What’s interesting is that it’s been just four months (as of publication) since my Queenstown skydiving adventure, but it feels like four years, or four decades. (NOTE: If you’re reading at some point in the future, I am writing this when the world was embroiled in the coronavirus crisis.)
I hope we get through this faster than we anticipate and can start to travel again. First of all, New Zealand eliminated the virus (which was good for its people); this necessitated the indefinite closure of its border to tourists like you.
More on that in a second, however. I’m going to begin this post with the assumption that Aunt Rona has long-since been laid to rest, and that millions of people on the world will want to jump out of planes over New Zealand’s South Island to celebrate.
Why I Waited So Long to Skydive
As was the case with visiting New Zealand in general, I wanted to wait to go skydiving (and not just Queenstown skydiving) until the time was right. Part of my rationale for both of these was practical: I couldn’t really afford a lengthy trip to New Zealand in my younger years; although I saw the price of skydiving, at 34, as a nominal expense, it could very well have bankrupted me, had I taken the plunge at 34.
My reasons in these regards were parallel, but they also intertwined. For reasons I no longer remember, I knew I wanted to skydive in New Zealand, if I ever ended up doing it. I’ve always had a feeling skydiving was something I would only do once in my life; I didn’t want to do it somewhere boring or forgettable. On the other hand—and I’ll go more into this in a minute—I did later learn that Queenstown is the only the beginning of where to skydive in New Zealand.
Things to Know About Skydiving in Queenstown
All the Companies are Basically the Same
There are three skydiving companies in Queenstown (or at least there were, before coronavirus), but they all offer basically the same experience, at essentially the same price. Two of them are actually located right next door to one another on Shotover Street; to my eye, the only difference between the two offices was that one has a Chinese-speaking member of staff. In other words, I wouldn’t waste your time shopping around.
(But The Drop Zones Are Not)
Regardless of which Queenstown skydiving shop you visit, you’ll have many choices for where you jump. Popular options include Wanaka and over Queenstown itself, as well as a place called Glenorchy, which I’d never heard of prior to entering the store. The woman behind the counter was adamant that it was her favorite, however, so I ended up booking a drop over Glenorchy at her recommendation.
The Details of Your Jump Will Likely Change
The next morning, however, a woman (another woman) called just after the crack of dawn, to tell me that weather conditions over Glenorchy (namely, upper-level winds) were not suitable for jumping—I could cancel, or change to Wanaka. I briefly considered canceling, but ended up deciding in the moment to go ahead and jump over Wanaka. This is part of the reason you shouldn’t be too emotionally attached to the drop zone you choose!
I’m Not Sure the Photos/Videos Are Worth It
In addition to the drop zone of my Queenstown skydiving changing, the staff also “upgraded” me (from 9,000′ to 15,000′) for free, although I suspect they end up doing this for everyone, since I doubt a given plane really ascends to three separate altitudes. Since I’m a travel writer, they also threw in a free photo/video package.
You Might Feel Like You’re Suffocating
I didn’t feel very nervous about skydiving at any moment leading up to the dive. The plane ride up was a bit uneasy; but I was between the legs of a very attractive man, which assuaged most of my worries. In spite of this (maybe because of it?) the sensation of jumping out of the plane took me by surprise. You know that feeling you have when water rushes up your nose? That’s what it felt like for me, except it was cold air and it lasted for the entire freefall. For a moment, I thought I would suffocate!
Does Skydiving in Queenstown Live Up to the Hype?
Yes and no, frankly. Yes in the sense that the scenery is outstanding, and the experience was literally like anything I ever could have anticipated. No, primarily because of feeling like I was suffocating on the way down, and due to the fact that I wish I had done more research before I jumped. Don’t get me wrong: Seeing the Southern Alps on the horizon, and Lake Wanaka beneath me was absolutely incredible.
But while Queenstown skydiving deserves its reputation as being one of the world’s most beautiful spots for its, I later learned that much better options exist. A man I met in Franz Josef reminded me, for example, that skydiving there adds the ocean to the mountain/lake scenery on offer in Wanaka or Glenorchy. My tandem partner himself, as our plane ascended, told me his favorite spot was the Bay of Islands, a destination in the North Island I never even knew existed until that moment.
Coronavirus and Skydiving
I’m sorry to bring up coronavirus once again, but if you’re reading this in early 2020 (or anytime in 2020, based on the current policy of the Ardern administration), it’s critical information. Unless vaccine trials go really, really well, it does seem like New Zealand will close its borders to everyone but Australians for the next few months or maybe years. A self-defeating policy in the medium- to long-term if you ask me, but what do I know? After all, I’m someone who jumped out of a plane, with very few questions asked.
I bring this up, of course, because if the corona crisis is still ongoing and you’re not already in New Zealand (or, perhaps, Australia), then you’re not going to be able to skydive here. I hope, of course, that the virus has burnt out by the time you read this—or, absent that, that the leaders of New Zealand (and, I guess, Australia) have realized it’s probably not sensible to wall small island countries off from the world on which their economies depend for months or maybe years.
The Bottom Line
Now that the world is locked up indefinitely due to coronavirus, I’m even happier that I bit the bullet and embarked on a Queenstown skydiving adventure earlier this year. Of course, I hope that by the time anyone reads this, the plague of 2020 is far in everyone’s rearview, and that New Zealand has done away with its draconian border closures. Skydiving is an experience I’ll never forget, though not for the reasons I imagined. Need help planning your trip to New Zealand?
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who’s been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as “CNNGo” and “Shanghaiist” along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.