I reached Wanaka, a town an hour or two north of Queenstown, in the evening after stopping at the Cardrona Hotel for a scrumptious dinner. Said hotel is a characterful old building near the ski stations between Queenstown and Wanaka that is always packed (I’m told) of a winter’s evening.
From day one I had had my sights on Wanaka being the location for a skydive, weather-permitting. A morning call confirmed all systems were go and I was booked in for a 1pm jump. This gave me a post-breakfast timeslot to fill. On the shore of Lake Wanaka sat some kayaks for hire. It didn’t take long to match problem with solution. The lessor of the kayaks told me if I paddled out I would find Ruby Island (it was blending in with the headland from our vantage point). He thought I should be able to make it there and back in an hour.
With this exhortation ringing in my ears I set off. Half an hour later and somewhat weary, the island still seemed a fair way off. As I spun the boat to take a selfie I saw Ruby Island back where I had come from. I had missed it! Determined not to pay for a late return, I knuckled down and gunned it for the shore. The kayak rental guy looked surprised when I all but fell out of the boat onto the shingle, panting heavily and sweating profusely, 58 minutes after I had departed.
I had an appointment with gravity to keep so I showered and sped off to Wanaka Skydive’s HQ at the airfield. I explained that I had parachuted before but on my own and without freefall as I had been too heavy for a tandem jump in my rugby-playing days. I was weighed up and came in at a svelte 96kg this time: 4kg to the right side of the limit. It was on!
Fred, the friendly Quebecois who was to be my jump partner, helped me into my harness and bundled me unceremoniously onto the plane with seven or eight other jumpers. The video below will describe the rest better than I. Sadly, the video is stuck on a USB stick and I am currently without means to download it. I will update this post once it is available.
Video evidence or nay, it was 15,000 feet of pure awesomeness. I was buzzing for a long time afterwards.
On my final day in Wanaka I had allowed myself the luxury of a sports massage in the afternoon so I told myself I needed to ensure my body was fully wrecked to get best value for money. With this in mind, I played some lawn bowls. Only joking. I did play bowls, but I also picked the tallest mountain in the vicinity and challenged myself to climb the 8km to the summit without stopping once and then to run back down. This I duly did. Body successfully wrecked. All I needed now was to stave off cramp long enough to be able to drive to the sports massage clinic.
The massage blurred the line between agony and bliss but I walked out (which was already a significant achievement) a new man.
Leaving Wanaka in my rearview mirror (after a quick session of archery, clay pigeon shooting and .22 rifle shooting), I headed for the west coast glaciers at Fox and Franz Josef via a picturesque but painful night by the beach at Bruce Bay where carnivorous sandflies dined on John fillet as I watched the sunset.
On arrival in Franz Josef, it was suggested that, although too windy currently, the weather was set to improve enough to land a helicopter on the glacier itself the following day and to go for a crampon-enabled walk. This idea floated my proverbial boat so I went to sleep with fingers crossed.
To my great delight, my finger crossing had clearly managed to affect the weather and, a safety briefing later, I was airborne and heading straight for the vivid blue crevasses and fissures of the Franz Josef glacier. Although I’d seen the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina, never had I been so up-close-and-personal.
We deployed crampons as a group and followed our guide along a track cut into the ice, pausing for optimum photo poses.
When safely back in the town after a very special experience, I felt it necessary, having had the ice, to have the G&T that goes with it. This idea appealed to two Cornish chaps I met in the bar and a jolly good knees-up was had by all.