other than it was swift and easy. Benny sat on the edge and I realised that I was no longer in the plane but just dangling from him just outside. It was a very weird feeling that I don't think I could begin to describe. We posed for the photo, Benny pulled the camera cord and then he pulled my head back and we fell out of the plane.
By this point I wasn't scared or nervous anymore
The wind was immense and blasted past my face and through my ears. It didn't feel as though we were falling at all other than the wind and my ears repeatedly popping. I tried to whoop with excitement but instead got 10 tons of air in my lungs which at least probably helped us to float! So many things flew through my mind as I tried to take in all the sensations and I completely forgot that Ceri was there. After about 15 seconds I remembered I'd paid a fortune to have this woman point a camera at me, and Benny and I made faces at her and did thumbs up signs (there's a limit to what you can physically do!). I kept looking away to look below me as the view was spectacular. I'm terrified of heights but I wasn't scared at all because you don't have any perception of just how high you are. It was awesome.
Before I knew it I felt Benny reach for the parachute and I held onto my harness in preparation for the jerk - quite a few people get caught out by it and I'd heard a lot about people passing out
After a minute or so he asked me if I wanted to take in some of the view and I foolishly agreed not knowing what he meant. He suddenly jerked on one side of the chute and swung us wildly up 90 degrees from the ground so that we were facing it as we had been before. He then did the same thing to the other side and we swung around in figure 8s until the ground came closer and closer. I didn't actually like that so much as the weight shift was quite sore on my thighs where the harness dug in and even now a week later I still have bruises there
All too soon we were almost back on the ground and Benny told me to lift my legs up as far as I could. The ground got closer a bit too quickly for my liking but the landing was smooth and fun as we slid along the damp grass. A cameraman was there filming my landing as he had done for the other people, who by that time I'd completely forgotten about. After swapping a sly smile with the petrified bloke from the plane (who was now akin to the Cheshire Cat), I went and stood with them and we all grinned from ear to ear as we filmed our closing segment for the DVD. We cheered and whooped and threw our hats into the air before jumping down on the ground and kissing it. Great fun!
After all the euphoria and congratulating each other on being alive, we were led back to the changing rooms and then into a tiny cinema. We looked at each other's exit photos (some were even more amusing than my chipmunk one, with my only thought regarding mine being "if I'd died, that monstrosity of a photo would have been the last one ever taken of me!") and then sat down to watch the DVD taken of me and the other fella who'd also paid a fortune for it. It was brilliant to see what I'd looked like on the way down (not nearly as terrified as I'd have expected) and when Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)" came on to accompany the landings, I felt myself get a bit emotional
So take the photographs and still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time
Tattoos of memories and dead skin on trial
For what its worth it was worth all the while
Its something unpredictable, but in the end its right,
I hope you had the time of your life.
- Green Day
To be continued....