Mountain in Queenstown
There are few things I treasure more than quite mornings. I find absolute bliss in the thought that I may be the only one awake in the world, that I may somehow be cheating time. It’s as though the painter who decorates Earth’s canvas has grabbed my hand, put a finger to his lips and let me silently watch him brush the universe into existence.
Five Saturday mornings ago (and my mom tells me I don’t blog enough), I was met by one of these extraordinary mornings after hopping out of bed at 6:00AM to eagerly make my start towards Queenstown. I had already hit the road before the sun had peeked over the horizon, but as I drove the morning light ballooned out behind me as though it were a bright kite fastened to a string that I was trailing out my window. Purple clouds dotted the sky, adorning the peaks of dark mountains that gazed at their reflections in the lakes that lay at their feet. Fluffy sheep and lumbering cows grazed unhurriedly, oblivious of the brilliance that surrounded them.
Alone in the car and singing happily (and perhaps slightly off-key), enveloped by the majesty of New Zealand’s silent landscape, the magic of the morning was not lost on me. I was filled with a sense of freedom that I had never felt before, and a wave of premature nostalgia suddenly washed over me. I knew that I would miss this place terribly when it was time to leave, and I was once again reminded to make the most of the time that I had left.
Mall Street, Queenstown
When I arrived in Queenstown nearly five hours later, I parked beside the Lake Wakatipu esplanade and spent the better part of the next hour gazing at the view before me. When I finally drank in enough of the sights to hold me over for a few brief minutes, I made my way to the i-Site center in town to start making plans for my solo weekend. There I met Jamiee and Joyce, two young women who became my go-to ladies for all things Queenstown. I knew far before I even stepped foot in New Zealand that I wanted to go paragliding off of Bob’s Peak, but sensing that the actual moment was nearly upon me, I faltered.
“What’s paragliding like?” I asked, bouncing nervously from one foot to the other as Jamiee explained how it was incredible once you ran off of the cliff.
“You’re standing on this cliff face, and then all of a sudden they just ask you to run forward towards nothing–and of course the whole time you’re wondering what the heck you’ve gotten yourself into—and then you realize that your feet aren’t even touching the ground and you’re running in the air. No, trust me, it’s amazing!” She asserted, clearly observing the panicked look that sprinted across my face.
Paragliding off of Bob’s Peak
“Do you think I can do it if I’m scared of heights? Like, really scared of heights?” I rambled. “You have to understand…Have you seen the movie Up? Do you know the part where the kid is hanging off of the blimp by the end of a hose? That scares the crap out of me. My hands start sweating and everything…”
All Jamiee could do was laugh out loud as she declared that that was the best thing she’d heard all day. “Look–I used to be terrified of heights too! It gets better the more you confront it.”
She and Joyce then proceeded to show me all of the different ways one could jump into a canyon (most of which they’d done, and all of which turned out to be more terrifying than the prospect of running off of a cliff). In the end, I ended up begging Joyce to book me as soon as possible for paragliding, opting to forgo lunch so as to avoid spending any more time being nervous than was absolutely necessary. Before I could back out, Joyce had grabbed my credit card and booked me for 1:15PM, letting me know it would take thirty minutes to ride the gondola to the top of the peak. It was 12:45. Apparently she took “as soon as possible” to heart.
View from the gondola
The view from the gondola was incredible, and I enjoyed every second of it, despite the smattering of butterflies that had taken up residence in the pit of my stomach. Upon arriving at the peak, I was introduced to my guide, Brady (like the Brady Bunch, he explained, apparently wanting to avoid the misfortune of someone calling him Brody for the better part of an hour….which was ironic considering he called me “Malyssa” the entire time), who was quite the ham. He greeted me warmly, and then proceeded to gab affably: “Oh, I like the looks of yah already! Young and fit! Gosh…I love having clients like you! Sometimes I get stuck with people who are old and large, and who are utterly terrified–”
“Well, just so you know, I’m a little scared at the moment as well,” I cut in.
“Don’t worry, we’ll just send you up into the woods where no one can hear you scream!” He said, motioning to a path on his left.
I laughed nervously. I’d only been in Queenstown for an hour and already I was being taken deep into the woods with someone who sounded like an axe murderer.
What was to be my fate if all went well
“We’ll have you hike up that trail there since it’s just an eight minute trek. You get out what you put in, so the higher up you go, the more airtime you have!”
Shortly after this introduction to paragliding, Brady ended up tossing his pack in a company jeep and driving up the track, leaving me to walk up with another one of the paragliding instructors. This man was young, probably only a few years older than myself, with bright blue hipster glasses and a slight limp that made him walk as though he couldn’t bend his right leg. We began talking on the way up, and he asked me where I was from. Not wanting to assume that he knew where Boston was, I explained that I was from the U.S. He seemed as though he had guessed that already, so he asked: “Whereabouts?”
“Massachusetts; the northeast part of the U.S.” I said as I usually do, careful not to assume that foreigners know where every state sits on the map. He shot me a weird look. “I’m from Iowa.”
My eyebrows flew up in shock, and all I could manage was, “Oh, Iowa! Right on.” His accent was like no other Iowan lilt I had ever heard. In fact, he sounded downright Kiwi, and he had only lived in Queenstown for five years. It was a classic Pete from Ecuador situation, for those of you who went to Puerto Rico in 2010, although Pete from Ecuador wouldn’t be caught dead in those blue glasses, and even if we’re being optimistic, Pete from Ecuador has probably lost all ability to speak English by now. (Pete from Ecuador is a man who grew up in Vermont and lived there for his entire life and then moved to Ecuador for three years and forgot how to speak English. Granted, he’s smoked a lot of pot which likely sped up the process). It’s called a rafter, Pete! Do you not have those in Vermont? Okay, enough of that; suffice to say, it was an uncomfortable predicament, as my Iowan friend clearly was unaware of his accent’s progression.
Brady rejoined me shortly afterwards to strap me in and to give me the run-through on the paragliding process. “Look darlin’, you don’t weigh a lot so the wind is going to take you as soon as we get going. Here’s what I’m going to do–I’m going to give you a test, OK?”
“OK,” I said absently, staring off the edge of the mountain, anticipating the moment when he would ask me to run straight off of the cliff. Suddenly Brady yanked me backwards; I stood firm for a split second before I tumbled over, forcefully landing on his left foot. “Strong as an ox!” He proclaimed proudly. “You’d make a good Kiwi wife!” (I think perhaps I broke a few toes on impact). After deciding that I was strong enough to cause some bodily damage–or perhaps discovering that I was not as light as he’d presumed–Brady geared me for takeoff.
Brady and me before take off (evidently looking right into the sun)
“Stand your ground, and when I tell you to, I want you to walk forwards as far as you can!” I tried my best to follow his instructions, but all of my efforts were in vain. I was completely off the ground as soon as the parachute flew above my head. I think I air-walked three steps before I was officially soaring over Queenstown.
Soaring over Queenstown
It was one of the most amazing feelings I have ever experienced. I felt like a bird; like nothing could touch me. And incredibly, I wasn’t scared at all. Better yet, I hadn’t even needed to run off of a cliff! Brady just let us ride the wind for a few minutes, chattering away, while I sat in silence, utterly enthralled by what was below me. Before landing, Brady did a few tricks in the air that made my stomach tickle and put an even bigger grin on my face. When my feet finally touched the ground, all I could exclaim was, “I want to go again!” Actually, I wanted to go again, and again, and again and again and again. And I was sincerely wondering how one obtains a paragliding license. (Upon researching this question, it turns out that it takes about 10 days to complete and costs around 2,500 dollars, so I may have to start saving my pennies before I can live that dream).
After riding the gondola back to the top of the peak and taking more time to enjoy the sights, I headed back down to the i-Site center, eager to tell Jamiee and Joyce all about paragliding, and thrilled to head off on my next adventure.
Poster inside the gondola which perfectly captured my sentiments