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Allyson’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 27 Nov 2005

Location: Taupo, New Zealand

MapAfter a week spent in Queenstown, Laura & I headed out early on Tuesday morning for Christchurch. The drive took nearly all day. Along the way we stopped at Lake Wakatipu - a glacial lake with a brilliant blue colour. As the glacier moved and gouged out the lake's basin, it crushed the rock into a fine, flour-like powder - 'rock flour'. The rock particles float in the water and give the water a milky quality which refracts the sunlight and creates the brilliant blue colour. For lunch we stopped at a Lake Tekapo, also a glacial lake by the town of the same name.

In the evening we were back in Christchurch and staying in a hostel called Country Cottage. It's about a 15-20 min walk from the city centre, but very home-like and comfortable. The only bad thing about the place was that it was absolutely freezing inside!

On Thursday we were off again and headed for Kaikoura where you can swim with the dolphins. However, the bad weather continued to persist and the dolphin swimming was called off because of a rough sea. There was the option to go on a waiting list to swim with the dolphins at 5.30am the next day but I really couldn't be bothered with that. So for the rest of the day we hung around the hostel playing cards and reading. There was no TV which was nice for a change because people made an effort to talk to each other and play games. The day was quite entertaining purely because of the funny group of people that we met on the Kiwi bus that day. They were always making jokes and doing Little Britain impersonations.

On Friday it was back on the bus and off to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. Wellington is on the North Island, so it was bye bye South Island. We drove from Kaikoura to Picton and from Picton we rode the ferry to the North Island. The scenery on the drive out of Kaikoura was beautiful. On our right hand side was the ocean, and on the left hand side was green vegetation, with snow-capped mountains in the distance.

Wellington isn't a pretty city, but it does have a good night life. That night the Foo Fighters were playing, so all the hostels were packed out. Laura & I had to shell out quite a bit more dosh than we would normally pay for a room that night.

On Saturday it was another early start for Taupo. We didn't stop in any place of great interest, but the scenery as we entered Taupo was very different from anything I've ever seen before. (Unfortunately, I couldnt take any pix because I think I left my camera in Kaikoura.) About 40 mins from Taupo is the Tongariro National Park which is New Zealand's 1st national park, established in 1887. It is a sacred place to the Maori and in order to preserve it, a Maori chief offered it to the NZ government as a gift, on the conditions that they turn it into a national park. The park contains three volcanoes, Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. The name Tongariro comes from 'tonga' (south wind) and 'riro' (carred away). According to Maori legend, a priest was stuck on the summit and had almost perished from the cold. He called to his sisters in Hawaiki for fire, saying he was being 'carried away by the south wind'. As the sisters approached they ignited the volcanoes. All three volcanoes in the park are still active. Ruapehu erupted in 1995 and again in 1996. Both Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe were used in the Lord of the Rings films to represent Mt Doom. According to our Lonely Planet guidebook, Ngauruhoe is the one which most resembles the Mt Doom we see in the movie, but I can't validate that fact because its been so cloudy that I haven't seen the volcanoes yet.

The land that we drove through had no trees growing in the area, only tufts of straw-coloured grass on knobby ground. In the cuttings made to create the highway you can see the different layers formed from the lava flows. Then as we drove closer to Taupo, the landscape changed into pine forests. About 10km outside of Taupo we ran into a bicycle race which goes around Lake Taupo. This is 160km race! Our driver became very stressed out while driving behind all the cyclists. Some of them paid no attention whatsoever to the bright green bus behind them and would swerve about on the road.

Lake Taupo is NZ's largest lake and was formed by 'one of the greatest volcanic explosions of all time'! I quote lonely planet here. The explosion which formed the huge hole which is now filled by Lake Taupo took place 26,500 years ago and was like Krakatoa and Mt St Helens combined and then multiplied by 80.

A lot of travellers that we have met did their skydives in Taupo as its the cheapest place to do it. The 3 skydiving companies are having a price war at the moment, so it was even cheaper than usual. So before we checked into our hostel, we stopped off at one of the sky dive companies to book our sky dive for the next day. Because the weather has been so changeable we had to call the sky diving company the next morning to check if the jump was going or not.

When we called the next morning we were told that it was on hold for the moment and that we should check back in an hour. So I was taking my time with my breakfast and coffee and talking to a lady from Yorkshire about skydiving. She had booked one for later on that afternoon. Then Laura came and got me and said, "We're gonna do our skydive now - they're here to pick us up!" I was pretty sure in my head that the skydive was going to be called off so I was feeling quite calm that morning. But I got nervous as we quickly grabbed our things and piled into the minibus.

Since we were doing a tandem skydive, there wasn't much preparation to be done. As we walked in, the guys were packing up the parachutes. We filled out some papers, put on our jumpsuits and harnesses and met the guys who would be going tandem with us. It took about 15 minutes for this to happen. Then we boarded the plane and took off. We were in the plane for another 15 minutes until we levelled off and could jump. Since Laura & I were the first ones in the plane, we were the last ones to jump. I was the very last person. Jumping out of the plane happened quickly too. They give you no time to reconsider your decision. Once you were on that plane, you were committed. Jason, the guy strapped to my back pushed me to the open door, I smiled at the camera man as he jumped out and then whoosh, we were out of the plane. My stomach jumped into my chest, just like it did in the canyon swing, but the sensation left quickly and was replaced with a weightlessness. All I could hear was the wind rushing in my ear and me screaming. At first I was afraid to move my arms about, but then I got used to the wind rushing against my body and started doing some moves for the camera. The freefall lasted for 45 seconds. During that time we fell at 200km an hour. It's hard to explain, but It happened both fast and not fast. It was a long 45 seconds, but also over before I wanted it to be over. Before I boarded the plane I asked Jason if we could do some flips and I think we did one before he pulled the chute. After he pulled the chute I could take in my surroundings and then I noticed that we were falling through a cloud. When we broke through the cloud I could see Lake Taupo and the land below me. Jason started turning the chute so that we would spiral down, which was really fun. I could see the other jumpers below me, floating to the landing site. The landing was quite easy. I was expecting it to be harsh, but it was very soft. Jason told me to pull my legs up to my knees. As he touched the ground, I put my legs down and we were standing. I had the biggest smile on my face.

When I started this trip I never intended to skydive. I couldn't understand why someone would want to intentionally jump out of a plane. Also, I hate those rides that have a vertical drop - I don't like the feeling it gives you in your stomach. However, I met so many people in NZ that said their skydive was so amazing, and some of them had been really scared to do it, but were so glad that they had. They also told me that you don't get the feeling of your stomach jumping into your throat. So that's why I decided to give it a go. I'm so glad I did. It really has been the highlight so far. After I jumped I felt like nothing else could top the experience I just had. I want to do it again!!!!