Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Taupo, Tongariro and a small skydive

Gruffalo tackles the Tongariro Crossing
When we arrived at our campsite in Taupo we booked for our Tongariro Alpine Crossing walk the following day, this involved getting picked up at 5.30am to get there for 7am. We boarded a right wrecked old bus and set out in the dark, most people dozed! The lady driving the bus was very nice but dead slow after Rally Rex, the bus crawled up hills and then for the first time ever apparently got pulled over to the weighbridge by the police. So much for the early start, we arrived at 7.40am along with a couple of hundred other people. We made use of the facilities, a pit toilet with a smell that cannot be described and the we set off following the trail of hot pants, handbags and flip flops/plimsolls - approved mountain wear! The trail was easy at first, Gary having a bit of a fit at how poorly equipped people were, once the route started to rise folk dropped off but there was still plenty of us. I think we didn't really get a full appreciation of things at first, a bit yeah another walk type attitude, it was when you looked around and saw lava flows and realised you were walking in ash that it dawned on you that you weren't in Ambleside climbing Wansfell now! At the top of the Devils Staircase a number of people were branching off to climb Mount Ngauarhoe (alias Mount Doom in the LOTR films - more hobbit stalking see!), Gary elected to give it a go as there were hot pants in front, Ruth and Gruffalo decided to wait at the bottom and eat jelly sweets. Two hours fifteen minutes later Gary returned with tales of horror of the sheer slope, crawling up on all fours in ash and then happily gliding down in the same ash - the hot pants and Reebok classics brigade didn't know what to do about falling rocks so a constant vigil had to be kept for dangers from above. Happily he survived and we continued along the summit crater which was really like something from the moon, volcanoes all around, steam rising from the crater floor, sheer cliffs, we would be stuffed if there was an eruption. Another, shorter uphill and we arrived on the rim of Red Crater, pics attached as an amazing place to see, can't really believe St Helens is on the same planet as this place (still prefer the Lakes and Cheviots though!). A lot of people were having a snack as the ground was warm all around with thermal activity. Another sliding trip down through ash and we were at the Emerald Lakes and Blue Lakes - nice looking pools but not for swimming as they are acidic. At this point the clouds lowered and we didn't see anything again for about an hour. The trip down took a very, very long time but we got back to the buses and just a short while later were rattling along back to Taupo with driver Dave who went much faster. A shower was the main job for the evening as you get very filthy in all the ash, picking off peeling skin exposed lovely clean pink bits underneath, sweet!
Ruth and Gruffalo at Red Crater

Gary on the rim of Mount Doom

The following day we were booked to do our skydive however when we woke there was a lot of cloud and a strong wind blowing, we phoned at 9.30am as requested and were advised to ring back an hour later to see if we were good for a go Johnny go go go go. At 10.30 we rang and at 10.40 the bus picked us up, what were we doing! We basically signed our lives away on the mini bus and then quickly arrived at Freefall Skydive at the airport. A view of a demo DVD and a decision on the packages (all chose 15,000 feet freefall with DVD and CD) and we were away getting suited up and introduced to our tandem partners. No time for hesitation, we were given an oxygen mask (!) and hustled onto the smallest plane in the world. There were five of us clients with our instructors and five film crews, one each, joy. The plane took off and went through some proper turbulence, it would have been a long trip bouncing around like that but thankfully the higher we went the calmer it got, it took 20 - 25 minutes to reach 15,000 feet, it shot by, oxygen masks went on at about 12,000 feet, all the way the instructors were buckling us in and checking and double checking. At last they got the go ahead from the ground crew and the door opened. The first film man climbed out and Simon the German guy who'd looked terrified since we took off was swung around to the edge, whoosh and he was gone! We all shuffled forward on our seats, swung our legs over and out, assumed the position and whoosh gone, no time to change your mind, a brief glimpse down and you were off. I was third out, Gary last at the back as he'd done it before and wouldn't get freaked. The noise as you fall is amazing, the wind whistling past your ears, I was totally bewildered, the others posed for the cameras etc but I didn't realise my instructor was tapping me or anything, usual befuddlement! All of a sudden the chute is pulled, the cameraman disappears below you and it all goes quiet, the most amazing thing. We free falled for about a minute and then float down for about four, it all passes in a blur, except for the twirling which I didn't enjoy! Down on the ground there was handshakes and a general disbelief in what we'd all just done, a great experience and one I would do again, but not yet!

Sheer terror at 15,000 feet
Too late now!
Not much else you can do at 15,000 feet

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