A hike up a glacier trumps sky-diving, writes Zalina Mohd Som
NEW Zealand offers a long list of adventures but since my maiden trip is made on a shoe-string budget, I cut it down to three — bungy jump, tandem sky-diving and a glacier hike.
First, Kiwi land is the birthplace of bungy jumping and home to one of the world’s most beautiful and oldest glaciers. Second, it is much cheaper to sky dive there than in Malaysia.
But as the days go by in New Zealand, I find I can’t afford all three activities. Well, since I’d bungy jumped in Koh Samui, Thailand, a few years ago, my choice of activities to forgo is obvious.
TANDEM SKY-DIVING IN TAUPO
My friend Ada isn’t her usual self as we make our way to Taupo from Wellington. She’s awfully quiet and she seems to be in a daze. Worried, we ask her why and her answer is short and firm: “The sky-diving this afternoon.”
Lee and I are excited but when we’re finally at the drop zone and signing the indemnity form, anxiety hits. Like Ada, we too enter a zombie-like mode.
My heart beats faster as the Taupo Tandem Skydiving employees prep us for the jump. We’re each given a jumpsuit, a body harness and a life-jacket (in case we fall into the lake!).
There’s a funny feeling in my stomach as I walk to the waiting plane and my mouth starts to turn dry as I get on board the small aircraft with 14 other passengers.
Beside the three of us, there are two other paying jumpers. Each of us has a tandem master, neatly strapped behind us, and another tandem master who will be the photographer and videographer.
All of us have signed up for the full tandem sky-diving package that includes video and photographs taken from the preparation stage to the jump and landing. However, we have chosen the 3,658m dive instead of the 4,572m.
The only difference is that the latter will give jumpers a one-minute free fall while we only get 35 seconds.
When we’re up in the air, time seems to slip by very fast.
Ada and Lee are quiet even when they sit at the edge of the plane. I scream my heart out when they both jump off the plane. I just can't contain myself.
Then my tandem master and I inch our way to the edge of the plane. My mouth is shut tight. Terrified, I let him push us towards Lake Taupo. We roll a few times — views of the vast lake and the tail of the aircraft go past until we are stable and floating on our stomachs in a banana position (our heads are up, our hands are on the harness and our legs curve up.)
The wind is strong and cold but the view of the lake and the greenery take my mind off it and the fact that I'm airborne at above 3,000m.
In clear weather, jumps at 4,572m offer coast to coast views of North Island and the snow-capped volcanoes of Tongariro National Park. And of course, the huge expanse of Lake Taupo, the biggest lake in the southern hemisphere.
When the parachute opens, the drop is slower and it’s a leisurely ride to the drop zone at the lakeside which is a 10-minute drive from Taupo.
The chic, small city is 284km from Auckland or about four hours’ drive up north. (See page 4 for more on Auckland)
GLACIER HIKE IN FRANZ JOSEF
When we sign up for a glacier hike in Franz Josef, we don’t know what to expect. But we assume it will be a hike on ice.
Are we in for a surprise!
Franz Josef doesn’t wait too long to surprise us, it stuns even when we’re at the Franz Josef Glacier Hike office.
When each of us is given a pair of hiking boots, a pair of crampons and a set of waterproof pants and jackets, we’re confused at what will be waiting at the glacier.
From the office in the heart of the little town of Franz Josef, we hop on a bus that takes us to the starting point of the hike, some 5km away.
We are divided into two groups — the fast and the slow. We choose the slow group. The fast group takes the trail that goes along a small stream, while our guide takes us across the valley floor, crossing a number of shallow streams.
Though it looks shorter, the trail is tougher as we have to adjust our footing with the “new” boots over rocky surface.
I assume that the trail we’re walking on is part of the river bed when the river swells up.
The sight of the mud-covered glacier, with hints of glowing blue motivates us to muster energy and brave the arduous walk.
As we come closer to the glacier, my heart stops to see a line of trekkers making a zig-zag line up a mound of rocks. Gosh!
We hike up a “little” rock first, one step at a time. Once we’re on the other side of the hill, our guide stops and asks us to take out our crampons.
He says it’s important to properly attach the crampons to our boots and there are rules to follow when we walk with crampons. Otherwise, walking on ice with spike steels will not only be an uncomfortable and tiring experience but also dangerous.
By the time we put on our crampons and start walking on the ice, the fast group can no longer be seen.
Walking with crampons is not easy. We have to lift our feet higher than usual and place them back at shoulder-width.
First, this is to avoid lifting the foot while the spikes are still embedded in the ice and also to prevent stepping on the other foot with the steel spikes.
Still, to be on ice millions of years old — walk on it, hold it and surrounded by it — is a surreal experience that beats jumping off the plane!
Nearby Fox Glacier is another venue to experience. Both are located on the west coast of South Island, about 550km from Picton, a small town where inter-island ferries connect both the North and South Islands.