Flying over Lake Taupo

Jumping out of a plane wasn’t something I had ever wanted to do. But when I was faced with the proposition of turning 30 without having faced this feat at least once, I thought maybe it was time.

It just so happened that on my 30th birthday I would be in New Zealand – the world’s adventure corner that is known for its skydive firsts and of course its spectacular views. It was meant to be.

We drove to Taupo from our home in Wellington the day before the big jump. Tensions were high as everyone seemed to be leaving the city at the same time, oh yeah and we were jumping out of a plane the next day.

We took a half day and thought we’d beat the traffic, but we didn’t know that there is only one road out of the city – and everyone was on it. Eight hours later we arrived in Taupo.

Taupo is known for its absolutely massive lake called Lake Taupo, which is bigger than Singapore and came into being after an enormous volcanic eruption (which could happen again at anytime by the way…). As you drive into the town you can see the desert-like volcanic landscape that still surrounds it as well as the painted lush greenery that makes up so much of the New Zealand countryside.

The roads are windy and take you along the sea-like lake. We spent the evening in our beautiful Airbnb apartment close to the lake in a quiet neighbourhood, perfect for chilled out night before the big day.

When we booked the skydive with Skydive Taupo they told us to book early so they could find us another time if the weather was bad. Part of me wanted it to be cancelled, but I also realised at the same time how much I would regret it if I didn’t complete this mission on my 30th birthday – I just needed to do it.

Sure enough the weather was absolutely perfect and we were picked up in a limo and taken to our fate.

Everyone in the centre was good fun and there was only one other person in our group who seemed nervous, I tried not to talk too much to her. We were advised to go to the toilet before we put on our blue jumpsuits and get set…

I had decided that I wanted to do the best possible jump – this might be my last and only feat ever and so I wanted to do it properly. The highest you can jump is 15,000 feet in Taupo and so that’s what we signed up for. It turns out we were the only ones that wanted that height aside from one other guy from South Korea…

In reality this meant we had to take the plane ride up to 12,000 feet and watch the others make their jump. And that’s when the nerves kicked in.

I had been fine up until that point. OK, I was a little panicked about some things, but overall I was calm and pretty excited. Embarrassingly so really. For the duration of the video I have this huge grin on my face which I almost never shake, until 12,000 feet.

At 8,000 feet the highest jumpers (that’s us) also had to adorn an oxygen mask. This was my biggest fear – that I would become claustrophobic and panic in the mask. But when I saw the tiny little bodies of the people who were once sat in front of me on the plane sucked out at 12,000 feet a new fear kicked in – that would be me in a matter of minutes.

They were like ragdolls being thrown out into the ether with no control over those vast elements or their bodies. This was so much bigger than me.

I was processing these thoughts when I received a tap on the back from the man who would I share this experience with and the man whose lap I had been occupying for about 20 minutes.

It was time.

I looked around at Stephen and began chatting too much, saying that this might be the last time we’d see each other and “see you at the bottom”. We slid over to the edge of the plane where the temporary door had been opened, I didn’t look down. Our legs were hanging over the edge into the ether that I had just seen suck out my comrades.

I was told to put my head back and become a “banana”. It was difficult for me being so long, but at the moment I managed it we were gone.

We were spinning through the air at great speed. I was disorientated and absolutely filled with adrenaline, but I couldn’t see or move my face. The wind was so strong and cold that it was attacking me, my teeth, my lips, everything was cold and windy.

We were suddenly level and everything became clearer. I was freefalling through the sky with a man attached to my back, the earth below me and another man flying around me. He was beckoning me to throw my arms out, as we had been briefed to do. I tested the “water” for a moment and it was incredibly frightening. The moment I threw my arms out I thought I would be lifted even higher into the air and lose control. I drew them back into the safety of the harness and tried to take it all in.

I realised at that moment that some people really do just make things look easy.

Another sudden change and the parachute opened up. We were sent soaring high into the sky and my ears popped. In an instant the confusing loud noise I was starting to get used to had disappeared and it was completely silent. It was calm and still, as if I wasn’t moving at all.

In the quiet my tandem man started to talk to me and I gathered my senses. We were parachuting down now but I just felt like we were floating. I could see all of Lake Taupo and I’m pretty sure he told me that we were at 4,000 feet.

The views were unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It was like being in a plane as you are about to land but without any of the safety of the plane itself.

I knew I had done it. All we had to do was land. I could enjoy this bit. He spun us round and started to glide down towards our landing spot. Smoothly and with some speed (almost like a roller coaster as it speeds to a stop) we landed. I lifted my legs and he did all of the hard work.

And that was it. The adrenaline came rushing back. Everything that had just happened in those last 6 minutes dawned on me and it was a rush – I felt drunk.

It may have been a smooth landing but it’s hard to come down from that. The rest of the weekend we were high as kites, and absolutely determined to do it again. But where?

We did also see more of the beautiful Taupo – we took the Bargery on the lake, visited the Hot Springs and went to Wanderlust festival to see Ladyhawke and Norman Jay do their thing. These were all wonderful but nothing could truly match up to the dive. That’s a birthday I will never forget.