Travel Stories: Aotearoa. Land of the Long White Cloud

A powerful gust of wind roars through the beech trees and as I look up from my paperwork and out of the large bay windows I could see the surface of the lake being whipped up into a sea of white horses much to the delight of the 3 windsurfers. Their bright sails were billowing with the wind, causing them to race across the water, leaving a massive wake of white water behind them.

I returned to my paper, a study guide in preparation for my high altitude skydive training which would begin in earnest on Monday morning. Jumping from above 15,000 feet is commonplace in New Zealand, and this course will prepare me to become versed in the procedures I would need to know for this style of jumping.

I had arrived in New Zealand a week or so previously, having spent the summer season of 2012 working for Alex at the Dive Shop in London. I feel that during my first two years in diving, I achieved so much, but I was missing skydiving. Also, New Zealand had been on my radar for a long time, and I had always known it was the Mecca for extreme sports. It only seemed right then to dust off my old logbook and licence and apply for a working holiday visa. Fortunately, I had found work with a lovely dropzone called Skydive Lake Wanaka, on the South Island.

I drained the dregs of my beer, and as I got up to fetch another from the fridge in the kitchen, I looked at the other travellers who were seated in the common room of the hostel. In stark contrast to the hostels in the big cities of which I had been previously frequenting, hiking boots and khakis were the order of the day here. The faces fresh and windswept, and clothing an earthy coloured range of cargo pants and gore-tex soft shells. Large scale ordnance maps of glacial valleys and mountain ranges sat spread across the tables, and a soft murmur of voices could be heard planning the next day’s hike.

The next morning I woke to find the surrounding mountains now covered in a brilliant white, fresh coating of powder snow across their peaks. The storm had abated, and the mirror surface of lake Wanaka reflected perfectly the majesty of the mountains of Mount Aspiring national park. I started my cheap, rusty car, and made the 10-minute drive to the base of Mount Iron which has a 4.5km looped track which rises over 200 metres and ends up back at the car park again. My resolution during my time here was to run the loop several times a week and time myself to improve fitness. My time that day was just over 40 minutes, half the time the signpost in the car park says is the expected completion time so I felt good. Even the car park sits over 1000 feet above sea level, and during the ascent, my heart beats so hard I can feel my pulse up my neck and into the side of my face.

I have been on the South Island for 4 days now, after been rather unimpressed with staying in Auckland. Although a lovely city, the 1.5 million inhabitants reminded me too much of hectic London life and I was only too happy to cut my stay short and fly down to Queenstown. Although I must admit the museum was fascinating, and the surrounding countryside and beaches west of the city were out of this world. I didn’t realise the colour green came in so many shades and the huge fern leaves and palm trees of the sub-tropical forest lining the road felt a million miles from the rolling countryside of England.

A 1.5-hour beautiful flight later over the Southern Alps to Queenstown and I started to feel better about my new home. Driving over the Crown Range to the small alpine town of Wanaka, I truly feel excited about the future.

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