Monthly Archives: December 2011

Skydive in Taupo – Cowabunga!

Today I threw myself out of a plane . . . and it was the best day ever!

There’s not much more I can say about my skydive experience. It was every incredible word you can think of multiplied by 1,000.

The freefall was marvelous and it felt like I was floating. When the parachute opened and we slowed down enough to see the entire area, Taupo and its surroundings looked magnificent. Snow-capped mountains hugged a sparkling blue lake. The sky was blue and the trees and land were green. Spectacular!

I would definitely do this again in a heartbeat. No question about it.

My dive master’s name was Alan. He helped me suit up and checked all the rigging and harnesses. We were last to hop into the plane, which meant we’d be first on the flipside. Also in the plane with me were Alba and a girl named Pia. This was a momentous event for all of us, even though Alba had jumped once before.

As the plane ascended, I had to put on an oxygen mask when we hit 8,000 feet. We were on our way to 15,000 feet and the ride actually took longer than I expected. A few minutes before the door opened, Alan had me sit on his lap so he could hook me up to him. He also gave me plastic goggles to wear and told me what would happen next.

When the door opened up, it was amazing to see how high we were. But there wasn’t a lot of time to admire it as Alan moved us over to the door and we sat with our legs hanging outside of the plane. With a quick nod to our cameraman, who was literally hanging on to the door and halfway outside the plane already, Alan and I were in freefall.

Did I tell you that this was the best day ever?

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Whitewater Rafting on the Tongariro River

Alba and I were determined to do some whitewater rafting and booked a trip out of Taupo onto the Tongariro River. There were six of us and Garth, the owner of the rafting company, picked us up and drove us around Lake Taupo to the office where we suited up. We were given a ton of gear to wear – two fleeces, a wetsuit, a pair of boots and gloves, a beanie, a helmet and a life jacket. After donning all of it, you really felt like it was armor and that you were ready to take on the river in a no holds bar battle.

We drove to the Tongariro River, unloaded the raft and carried it to the riverbank. We were given wooden paddles and took our positions on either side of the boat before shoving off. During the first few minutes, Garth gave us some simple instructions. He taught us the verbal commands he would be using to guide us and what we were to do in response. The river was calm and easy as we practiced and became more confident with our paddles and just sitting in the raft.

In total, we spent about 90 minutes on the water, which was quite surprising to me. It was a lot of work at some points but mostly fun. There were a few points when we had to paddle furiously to get through a rapid and others when we cruised along and just took in the scenery.

Garth told us that the river was flowing really fast due to recent rainfall. With more rushing water, it made subtle changes to the river’s course and added to the challenge of navigation. With this in mind, a rock popped up out of nowhere and the raft hit it straight on. The momentum of the raft abruptly halted and brought the rear up out of the water. As I was in the back of the raft and didn’t see the rock coming, I was completely taken by surprise that we were airborne and actually fell out of the boat. One minute I was in the air and the other minute I was hitting the water and watching as the raft floated down the river ahead of me.

Remembering Garth’s instructions, I made sure to turn my body around so that I was floating down the river feet first. This softened the impact against rocks as I bumped along. The life jacket helped keep me afloat as I slipped along through a couple of rapids. Garth and the girls were paddling to keep the raft stationary so I could catch up. When I did, he told me to let go of the paddle and he lifted me up into the boat by the front of my life jacket. One of the other girls snatched up the paddle and pulled it inside as well. Even though I wasn’t expecting to get dunked into the cold, rushing river, if I were honest, it was one of the best parts of the day. It was as if I got a free sledging experience thrown into a rafting activity.

At the end of the rafting, we jumped back into the van and went over to some hot pools. I imagined it to be a natural spring, but it turned out to be a heated swimming pool. Still, we beat feet into the changing room and made our way in to get our relaxing on. After a luxurious 30 minutes of wading around in the warmth, we made our way back to the office where we shared a hearty tomato soup with some bread. It was mmm, mmm good. Not one who normally likes tomato soup, I had to admit that after a hard day in the cold water, it was delicious.

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Roaring Waterfall and Bubbling Mud Pools

The day Alba and I left Rotorua was indeed miserable as the weather was cold and rainy. We bundled up and hoped for the best in Taupo as we said goodbye to Roto Vegas, as it is also known. Because of the continually bad weather, we’d missed our chance to go white water rafting. All the rafting companies were closed because the river’s water level was too high for safe rafting.

But, what we found to cause disappointment in one instance proved to be a boon in another. On our way south to Taupo, we made a quick stop at Huka Falls on the Waikato River. The excessive rain of the past few days helped make a spectacular river waterfall even more glorious. Apparently, 220,000 liters of water rush through Huka Falls every second. The surging water created a dull roar that could be heard from the parking lot, and it became louder and louder as you approached.

The water was icy blue and capped with white wash as the river tumbled over itself. It moved quickly as if it was anxious and seemed almost violent at times, throwing up a tangible mist that reminded me of a thin gauze curtain blowing in the wind.

We also visited an area with hot, bubbling pools of mud. Steam rose from the pond and gave off a strong sulfurous odor. It smelled like rotten eggs and looked like a boiling pit from which we could expect a disfigured creature to emerge at any time.

As it was getting late, we didn’t linger long at the mud pools. I assume everyone had seen their fill at one of the many spas in Rotorua. The bad weather still lingered as we approached Taupo, and it prevented us from seeing the enormous lake when we came over the rise.

It seemed that everyone had booked into the Stray-endorsed hostel, but Alba and I stayed at the YHA again. For the most part, we’d found that their accommodations were reliably clean and their staff usually friendly. After checking in, we walked around for a bit and hit up the local McDonald’s for free wifi.

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