Falling into New Zealand, from 10,000 feet
Skydiving past the Remarkables from the Skyline gondola. (Irene Caselli)
Jumping out of a moving plane is not as revolutionary as it was 600 years ago, when Renaissance inventors started experimenting with the parachute. But that does not make the decision to tandem-jump any less thrilling. And if you are considering a jump, whether it is your first or fiftieth, New Zealand is the place to do it.
The country's first commercial drop zone was established in 1990 in Queenstown and the activity has grown quickly ever since, partly thanks to New Zealand's reputation for extreme sports. Taupo, in the north island, is considered the world's skydiving capital, with the highest number of tandem jumps per year. It is safe, decently priced and the landscapes are stunning - blue lakes and snow -capped mountains, glaciers and the ocean, fiords and beaches. You just pick your favourite background for the souvenir pictures and throw yourself from pretty much anywhere.
Even without the gorgeous backdrop, skydiving is surreal. No matter how often people tell you it is safe - you will never believe it until you have survived the experience. With a tandem jump you sign a release form, put on a jumpsuit and are quickly shown what to do once you leave the plane: how to cross your arms and bend your legs while in mid-air. Then you hand over your life to a stranger. Many thoughts start going through your brain as they strap you to your instructor. Is the guy who packed the parachute an expert? Did he do it right? Why did I not ask to see his credentials?
Luckily it all goes quickly. A moment later, you are on a plane (if it is a small plane, you are most likely sitting on your instructor's lap), then up above the extraordinary New Zealand landscapes. The flight up - which can otherwise be a torturous half hour of self doubt - is a sightseeing pleasure.
At 10,000 or 15,000 feet the door opens. Your guide goes out, and you with them, into a mid-air freefall. You see the plane you have just left, drift into the clouds (if there are any), and the land is far away but approaching rapidly. The 45 seconds where you just fly feel like an eternity.
Once the parachute opens you fall slow enough to take in the landscape, preferably at sunset or in a beautiful spot like the fiordlands or at the Franz Josef glacier.
Once you land (or rather your instructor lands) the adrenaline tires you out and the entire experience can be emotional and even addicting. If you find yourself hooked, do it again the next day. Every jump (especially if you make sure you do them in different stunning locations), comes with a deeper understanding of the elements around you, and it only gets better.
Some of the most spectacular places to jump into in New Zealand are the fiordlands, with a view of the lakes around Te Anau (outfitter: Zland); Franz Josef Glacier where you can see the Alps and the ocean on a sunny day (outfitter: Skydive Franz); Taupo, the world's skydiving capital (outfitter: Skydive Taupo); and Abel Tasman National Park where you take in the park's green before landing on a beach (outfitter: Skydive Abel Tasman).
It might not come with the same intensity of adrenaline felt at the end of the 18th Century by André-Jacques Garnerin, the Frenchman to whom the invention of the parachute is attributed, but skydiving over New Zealand is a perfect cocktail of beauty and insanity.