Travelling has certainly brought out the adventurers in us. Since our arrival in New Zealand just over a year ago(!) we’ve had a lot of firsts: Tarzan-style jumps into the sea from a tallship, floating down small waterfalls on our backs, kayaking till I threw up in the Coromandel and touring New Zealand’s most active volcano. Most recently, though, we’ve been abandoning solid ground in favour of taking to the skies! Here’s a little account of our experiences parasailing and gliding in New Zealand.
Why see New Zealand from above?
A fresh perspective
Though I gather South Island scenery is far more dramatic and esteemed, I’m very fond of the countryside up here on North Island, all rolling green hills and sparkling turquoise waters. While ground level has plenty to offer, the aerial perspective lends so much more scale to everything. Hillsides that you’d work all day to traverse slip by beneath you (hello, Rimutakas!), urban infrastructure melts away into a backdrop of earth, sea and sky. And of course, the view is far more panoramic.
The thrill of flying
Between tall buildings, mountain tops, observation decks and taking off for flights, these days we have countless opportunities to climb up high and see the world from above. But, for me at any rate, there was something wonderfully novel about being suspended high above the sea only in a harness and parachute, or in a glider without the comforting rumble of an engine, all at the mercy of the buffeting wind!
Parasailing in Bay of Islands
We chose to parasail in Bay of Islands in large part due to opportunity – we were visiting there for our Christmas break – but the fact that the scenery there is stunning and that the prices are good also played a role! (As far as I can tell it’s much cheaper to do it in Paihia than down in Queenstown.)
We called up a week or so in advance to book, as we were visiting during the school holidays and thought it might be busy. We went with Flying Kiwi Parasail and were really impressed with them. Check out their TripAdvisor page here.
On the day itself it was a case of showing up at the dock, signing an indemnity and paying the fees. There were only two other small groups in the boat with us (7 other people in total, but one of them was a very small baby and therefore not parasailing). On the water we got a short safety briefing, the parachute was brought out and then it was time to rock ‘n’ roll. By sheer luck/positioning on the boat, we went first. We were really happy about this, as the suspense of waiting only makes Ben’s fear of heights worse!
What it’s like
In a word: breathtaking. Sitting on the back of the boat in a harness with our backs to the water, I wasn’t sure what the sensation would be. A swift upwards motion like a giant hand yanking us into the sky? In fact, the upwards motion is relatively mild – not the rapid ascension into the air I’d expected! Though of course you’re effectively just dangling from the parachute, the harnesses are so robust and positioned so well that they’re almost like a seat. I certainly felt entirely secure.
From there, I mostly remember feeling a mixture of awe and tranquility. You can hear the wind around you and see your legs dangle above thin air. You can hold on to the straps or not, as you prefer. You see your shadow gliding along the water beneath you and the speed boat leading the way. But I think the real delight is just absorbing the natural beauty of Bay of Islands all around from that exclusive lofty seat on high!
Ben’s fear of heights kicked in only as we got to a certain height, but he managed to ease his anxiety a little by talking and keeping his eyes up. Be aware that if you’re acrophobic, this may not be the right activity for you!
In total you get around 10 minutes in the air before being gradually reeled back in and plopped back onto the back of the boat.
Gliding in Upper Hutt
A gliding lesson
Due to insurance restrictions, technically you can’t glide as a recreational activity. What you can do is pay to join the gliding club for a day and have an introductory lesson.
In practice this can absolutely be a one-off gliding experience, just with the bonus of learning a little bit more about what how the controls and instruments work before you get in the air.
To book, we looked up our nearest gliding club online and got in touch with the contact given. We checked that it would be possible to do a flight and planned a provisional time to go (gliding is highly weather dependent, so isn’t always possible).
On arrival, the instructor greeted us and introduced us to the glider and all its instruments and controls. There was a good amount of detail given but the information remained very accessible to us as complete novices. He did safety checks and, after probably 20-30 minutes we were ready to get started.
There’s only room for the instructor and one passenger in the glider, and we decided Ben should go first. I ‘walked the wing’ onto the airfield (held up the wing as the glider was towed by a car) and then helped check the tow line from the plane was attached correctly to the glider. Relatively small responsibilities but it was lovely to be involved and all added to the ‘lesson’ experience.
Then Ben took to the skies and, before long, I followed suit. Apologies for the image quality, by the way – I only carried my phone when we headed to the airfield.
What it’s like
Initially it’s a little bit bumpy taking off on the tow line, which caused me a little bit of motion sickness. But far and away the main sensation was exhilaration. It’s so surreal to think it’s a mere piece of rope carrying you up over the hillside. The sensation only increases once the tow line is removed at over 2000 feet and you’re gliding free.
As we climbed from 2500 to 3000ft I went from ‘I can’t believe we can just glide on the wind with no engine’ to ‘I can’t believe we’re ascending with no engine’! After I got used to the feeling, I mostly just sat back, took in the fabulous panoramic views and kept exclaiming how beautiful it all was.
The instructor kept a bit of a commentary going, describing what we were seeing and what the glider was doing. I had a smidgeon of input – I even got to control the glider independently for a fleeting moment(!) – but mostly I just let the instructor do his thing and marvelled at everything. I could see for miles in each direction. From above our chosen gliding club in Upper Hutt I could see to Kapiti Island, Cape Palliser and Wellington Harbour, even spotting the Summit of the Rimutaka Rail Trail from above.
After 30 minutes gliding we were heading back into the air field and I returned to solid ground – a little wobbly kneed but already viewing it as one of my top New Zealand experiences!
I hope I’ve adequately expressed how amazing both of these activities were and inspired you to have a go too, whether in NZ or elsewhere! If you have any queries about either of them, don’t hesitate to drop me a comment or email me at the contact page.
Have you been/would you go parasailing or gliding? Share your thoughts in the comments and feel free to pin the image below. 🙂