After drinking the night away in the Red Rock for the black Friday party and taking a cross-country route back to my friends place I was feeling pretty shabby when I woke up. I said my goodbyes once we’d pieced the night before together and headed back to Queenstown airport along the Crown Range Road and through Cardrona.
I landed back in Auckland and telephoned the first airport hotel I found that had a free airport shuttle service. The timing was perfect as I just managed to check in, deposit my bags in my room, book a wake-up call and a seat on the 0630 shuttle before settling down to watch the new-look All Blacks cream England.
I’m now in Sydney where I’ll be for just over a week, catching up with friends and flatmates from university days and also some family who emigrated over 20 years ago. The weather is still pretty warm and there has been quite frequent rain showers since I landed but this is an improvement on the persistent (but welcome) rain from the previous fortnight. Another positive: I was treated to the sight of a rainbow above the clouds when approaching Sydney airport a couple of days ago.
I left the vivid colours of Autumn behind me and headed for the distinctly chillier climes of the South Island. I did attempt to acclimatise myself beforehand though with a visit to Minus 5 Ice Bar in Auckland but there was no need to worry. The temperature had climbed to zero by the time we landed in Queenstown. I love being able to see the mountains so I was always going to love it here. Flying in this morning over the Southern Alps was really nice but I was stuck in an aisle seat with a snap-happy Japanese girl obstructing my view out of the window.
Once we landed at Queenstown I hired a car – smaller this time and manual transmission which took some getting used to. It’s no Zeus but maybe could be one of the lesser gods.
Having found a voucher in my welcome brochure for 30% off a massage I set off into town but somehow ended up in the parachute jump place to see if they had anything available for tomorrow. They did but the weather is supposed to be crappy for the next couple of days and it just so happened that they had a free space this afternoon.
Well that was it. The next thing I knew, I was in a jumpsuit with a man strapped to my back and sat in a small plane climbing to 15,000 feet above ground level (which is 16,020 feet above sea level here in Queenstown). Falling at 54 meters per second for just over a minute. Somewhat weirdly maybe but I was far more nervous doing the SkyJump. I’m pretty sure that stumbling across how to survive an unplanned freefall from 15,000 feet had nothing to do with my lack of nerves.
Once back on terra firma I made plans to meet up with a few of the other jumpers for some drinks and a bite to eat back in town.
I checked out of the hotel and arrived at the airport in plenty of time to reserve an exit window seat. Passed through security and went looking for a beer. Stocks were seriously diminished for some reason so I sat down to finish my book and wrote a letter to my brother. Leaving the land of rollerblades and mobile phone hands free sets behind me.
This flight actually has a reliable trip distance thanks to the seatback screen information instead of having to rely on the web. I also got plied with lots of booze and sat next to a like-minded girl called Carly who was on her way back to Adelaide after her round-the-world trip.
I liked New Zealand immediately when I noticed the red line painted around the baggage reclaim carousel. It was quiet so things may be different at other times but in this case the protocol was impeccably observed. To pass some time while I waited for the Airbus Express service to start I spoke to the Air New Zealand desk about flights to Queenstown. It turns out that I could amend my existing itinery for £40. This tool my mileage up to 28,896 (or 99.6%) of the maximum 29,000 allowed on the Escapade ticket I hold.
I made my way into the city as the rain dried up and the sun rose. Checked into a hotel, had a quick shower to freshen up, skipped breakfast to offset the jetlag and went exploring. I gave myself an adrenalin shot by doing the SkyJump – twice. Jumping off the highest tower in the Southern hemisphere on a fan descender controlled free fall for 192 metres sure wakes you up quickly.