Blue skies… (2012)

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Kind of musky with a deep undercurrent of chemicals with the slightest hints on urine…

The smell of wetsuits and dive gear is a familiar one and very welcome after 6 weeks of life on the road and difficult challenges.

I am sat across a desk from a chap named Steve who owns and runs Scuba Steve, a dive operator (and the only one I believe) here in Wanaka, New Zealand. His large 4×4 with a boat in tow sits on the driveway of the converted house and is that the distant hum of a compressor that I can hear? I am keen to keep progressing with my dive career, and having such an excellent facility 10 minutes’ walk from my house is a blessing.

Steve’s eyes light up when I tell him I am a qualified technical diver and confesses that this is a very new industry here and my arrival in town brings the total number of tech divers to 4! He then proceeds to inform me what a great location lake Wanaka is for diving in general with clear waters and wall dives down to the 50m mark – perfect for cutting my teeth! He also wastes no time mentioning OZTEK 2013, and I fail to hide my excitement at the prospect! (OZTEK is a basically comic-con for technical divers in Australia and NZ – any UK and European divers will know the EUROTEK equivalent).

He is also chuffed to realise I am an instructor and by pure luck, his primary training day is the day I have off work and that I would be welcome to come to help out with teaching and training. A successful meeting for sure! I don’t leave before giving him my contact details and walk out with the mental note to e-mail my Dad to ask to him to mail my dive gear out to me – I am not looking forward to the bill for that one!

The spring days of the last 6 weeks characterised by chilly mornings and evenings are giving over to the balmy south island summer days. It’s not getting dark until gone 9pm, and the UV from the sun packs a mean punch. However, as I leave my meeting with Steve, there are some foul looking clouds gathering around the mountain peaks, and I can feel the low pressure of an imminent storm and so do what anyone would do in this situation…I pack my hiking boots into my car and head for Mount Roy via the supermarket for mixed nuts and seeds.

At 1600m (5250’) high, Mount Roy is an excellent local hike and although by far one of the least challenging locally still provides a great way to spend an arvo. It is now coming up 3pm, and I need to be off the mountain by 9pm before darkness so anything higher would be out of the question.

The hike begins in Alpine meadow covered in low lying trees, bushes and a whole lot of sheep. I have the sombre tones of Sigur Rós playing through my iPod and with the dark clouds and rain truly setting in I don’t think there would have been anything more appropriate than haunting Icelandic tunes to complement this dark and wet hike.

With Altitude comes the loss of trees which are instead replaced by steep, tussock covered slopes and I always love that moment when you actually ascend into the cloud. When I stop for a water break, I take out my earphones and am almost deafened by the silence. It’s a cliché for sure, but pure silence is such an odd sensation. There was not even a whiff of wind and not a trace life in sight. Each step I take crunches on the path, each gulp of water and each crack of my teeth as I eat my trail mix are deafening and almost reverberate through the fog.

By the time I reach the summit, the wet sleet has been replaced by real snow, and it actually looks like it’s settling. I rest on the summit for a few minutes, but I am ill-prepared for the cold up here as I had been lured into the trap of thinking that a didn’t need warm clothing in the middle of summer! The first few hundred metres of the descent I completed quickly with my numb hands tucked into pockets and by the time I collapse back at home, I pull an entire steak out of the fridge and cook it up with salad and ate the lot.

Yesterday was my first skydive back after the challenges of the last few weeks with the passing of a colleague of mine followed shortly by that of my boss. It kind of made sense too, I have been getting my teeth stuck into training hard so that I am comfortable with my new working roles and I think everyone developed an unwritten pact to take it steady for a while and just get on with tasks in hand.

The funeral was one to be proud as a jumper of with the casket being brought in to the song ‘I like to move it, move it’ and then loaded onto the jump aircraft to the sound of ‘Born to be Wild’ by Steppenwolf through a guard of honour formed by skydivers and crew of the Dropzone. His rig was placed on to the casket much like that of a fallen soldier’s rifle, and the plane performed a very low and slow flyby followed by a very low and fast flyby with the engine’s roaring as its nose pulled up and pointed skyward making its way to 10,000 feet. Over 100 people were in the crowd, and their cheers coupled with the roar caused goosebumps all around.

With the brighter days come a more hopeful vibe and the hanger has once again returned to the music-filled, laughter house, and people are settling into the new life.

 

Here’s to summer.

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