6 days of scary and all I got was this graze… from a maze

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Before I start the next story Kelly and I may not of mentioned the sand flies in New Zealand. The blood-thirsty, ankle-biting, scratchy, torturous sand bastards.

Or so I like to call them.

You can imagine the picture I’m trying to paint. It’s with this knowledge the first day of scary in Franz Josef starts.

I’d arranged with Tom to get up early as we’d be walking up to Franz Josef Glacier that morning. After waking up at 7:45 I discovered a grouchy Kelly had not slept and therefore would not be partaking in the walk. Mainly because the sand fly bites she had accumulated kept her awake and scratching all night, which had caused them to hurt too. Not nice, so I left her to doze through the morning knowing what awaited us that afternoon.

En route to Franz Josef to elaborate, Kelly came good on a pact with Sophie, to skydive Fox Glacier, in a kind of I-will-if-you-will agreement that meant they didn’t have to do it alone. I decided to join in, having previously not wanted to because I’d already jumped in the UK. Having learnt though, that my UK exploit was 10,000 (10,000!!!) feet lower than those in NZ I felt up for it. This challenge awaited Kelly and I in the afternoon, so I let her get some rest.

A small band of us, including Sophie ventured up towards a walkable route to see Franz Josef Glacier. The other option involved a helicopter and a chunk of cash, so we decided to take the long way up. The total time expected there and back was somewhere above 5 hours, we got going at 9am, but Sophie and I had already agreed to set off back home at 11:30 to ensure we wouldn’t miss the skydiving bus. Even though we secretly wanted to miss the bus anyway! It was a cloudy day too, so everyone expected the skydive to be cancelled.

I expected the skydive to occupy my mind but I was quite focused on not slipping down the rocks and doing Shorty impressions from the Temple of Doom as we crossed very rickety bridges. When we got to a very long, thin new bridge I admit it was a bit unnerving until Sam planked across it. Brave silly man. Anyway that was our turning point so we headed back, not quite getting to the glacier but working up a good sweat nonetheless. Sophie and I headed back and chatted about the impending 13,000 jump we were about to undertake!

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Back at base Kelly was up and at it, recovered from her extra sleep and not so nervous. Ross and another Andrew joined us to make 5 in the group, all expectantly waiting to see if the cloud cover was low enough to relieve us from fear. It wasn’t, and the bus arrived to take us away.

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When we got to Fox Glacier we changed and sat through our briefing, each with a brave face on, trying not to think about it. The skydive instructors teasing and over-confidence in their demeanour not helping.

I’ve done this before I kept thinking, and to be honest that kept me cool, or cool-cool as I kept answering to whatever question I was asked.

Kelly and I would be together in the second plane, so up we went,

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strapped onto our expert skydivers. Mine a man could Paulo I immediately clocked as Brazilian, asked me to move around a few times, me being slightly weightier than him can’t have been comfortable given I had to sit in his lap for the 10 minute ascent.

Finally we reached the required 13,000 feet. The view out the windows was amazing, a glacier between two snowy mountains through one, then a rainforest and a beach out the other, what a marvel to behold. Oh I’m going now? You want me to position myself how? Oh God it’s high up here! And windy, are you going to count me down? Ok we’re goooooooooing!

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In my kind of Aguerooooo moment we were off and free falling towards earth for a full minute. Can’t hear much apart from the whohooo inside my own skull, and occasionally a GoPro is stuck in my face to remind me I’m not alone in this experience. Afterwards the others told me they couldn’t remember the first bit, adrenalin and panic I guess. I do remember that minute though, beginning with getting used to gravity like a rollercoaster, then when we’d settled I just remember thinking this is brilliant! Then thinking the scenery was pretty but actually I don’t care about that – I’m falling! Then I kind of got used to falling and became calm.

Suddenly the parachute opened and I remembered that’s important, I’m glad that opened.

We then glided down to earth slightly awkwardly; me steering, trying to talk about Brazil, Paulo pointing out the scenery, (yes I saw), but it was a long time down.

So that was the first scary thing done, back in the hostel we all celebrated with a welcome beer, before preparing for pizza night. An even better reward for walking up a glazier before seeing one at 13k. This involved as many pizzas as you could eat in an hour. Our table ready, worked our way through them one after another as they came out every 5 minutes or so.

The following day we left Franz Josef, went to a mirror lake that wasn’t a mirror (because of the unfortunate rain), and drove for 6 hours. It was kind of a throwaway day getting to Wanaka – our last stop before Queenstown. There was a curry though, mmmm curry.

The following morning we went to Wanaka’s Puzzling World. A themed attraction with a maze and an assortment of mental conundrums. Kelly and I decided to tackle the maze first, which should’ve been easy but proved, well, puzzling. We had to reach the four corner towers first then find our way out. Now time was pressing and for some reason we were filming it on our GoPro so I ran around trying to solve the riddle of the maze. Naturally me being me, and having form at this sort of thing, fell over. More comically than anything, turning whilst on the ground to film the reaction of those behind me. I stood up with small graze that looked much worse than it was, but no harm done.

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Back on the bus and onto Queenstown. First stop AJ Hacketts Bridge bungy and signing up for the Nevis, which we’d do on our return to Queenstown after the bottom bus. The two Canadians Cody and Dylan entertained everyone with the first bungy jumps of the tour, in front of an expectant crowd. Then off to QT.

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Kelly and I had booked onto the bottom bus down to Invercargill near the southern most tip of the South Island the following day. This meant we had to do a canyon swing like now, like right now!

Now a bungy jump sounds scarier, and technically is higher but this packed more punch. The setup being a cliff face, a ledge and a cable 60m up and 200m as a swing. How you get off that ledge is up to you. We saw a list of 75 (known) options that include a kids tricycle, skis, upside down, forwards, backwards and tandem.

We opted for the latter but my personal favourite if I was going solo would’ve been getting kicked off the ledge “This is Sparta” style.

We went first. Now I knew that the guys securing us into our harness would mess with us, but that didn’t stop the nerves hitting me when I stood on the ledge and looked down. I’m not really scared of heights but this was something else.

So with Kelly stood to my left (and bolted to me), I adjusted my GoPro and shuffled to the absolute edge of ledge and pondered for a second.

3-2-1 rang out behind me before I could think and I was dragged off the edge thinking we’d go after one, whereas Kelly thought we go on one.

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I don’t remember the 3/4 seconds we were plummeting, just the screams in perfect unison. It was scary. It made me more scared of the bungy now. Get me up and out of this canyon please.

We were winched up and messed with again, the guys at the top pretending something had broken or some guff. Then we stood aside and let others experience the concentrated madness for themselves. One such maniac decided to take up the organisers on their offer of going naked. Crazy. I don’t think he could share those photos.

We headed back and I must admit Queenstown had us. We dashed back for a bar crawl that lasted into the night. The unexpected scary things complete, we could rest up for a few days in preparation for the big one. The scary 134m Nevis Bungy…

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