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Part of the draw of visiting New Zealand is the Kiwis’ unquenchable thirst for adventure. You want to get into a giant rubber ball and roll down a hill? Go zorbing in Rotorua. Want to go white-water rafting over waterfalls? Stay in Rotorua. White water sounds too blasé? Go black water rafting in Waitomo, where you get to jump off of waterfalls backwards with an innertube around your bum and then float through caves filled with the sparkling lights of glowworms above.
All of these are great fun, but usually there are one or two activities that trump these on everyone’s to-do lists: skydiving and bungee jumping. I have never wanted to bungee jump, but skydiving has always appealed to me. What a rush it would be…until 5,000 feet, when the chute comes out, letting you float calmly towards the ground. That seemed much more sensible to me than hurtling towards the ground hoping they gave you the right length of rope!
And it was a rush. I was on a high for the rest of the day after throwing myself out of that perfectly good airplane, and I would do it again in an instant.
In New Zealand, though, it often doesn’t take an instant to decide on what exactly your skydiving adventure will entail. There are so many skydiving options that it’s hard to choose when and where to go. These are the main considerations that need to be put into this choice:
This can be hugely variable, especially between the North and South Islands, although this gap seems to have shrunk in recent years. As the South Island is more of a tourist magnet, prices for a dive here can be much more than what they are on the North Island (in 2005, when I went, it was over $300 in Queenstown vs. $199 in Lake Taupo). Also, in locations where there are multiple operators (like Lake Taupo), the operators often have specials to try to lure people away from the competition (the one I went for was $40 off if you go before 10am). Here are the current prices for dives in various parts of the country:
Auckland: $325 (13,000ft), $395 (16,500ft)
Paihia (Bay of Islands beach landing): $295 (normally $380 — 12,000ft)
Taupo: All three major companies (Freefall!, Taupo Tandem, & Skydive Taupo) have jumps for $249 (12,000ft) and $339 (15,000ft)
Abel Tasman: $299 (13,000ft), $399 (16,500ft)
Kaikoura: $350 (12,000ft), $380 (13,000ft)
Fox Glacier: $299 (12,000ft) $399 (16,000ft)
Wanaka: $299 (12,000ft), $399 (15,000ft)
Sadly, it seems like the one I always wanted to do — Skydive the Sounds, which flew you from Wellington across the Cook Strait and then dropped you above Queen Charlotte Sound — has closed down.
As with many activities, skydiving operators offer a plethora of extras. While it may seem exorbitant to have to pay $20 extra to get a picture of yourself at the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, that pales in comparison to the cost of a video or photos of your skydive. Often, if you want a video, you will have to pay the cost of the dive again; this is because they send another diver to follow you with a camera.
I know this sounds ridiculous; why not just do another dive with that money? That’s certainly what I thought when I did a dive as a student on a budget, and it’s something I really wish I’d thought twice about. I would have shown that video to many people, and the pictures would have been some of the most exciting of my trip. Instead, I opted to pay $15 for a video of me landing…but you can hardly even tell that it’s me.
As you can see in the ‘Cost’ section above, you have quite a few choices for the height of your dive. The main difference between these is the amount of time you spend in freefall. If you jump from 9,000 feet, you will spend about 30 seconds in freefall before you hit 5,000 feet and your parachute is deployed. For 12,000ft, you are in freefall for around 45 seconds; for 15,000ft, it stretches to a minute. I was happy with my 12,000ft skydive but some people may want just a bit more of an adrenalin rush!
The biggest price jump usually comes between 12,000 and 15,000ft.
This may or may not matter to you, but I wanted to make sure I had some good scenery to look at — and really, since you’re in NZ, that’s what it’s all about, right? During my flight up, I got to see Lake Taupo and all of its surrounds, including the Tongariro Crossing that I would be walking the next day. I saw this on the way down, too, but until the parachute was deployed, I was paying a lot more attention to the fact that it didn’t feel like I was falling, but rather, that the earth and air were rushing up at me really quickly!
All of the places that I’ve listed above are stunning drop sites — it just depends what you’re interested in. Auckland will give you a city landscape and a great view of the turquoise harbour waters around it; if you dive the Abel Tasman you’ll get to see long stretches of golden sand and little yellow dots of kayakers taking day trips along the coast. In Kaikoura you’ll get to see the craggy peaks of the Kaikoura Ranges and you might even get to see a whale! At Fox Glacier you’ll see the glaciers, Mount Cook, and a panoramic view of the Southern Alps (but the section below applies very much there because the West Coast has notoriously cloudy weather). In Queenstown, the most popular spot for adrenaline seekers, you’ll see sparkling Lake Wakatipu and the perfection of the Remarkables. Really, you just can’t lose with any of these choices!
Skydiving is very much dependent on the weather. If there’s a lot of cloud around, chances are that your dive is going to get postponed. I was quite lucky and chose an almost perfectly clear day for my dive, but New Zealand weather is not always that friendly, especially around the West Coast and Fiordland. I recommend checking out forecasts; I know these can be dicey, but some, like those provided for trampers by the DoC, are reliable enough to tell you if some days are going to be absolute no-gos. The last thing you want is to book a skydive and then spend days in a holding pattern, not being able to plan other activities until you find out whether the dive is doing ahead or not.
Hopefully all of this helps you make the most of your skydive (or skydives!) in New Zealand. In a country that offers so many amazing experiences, this is one of the most memorable!
Skydive Queenstown photo by Or Hiltch on Flickr.