Falling 47 meters in Taupo

Time and time again, GPS has proven itself to be not always accurate. Usually, the misdirection is harmless and just adds a few more minutes to your drive time. Other times (like some instances to be recorded here later) it likes to take you into sketchier territory. Dad and I left the coast behind and began making our way inland to Taupo. And Google, being such a good friend, set us a course that would take the least amount of time.

As you can imagine, that didn’t go exactly to plan. Things were going just fine until we were somewhere near the halfway point. The navigator lady told me to turn off the main highway we were cruising down and onto a road through the forest with signs posted at the entrance reading “Entry by Permit Only” or something like that. Despite those signs I kept driving. The road hadn’t been blocked so what harm could there be?

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Well, there was no harm, no one caught us or anything. But after a little while driving, the road split and both ways had gates in front of them. At that point, we cut our losses and turned around, deciding to stick with the highways. After that it was only another 30 minutes into Taupo.

Taupo is a nice little town with a gorgeous lake view and good people. I’ve been there many times during my stay. As we drove further into town, street names and places started to look familiar. We turned off into the neighborhood and after several lefts and rights we pulled up outside our AirBNB. We were staying with a young couple for a few days. Nicole was very friendly and welcomed us into the house.

Dad and I left the house after spending some time getting to know Nicole and her husband.We were both hungry after a long morning of kayaking, so we swung by the grocery store then headed back home to make dinner. It was another night of pasta, quick and easy. We talked a bit more with Scott while he fed his son. Nicole had gone off to run a youth group meeting. After that we didn’t do much. Went back to the room, relaxed in bed, and eventually fell asleep.

The next day was filled with even more excitement than the last. When Dad and I first started talking about him coming to visit, he had been persistent in wanting to do a bungy jump while he was here. Personally a bungy jump had never appealed to me, but I wanted to make sure Dad got to do what he wanted, so I compromised with the Extreme Swing Taupo Bungy offers. Instead of falling head first towards a river, you are sitting in a harness and swing back and forth next to this massive cliff face.

Our jump (swing?) was scheduled for 10:30 that morning. It was a great day for it. The sun was out and the sky clear. The platform hangs right out over the Waikato River, and the surrounding area is a beautiful place…to fall 47 meters and be scared shitless. The office was small. A large safety board dominated the wall just inside the door. A scale sat in front of one of the counters. I walked over to a man behind the counter and told him the name on our booking.

He asked us to read over the safety board closely, and then had us fill out a form before weighing us. I’d made a tandem booking for the two of us, but we found out that day that we were just a few kilos over the weight limit. Ah well. At least doing two solo jumps meant we could film each other! With everything taken care of, we went out onto the deck to wait. A few people were already out on the platform doing their jumps, so we watched for a while.

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In case you didn’t know, it’s hard to take selfies with a really tall person.

Dad and I were both a little bummed we couldn’t go together, but not long after we’d left the office, he decided he was going to pay the extra money to do a bungy jump, which is what he wanted to do in the first place. We watched a few more people do a bungy jump and the extreme swing before I snagged a bean bag in the sun and spent some time with the orange tabby in residence. Then, my turn was up.

Doing a bungy, or this extreme swing thing, is kind of like giving a big speech or something similar. You manage to keep yourself pretty calm before hand, but once you step up onto that stage the fear and nerves kick into overdrive. That’s how I felt walking out to that platform. My arms and legs tensed up, I started trembling ever so slightly. Every breath in my chest was tight. I stepped inside the gate and a guy helped me into my harness. He checked all the buckles twice before sending me down to the launch pad.

Down there, two more people checked over all the straps and buckles (which made me feel a bit better), and just like that I was being clipped to large carabiners and told to sit back on the seat. I was hanging there, my legs pulled into a loose fetal position. I felt helpless and ridiculous. A few minutes later, the gate was opened up and a winch began to move me out over nothing but air. I was holding onto my harness for dear life. The guy was talking to me, asking me questions like if I’d seen people do this before, and he pointed out the cameras to me.

I was answering the best I could, having other more pressing things on my mind, like being dropped 47 meters over a river with nothing but a few straps to keep me from splashing into the depths. He was listening to my stiff answers, also a bit distracted by getting things ready. He spun me back around to face the right way, asked me to lean back, and…

I yelped in surprise. My brain was instantly consumed by the fact my body was in free fall. “OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!” The words just came out. I wasn’t in control of them. At last the harness caught and swung forward towards the high wall of the river bank. I yelped again. And then I started laughing. Like that deep, full, from the gut laugh. What was I doing? I whooped, and laughed again. Once I knew I was safe and would not be plunging into the blue waters below, I was oddly at peace, swing back and forth in this stunning gorge in New Zealand.

Once I slowed, the winch kicked in again and began pulling me back up to the platform. As I got closer, I could hear Dad giving a commentary to the video he was filming. He laughed and called, “Wave, Renee!” I gave a feeble shake of my hand and called back, “I’m not dead.” With a quick final pull from the winch I was back on the launch pad with solid ground beneath my feet. I thanked the two employees there and climbed back up the stairs.

Dad and I reunited for a brief moment. But then it was his turn to face the fall. I went off down to the lower view platform so I could catch the whole jump. It was a fair distance away, and you can’t zoom when filming a video on iPhone, but you could see enough, and hear when Dad started screaming (sorry, Dad). I stood there for a while waiting, and at one point thought I had missed it, but it was some other guy.

I recognized Dad’s tall figure step up to the edge of the platform. He stood there a long time. Then slowly, very slowly, he leaned forward. Then he was falling, fast, and the screams started, and as quickly ended. He hit the first bounce and was back up in the air like a human yoyo. I couldn’t stop myself laughing as I watched him bounce up and down. The yellow raft motored out beneath him and reached out a long pole for him to grab. I watched, still filming, as he was lowered into the boat, legs still tied up like some poor trapped animal. But soon he was sitting up and they boys were taking him back to shore.

I left the viewing platform and went to meet Dad on the path. His face was still a bit flushed, and he looked peaky when he appeared around the corner. I immediately started laughing again and asked him how it was. It had certainly done a number on him, but ultimately he was glad he’d done it. Both of us watched the videos of mine and Dad’s jumps several time throughout the rest of the day.

The other activities we had planned for the day were much more relaxing, and not at all terrifying. From the bungy place, I drove us up to see Huka Falls. I’d been a couple times, but it was a pretty impressive site I thought Dad would appreciate. The falls aren’t your classic waterfall. Instead it is just a large amount of water being forced through a too small space (and a bit of a waterfall), and the result is a massive churning, frothing channel of aqua blue water. We found a bench here and sat to have a snack.

With our hunger mostly satiated, we walked for a bit along the river before turning back to the car. Our day was given to the river, it seems. Any time I’m moving around NZ, I always make a point of checking to see if I’m going to be near any LOTR locations. A new one had cropped up around Taupo since my first visit (those Hobbit movies, ya know). So Dad and I were going to Aratiatia Rapids.

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This is where the famous barrel scene was filmed. At one time I imagine these rapids occurred naturally, but now they can only be seen when the gates daming the Waikato River are opened. (If you want to go see the rapids yourself some day, make sure you check what times the gates are opened. They are usually opened a few times a day.)  Like Huka Falls, the rapids are caused by lots of water being sent gushing through a tiny space all at once.

There are a few places you can stand and watch the rapids. Some choose to stay by the dam gates, but there are two other viewing platforms along the river. Dad and I chose the lower platform (the first one you come to along the path). We were the first people to arrive so we got the prime spot, right at the edge of the platform. There was still some time before the gates opened so I got some ‘before’ pictures while we waited.

Alarms sounded at certain intervals, warning people how much longer there was to wait until the gates opened. Conversation stopped anytime one echoed down the twisting walls of the ravine. Finally, the last alarm sounded and the gates were open. Had we been up on the street, it might have been more impressive. But it took a bit for us to really see that anything was going on.

Eventually, you could see white water up near the dam. Slowly, that band of white water pushed its way down the river, covering rocks and climbing up the stone walls. The sound rose with the water, something between a rumble and the rush of wind through trees. It was an awesome sight to behold, and certainly a force to be reckoned with. I wish I had tossed a rock down into the rapids so I could see it vanish in the waves.

The water stopped pouring out of the gates after about 15 minutes, but the water keeps coming long after. The other people that had gathered on the platform with us began to leave not long after the gates closed. Dad and I stayed so long that we were both the first to arrive and the last to leave. We didn’t stay till the very end of the rapids, but we did see them noticeably begin to recede.

We walked back to the car and drove back to town. Before heading home we made another stop at Countdown to pick up groceries for tomorrow. I’d made arrangements for Dad and I to do the Tongariro Crossing, one of the great day hikes NZ has to offer. It takes roughly seven hours to finish, so we had to be sure to have enough food for the trek. When we were all stocked up, we went back to the house for a while to relax.

Our day wasn’t quite finished however. Like I said, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Taupo, and as a result have made, well, one friend anyway. We go all the way back to my first time in New Zealand. Mom and I went sailing on Lake Taupo all those years ago with a man named Dave. When I came back and had heaps of time to fill in November, I took a trip to Taupo and went sailing with Dave again. He remembered me and Mom, and the two of us went out for a drink after the sail.

After that night of reconnecting we’ve stayed in touch. So when Dad came down for a visit, I figured I take him out for a sail with Dave, too. Yes, that was foreshadowing, if that’s even possible in a travel blog, but before we went sailing we met up with Dave at his local (a charming bar called Mulligan’s) for a drink. It was a quite night at Mulligans, but we all had a nice time chatting and sipping on a beer. Dave told us about his upcoming trip to Germany for the summer, and I filled him in on what I’d been up to lately. We ended the night early. Dad and I had a big day tomorrow.

Or so we thought.

Our shuttle for the Crossing was picking us up at some god-awful time in the wee hours of the morning, so the next morning we were up before the sun. We got dressed, made sure we had all our food and all our gear, slung our backpacks over our shoulders, and got into the car. We parked at the iSite, hoping my car would be okay for the day, then walked over to the street where the bus would pick us up.

We didn’t have to wait long for the short white bus to pull up in front of us. An older woman stepped out. “Are you here to do the Crossing?” she asked over the rumble of the engine. We said we were. The woman then proceeded to tell us that they weren’t taking anyone down for the Crossing. It was too cold, too windy, and just too dangerous. The part of me that still wanted to be in bed cheered, but the rest of me was disappointed. The Crossing was something I knew Dad would really enjoy. But in the words of Vonnegut, so it goes.

Even with our plans for the day canceled, we entertained ourselves and had a good time. First order of business was to go back home and get some more sleep. When it was a reasonable hour, we went into town to do something we hadn’t done in months. Father Daughter car maintenance. I had been in need of some new windshield wipers, and Dad suspected my air filter was in need of a change since my car struggled up hills, so we drove into town to the SuperCheap auto store.

It was just like shopping for car parts for back home, only here I wasn’t 100% sure of the make and model of my car, and the manual only helped a little. We only hit a few snags. The first air filter we got didn’t fit, so after looking at the filter already in the car (something we probably should’ve done first anyway) we went back in and found the right filter. The wiper blades gave us a bit more of a hassle.

We bought what we felt sure were the right kind of blades (thin, as opposed to thick), but when we tried to put them on the car, the blades were too small for the clips to grip them. WTF? So we went back in to exchange them. The clerk was similarly sure they should be thin blades. So someone went out with us to see what the problem was. It was then she informed us someone had modified the clips, and that they just needed to be pinched closed a bit.

Well that’s great, now we just needed to find pliers to do that! Our last bit of maintenance was filling tires at a BP station, so I took a chance and asked inside if they had pliers we could use, and they did! So it turned out not actually being that much of a pain. The air filter, wiper blades, and tires were all replaced and toped up before lunch. What to do now? We decided to play mini golf.

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What are the odds? I met the Stig buying auto parts!

Since I’m doing these blogs rather out of order at the moment, remember that time I played mini golf with Luke and Hannah in National Park? Yeah, well that was the second time I played mini golf in a gorgeous location, this is the first time. Lake Taupo was just across the street from the course. The sky in the distance looked like it was threatening rain, and we did get a bit of a sprinkle, but otherwise the weather was near perfect. Breezy, but still warm.

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Like most mini golf courses, the one in Taupo offered a free game if you made a hole in one on the last hole. Now, I’d already gotten a hole in one during the game, but by some will of the mini golf gods, I also sunk a hole in one on the eighteenth! The first, and maybe only time, I will ever do so. We had nothing better to do, so we took a quick snack break before coming back to play a second round.

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Now this is where the story gets a bit ridiculous. During the second game, Dad sunk a hole in one during the game. And then, oh yes, he sunk a hole in one on the eighteenth, too! What are the chances? We were mini golfed out after our second game, so we gave our free game pass to the family who had finished before us. Then we drove across the road to a car park by the water to have the lunch we should’ve had on the mountain.

After our couple of fierce mini golf games, we drove home. Much like the day before, the day wasn’t over just yet, but we’d run out of things to do, so lounging around the house was as good as anything. Our evening was going to spent at the cinema. Dad had noticed it when we were out the other day, so when our plans for the Crossing fell through, we decided to fill up some hours with a movie. Hunt for the Wilderpeople was still playing, the perfect film to continue Dad’s Kiwi experience.

I remember I spent a fair bit of time doing something or other on my laptop while Dad and Nicole chatted away. The hours passed quickly, and soon we were driving back into town and stepping into the theater. Since I’m certainly not going to write an account of us watching a movie, I’ll say instead here that this viewing was not my last. I’ll have seen Hunter for the Wilderpeople twice by the time I go home. And who knows, might end up watching it again when I get home. It’s a good flick; I’d recommend it.

We might have missed out on the Crossing, but our time in Taupo had been enjoyable even without it. Before we left the next day, as promised, we went out sailing with Dave. This particular sailing excursion was oddly reminiscent of the time Mom and I went sailing. Though we’d had good weather so far in our trip, a nice day on land can be cold on the water. Bundled up in my jacket and hat, I took a seat with Dad on one of the bean bags on deck.

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The sun came and went as we sailed. The sky was smeared with patches of gray clouds and the water was a dark steely blue. There wasn’t much talk while we sailed out of the harbor. The only other passengers were a pair of girls sat right at the front of the yacht. As we made our way further out on the water, I moved to the back of the boat to keep Dave company.

Dad came back to join us a while later. We passed the time talking, with Dave periodically calling up to the girls in the front to make sure they were alright. After an hour, we cleared the last cliff and turned towards the carvings. I didn’t take any pictures (I’ve been on this cruise three times before) but Dave gave Dad the spiel on the carvings, and I helped point out the smaller carvings that were beside the main face.

We didn’t stay long at the carvings. Soon we were turning back toward the shore. On our way out to the carvings, Dave had mentioned he was hoping to sail the entire trip. The wind had been with us that day, and we pulled back into the harbor having done exactly that. It was the only time he’d done it all season. Dave tied of the boat and the five of us stepped back onto pavement. I made sure to give Dave a proper goodbye. I wasn’t sure at this point if this was the last I’d see of him. Dad thanked him, and we both got back into the car and set out for Rotorua.

~Ren

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