The weather at Fox Glacier is fickle: clouds and rain give way to bright blue skies within minutes but then roll back less than an hour later. The tourism industry in this area depends on clear skies with helicopters and small planes only able to safely provide good views and the experiences customers seek when the sun shines. When we arrived in town, rain had blanketed the ground for days. We’d pre-booked a helihike, one of the few items on my “must-do” list for New Zealand, hopeful that the weather would clear by the day we were scheduled to fly. It didn’t. After repeatedly being moved to the next scheduled heli-hike, we were finally told, “Even if the weather clears and these go, I don’t have space for both of you.” We joined a waiting list and crossed our fingers, knowing we’d have to move on soon. Suddenly, the sun came out. A helihike group was called to gear up but everyone signed in and we were S.O.L.
A quick phone call and run down the street found us signing waivers, suiting up, and strapping in. What followed makes me grin every time I so much as think about it.
As the plane ascended, my eyes were glued to the window, watching the incredible vista unfolding below us. About 9,000 feet up, I realized I couldn’t breathe as deeply as I typically do. Mauro, the Argentine instructor with whom I’d be jumping, handed me an oxygen mask right on schedule. At 15,000 feet, I returned the mask to Mauro and watched Jen inch toward the door with her instructor. When Mauro asked if I was nervous, I smiled and shook my head, “nope.” At 16,000 feet, Jen stuck her feet out and before I knew it, she was falling. Seconds later, I was too.
65 seconds of free fall that I hope I never forget. Stunning views of the Alps, Fox Glacier, the Tasman Sea, farmland, lush plant life, dots that eventually materialized as grazing sheep, an entire eco-system below us. Wind rushing at me so fast I swore my goggles and tightly-tied shoes would fly off. Above the clouds, buoyed by the wind, enchanted by the scenery, secure in the knowledge that a parachute would get us safely aground, I was soaring.
When Mauro opened the ‘chute, he whooped and I laughed. Giddy with adrenaline and incapable of any expression other than smiling, laughter was my only option. The drift down was its own kind of fun. We talked about the geography and how great Mauro’s job is; we spun around; I stared in awe at the passing landscape, dreading the moment he’d tell me to lift my feet for landing. Still, I couldn’t stop grinning.
I hadn’t planned to go skydiving in New Zealand. To be honest, I’d done it once and while I enjoyed it, I never intended to try it again. But since we couldn’t get up in a helicopter to hike around on a glacier, jumping out of a plane at 16,000 feet seemed an obvious alternative. Jen raves about her bungy jump and wants to do another one. I think, at least for a while, I’ll walk away from skydiving and cherish the memory of Fox Glacier.