We made our way to Franz Joseph with a night stop in Punakaiki (pancake rocks) on the way. This is in Paparoa National Park and nicknamed pancake rocks because they are made up of soft and hard layers of rock which have been eroded by the sea to leave formations that look like stacks of pancakes. It was a long bus ride here from Abel Tasman and because we'd done lots of little stops on the way for photos it meant we arrived in Punakaiki just in time for sunset. The place we were staying at was like one big cabin which was cool but our bedroom was literally 8 mattresses laid next to each other in the attic.. think big brother meets a cult. Weird! I think the highlight of the day was finding a massive chocolate cake reduced from $35 to $5 (haha) so bought it for everyone to share.
Next morning I had a shower which turned cold mid-shampoo. Brilliant. Then we re-packed and boarded the bus towards Franz Joseph, a glacier on the west coast of the south island which is 12km long and one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world with a growth of as much as 1.5 metres a day! Usually you can do a guided ice climb up onto the glacier itself but because a hole was discovered the week before it was deemed unsafe to climb up it, but instead you could catch a helicopter ride up to the top and walk around there instead. I'd originally planned to do the glacier hike but this new option was too expensive so I went for second choice... a skydive!! Will was keen to do one as well while he was here and we were given the option to do it over Fox Glacier, the second most scenic skydive in the world... Sold! The rest of the group had opted for the heli-hike and so the plan was they had to leave at 7am and Will and I were to meet at reception at 9 to get a weather report as it changes so suddenly all the time and we weren't sure yet whether we'd do it in the morning or afternoon. Although I was super excited to do the jump, at the back of my mind it was niggling away that it's still a decent amount of money that I may need later on for accommodation etc. I had a think and came up with an idea that maybe I could ask mum and dad whether I could have the jump as my birthday present instead... and for some strange reason they agreed! The only condition was that I dont tell mum when the skydive was but I have to tell her as SOON as its over.
The next morning I left the hostel and made my way to where the others were staying. Anna and I had bought BBH cards which basically get you at least $3 off a dorm room each night at selected hostels, so although up until now we'd stayed where Stray had taken us we'd decided it was time to get our money's worth and had prebooked at a BBH hostel. So yeah I met Will and the weather was not looking good..It was cloudy and raining pretty hard... We met another guy at reception who was joining our bus, Mike, as he wanted to dive as well but he took one look at the weather and went back to bed. Will and I faffed on the Internet for a while until someone called us and told us to come back at 1 for an update. I headed back to the hostel as we'd texted Rebecca in the mean time (who we met in Apple Crumble in the Kitchen hostel in Picton) and discovered she'd caught the Naked Bus down the Franz Joseph as well as was moving her stuff to our hostel! It was so good to see her and luckily she was put in the same room as us. Within minutes we'd smuggled a monopoly board game from our hostel and brought it to Wills ha. The whole day was a write off for activities because the weather was crap and even the helihike people weren't able to go up so we played a very aggressive game of monopoly all afternoon and then hit the bar in the evening. Next morning we woke up to snow EVERYWHERE. Apparently this was the first time in 5 years Franz Joseph had snowed! We attempted to drive in the bus and got about 2 minutes down the road before Mumbo gave up and turned back. We ended up waiting until midday when it started to clear before heading off again. Suddenly Mumbo got a call saying that it had cleared enough at Fox Glacier to do a skydive if people were still interested! So within half an hour 10 of us were all bundled into a minivan and carted off to the skydive site and were in the process of being kitted up! The guy taking our info sounded scouse so I asked where he was from and he said Birkenhead!! The whole thing seemed to be a blur and because I'd pushed it out of my mind that I was even able to do a dive I hadn't really thought about the fact I was about to throw myself out of a tiny plane at 12,000 ft. We were all weighed and strapped into clown outfits before being allocated a partner as it was a tandem skydive. My guy was called Ollie and was from Scotland and he was really reassuring about everything. I was to be in the first plane with Rob and Will and was the first to jump and so last in the plane so I got the best view out :) As we were ascending Ollie pointed out sites such as Fox Glacier and Mt Cook and it all seemed pretty surreal. It was worth paying just to go up in the plane to be honest. As we approached the desired height he went over the procedure that I had to follow again and before I knew it it was time for me to jump! I was all strapped up tight to him and he swung me round so my legs were dangling over the edge of the plane doorway. All I remember was gripping onto my harness as he counted down and then all of a sudden we were free falling through the sky. Before we'd left, Mumbo gave one bit of advice to make the most of the dive and that was to just be present at every moment of the jump otherwise it seems to be over pretty quick and before you know it you've landed. I tried to remember this but honestly all I could think of was that the pressure on my chest was making it hard to breathe and I was convinced I was going to pass out from lack of oxygen! So to force myself to breathe I just screamed the whole way down ha. The view was phenomenal as everything was covered in snow and we had a perfectly clear view around us of the sea, mountains and glacier. I remember Ollie tapping my shoulder which was the signal to let go of the harness and open my arms out and soon after that he pulled the chord and the parachute opened. He also let me take hold of the ropes and steer us around for a bit which and then he took control and did a few steep turns which was fun. As we approached the ground I thought we were going to land in a herd of cows but he turned at the last second and told me to raise my legs up an we managed to land standing up! I later on watched some of the DVDs that others had paid (a LOT) for and quite a few of them landed face down haha, so I was lucky with my landing. Rob had loaded before me even though he jumped second and soon Will was down and we were all carted back in a minivan to the starting point. I looked like an absolute idiot because I couldn't stop grinning!
I am SO glad I did the skydive although the bad thing is now I want to do another one so this could easily turn into an expensive habit... I think the only thing I would change is perhaps to have paid a tiny bit more so I could have jumped from a greater height as it meant I would have had a longer freefall and so could take in more. But apart from that it was amazing!!