FLYING WITHOUT WINGS

Those of you that know me will know that one of my biggest fears is heights. However, you might remember that skydiving was one of my “to do’s” on my bucket list. Taupo is the first destination in New Zealand where it is possible to do a skydive and I knew that if I was going to go through with it, I had to get it over and done with as soon as possible.

So there I was, Taupo Skydive Centre, Memorial Drive, Taupo (yes that is actually the street name!!).

0ft… Once we had arrived we were given a safety briefing and watched a video of other people skydiving – both did little to calm my nerves. It was then time to meet my diving instructor, Brett, and get ready for the jump. Within a few minutes I was dressed in an electric blue jumpsuit, complete with full body harness and hat (with chin strap!!). Safe to say I looked ridiculous but for the sake of safety I didn’t care. Time to board the plane!

7,500ft… Half way up! The views were already absolutely incredible – not that I could appreciate them or think about anything other than the fact I was going to be jumping out of a plane very soon.

10,000ft… Doors open! There was one girl who had decided to jump at 12,000 feet, so once at 10,000 the doors were opened in preparation for her skydive! The last thing I needed was to watch someone literally fall out of a plane just before I was about to do the same. She fell so quickly and it was at that point that I really thought “I CAN’T do this”!!

15,000ft… Fly or die time! So here we go, the long anticipated moment. I was first up, which in hindsight I’m very thankful for as I don’t think I could have sat and watched other people jump! People always ask “were you scared the chute wouldn’t open”, “was it cold up there”, “was it loud or quiet”. And the answer to all those questions is “I have absolutely no idea”. From the moment my legs were dangly over the side of the doorway I was thinking of nothing. And next thing I knew I was falling through the sky! The feeling is something that I will never be able to accurately describe.. But it was absolutely incredible!! It’s so exhilarating and breathtakingly beautiful at the same time!

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We were free falling for a minute in total, but I wish it had been longer! Having said this, once the parachute was opened it was awesome! It was at this point that I could really appreciate the views around me, and being able to see beautiful Taupo from that high up was unbelievable! Brett even let me steer the parachute, which was actually a lot more difficult than I realised. He was much better at it than I was so I swiftly returned the controls to him.

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So overall the flight went very smoothly.. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for our landing!! As you approach the ground there are people whose job it is to grab hold of you once you’ve landed so that the chute doesn’t pull you up again. Whether it was Brett’s misjudgment or the misjudgment of one of the ground staff, we somehow managed to land directly on top of her so she was completely flattened. Luckily no one was hurt and she was able to see the funny side, which was a good thing because Brett and I found it hilarious!

Once back on solid ground I was utterly speechless! Brett asked me if I would recommend others to do a skydive and I can honestly say that EVERYONE should do it at least once, regardless of whether you’re scared of heights (that includes you Dad!!).

Back down to earth… Safe to say it was a bizarre feeling to be walking around a supermarket within an hour of having landed from my skydive. Next stop was a unique Stray destination called Blue Duck Station, which is basically a farm in the absolute middle of nowhere. We had a house to ourselves, complete with bedrooms, living room and kitchen. With 30 of us in there it almost felt like what I would imagine an American frat/sorority house to be like. That night Jinx prepared the most amazing Mexican themed dinner, complete with barbecued chicken burritos and LOTS of sangria!!

It’s a good thing we had a good feed as our next stop was National Park, where we would be doing the famous 19km Tongariro Alpine Crossing! I knew it was going to be tough, but nothing could prepare me for how tough it really was. The first hour of walking is not so bad as it’s all pretty flat. After this, however, you have to traverse the mountain range, which involved climbing I-don’t-know-how-many steps. It felt like they went on forever and it really showed me how unfit I’ve become whilst travelling!! The views from the top made it all worth it though. From up there we overlooked the magnificent Mount Doom (famous from the Lord of the Rings films) and the beautiful Emerald Lakes! The whole walk took us 6 hours to complete but the views all the way were breathtaking and made it even more worthwhile!

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Our final stop on the North island was Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city. Unfortunately while we were there the weather was pretty dismal, but this gave us a good excuse to visit the famous Te Papa Museum. The museum was without a doubt one of the best I’ve been to… And I’ve been to a fair few of London’s! They had three exhibitions on – “The Scale of our War”, which was all about New Zealand’s involvement in the First World War. This was my favourite of the three – I had no idea the huge part that New Zealand had played against Germany!

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The second exhibition was called “People’s Impact on the Land”, which explained all about the hurricanes and earthquakes that NZ is so prone to and how things have changed over time. This was pretty cool and there was even a room you could stand in which simulated a real earthquake! Finally, the third exhibition was all about the Maori people and their culture. This was so interesting and I especially liked reading all about the history of the Haka, having watched it many times on the television during the All Blacks’ rugby matches.

That’s all for now but I’ll be back soon to tell you all about what we got up to on the South Island!

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I STRAY’D NEW ZEALAND

So on Monday 27th February we began our hop on hop off tour with Stray. Dragging ourselves out of bed and to our pick up location at some ungodly hour we met our tour guide/bus driver/fellow backpacker Jinx. He informed us that he had been given this nickname during his first week of training with Stray because everything he touched seemed to breakdown, which boded well for our forthcoming journey. One of the best things about Stray is it gives you the opportunity to meet all sorts of people from all over the world.

Our first stop was Hahei, a beautiful area in the Coromandel. Before checking in we stopped off at hot water beach, which is located directly above a hot spring – hence the name. The beach is known for digging your own natural hot tub. I was pretty sceptical at first but it actually does work! On our first night we made a group dinner all together, consisting of barbecued steaks and sausages with salads, coleslaw, and mash. Having recently been living on a diet of eggs on toast, Hannah and I were extremely excited to be having this meal and it was a great way to bond with the group. We then had a free day in Hahei, in which we explored the nearby beach and did the coastal walk all the way to stunning Cathedral Cove Bay.

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Next stop was Raglan, which is most well known for surfing! It’s actually one of the only places in the world where you can ride the same wave for 5 minutes!! En route to Raglan we stopped at Bridal Veil Falls, which was extremely impressive.

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Once settled in our hostel we were given the option to have a yoga session at ‘Inspiration Point’. Hannah and I jumped at the opportunity, having been wanting to try yoga since we started our trip. It was extra special to be able to do it on a platform looking over the ocean with the sound of cicadas all around us. Although our yoga skills may not have been up to par, the view most definitely was.

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After Raglan we stopped off at Waitomo on our way to Rotorua. This was one of the stops I was most looking forward to as its where you can go caving and see the glow worms. We spent a total of 4 hours working our way through the underground caves, scrambling over rocks and wading through the freezing water. The highlight was floating through a section of the caves in rubber rings where all you could see in the pitch black were thousands of tiny lights from the glow worms that clung to the ceiling. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before and looked like millions and millions of stars.

After staying one night in the geothermal town of Rotorua, we moved on to Lake Aniphenua where we would be staying in a Maori village. Having been delayed an hour due to our bus breaking down, we were extremely happy to arrive and the views of the lake and surrounding scenery more than made up for it. The Maori family we were staying with were extremely welcoming and told us all about their tribe and the traditions of their people. We spent the afternoon doing various activities – some of us learnt how to make bracelets out of reeds while others learnt a special form of martial arts, including the haka which they performed for the rest of the group later that day, much to our amusement! I decided to take the cooking lesson, in which we learnt how to make special fried bread. The recipe itself was pretty straightforward and a lot of fun to make. The pressure was on as the bread we were making would be used for the group dinner that night! Once we had finished we got to try the bread with golden syrup – it was so delicious!

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That night we had the most incredible traditional Maori feast prepared for us. To prepare the meat they wrapped it all up and placed it in a hole in the ground in which they used fire and water to smoke it. They covered it in tarpaulin and damp sheets and buried it all under soil to keep the heat in. It was then left to cook for 2 hours and by the time it was ready it had a wonderful smokey flavour. With the meat we had stuffing, potatoes, salad and our homemade bread. After that meal I had never felt so uncomfortably full in my life, but the food was so delicious it was definitely worth it!

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Look out for my next post to hear about my adventures in the sky…

KIA ORA!

We have now arrived in country number 4 of our trip, New Zealand. This is the stop that I was most looking forward to of all the places we visit – my mum used to live in NZ so has frequently told me how amazing the country is.. So far she has been absolutely right!

For our first week in Auckland we were lucky enough to stay in my parent’s friends’ apartment, which was in a perfect location with a beautiful view of the surrounding area. Having been living in hostels for roughly the last three months it was so lovely to have our own place to just chill out! It was also great to catch up with my parents’ friends, who were kind enough to take us out for dinner on a couple of occasions and show us around the city. Martha even took us to spend the day at a polo tournament, which was really good fun!

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Also while we were in Auckland we took the ferry out to Waiheke, which is a beautiful island covered in vineyards and beaches – it feels a world away from the busy city. Once on the island we visited the town of Oneroa where we had a look around and grabbed some lunch. We then spent the rest of the afternoon at Onetangi Bay, which was beautiful!

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Another thing I would recommend doing if you’re ever in Auckland is to go up the sky tower. You can see the whole city and surrounding area from up there and the views are absolutely breathtaking!

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Before leaving Auckland we took a trip out to Piha on the West coast. The beach was amazing, with black sand and huge waves!

Next stop was up to the Bay of Islands! I absolutely loved this place, mainly because of how stunning it is! It’s also where I finally got to see wild dolphins for the first time ever which was the most magical thing. We took a boat trip all the way up to the famous hole in the rock and got to see beautiful views of the New Zealand coastline. On the way we came across a school of about 30+ dolphins feeding. They were so playful, jumping out of the water and following the boat. They even had calves with them which was incredible to see. It was one of my favourite days of travelling for sure!

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The following day we took a tour all the way up to Cape Reinga, the most northern point of NZ. We were able to see the point where the Pacific and Tasman seas meet, which was beautiful. En route we drove down 90 mile beach which is actually a marked highway. However, in reality the beach is only 60 miles long. We also went dune boarding which was so much fun!!

We have now started our hop on hop off bus tour with Stray, so I will be back again soon to tell you about the first part of our trip!