Important questions first: if you go skydiving in the Bay of Islands can you wear an Insta-ready outfit?
Sure, says Andrew Mac Millan – general manager and tandem master at Skydive Bay of Islands. But just be aware that landing on grass while clipped to another person can mean sliding in on bums – and getting grass-stains – which is why they give everyone protective jumpsuits. The wind rush going down can be chilly too!
“But hey, if you want to wear something specific you can. Sometimes we get stags or hens dos where people want to dress up. Sometimes people want to jump in their sports team’s jersey, and that’s all fine.”
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Andrew has been taking skydivers up (and then down) in the Bay of Islands for 26 years, and their operation now runs year-round, stopping only for Christmas and Boxing Day, New Year’s Day – or bad weather. Bad weather for skydiving being either strong winds or excess clouds.
Good weather on the other hand, looks like clear skies and bright sun – which, when we spoke to Andrew, had been the daily pattern in Northland for three months straight – a crazy run of perfect summer that meant the views from the plane were beyond spectacular.
“From our highest jump, 20,000 feet up, you can see everything. All the way to the West Coast, up to 90 Mile Beach, and Cape Reinga looks like it’s just up the road.”
A note here for anyone new to New Zealand: Cape Reinga is most definitely not ‘just up the road’. The most northerly point in the country, it’s over 200km and an almost 3 hour drive from Paihia, so we’re talking about some serious views here.
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The most spectacular skydive in New Zealand?
Views, of course, are the big draw in the Bay of Islands for those planning to skydive in New Zealand. Even on the lower jumps the planes head out over the water as they climb, taking in the full glory of the 144 islands in the bay. Often they’ll fly all the way out to the famous Hole in the Rock before passengers clip on to their tandem skydive masters, pause to gather nerve at the open, gaping door, then leap into the wind.
Rylee Lewis, a traveller from Seattle who visited the Bay of Islands recently as part of a family trip, went skydiving during her stay in Paihia. And for her it was the spectacular vistas that really made it magical.
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“I’ve been skydiving before, about seven years ago. I jumped from 14,000 feet in Star, Idaho in the United States. And there were more nerves and excitement going into that first jump because I hadn’t experienced skydiving before – but the views at the Bay of Islands? They were unbeatable. Looking out and seeing all the islands and the crystal blue water was just fantastic.”
Rylee and her brother made the jump to celebrate his 28th birthday, and having the time to take in the experience really added to the enjoyment.“Part of what made this jump so special was the fact that is was from 20,000 feet, a height that you don’t see advertised at other skydiving places. The company even marketed the jump as ‘falling from higher than Kilimanjaro’, which was ironic because my brother and I had climbed Kilimanjaro together just a couple months earlier.
“It was pretty epic to be on oxygen as we ascended in the plane and I felt like 85 seconds free-fall really allowed you to take it all in and look around you. Though when I pulled the chute, my ears ached from the rapid descent and I had to give them a good pop to hear again. My mouth was also crazy dry because I was smiling like a fool the whole way down!”
Just how scary is skydiving?
So are people sometimes too nervous to jump?
Andrew says that in all his years of taking customers up, only two or three have ever opted to return to the ground in the plane. That said though, the dive masters on tandem jumps are never pushy. If a customer says they don’t want to jump, then they don’t jump.
“If they want to try again they can,” says Andrew. “But if they’re not keen it’s no problem. Very, very seldom do people come down without jumping, though.”
Something about the build-up seems to settle everyone’s nerves, he says.
Jumpers start their experience being weighed, then watch a safety briefing before getting into jumpsuits and harnesses and meeting their tandem dive masters.
“Our staff are good at setting people at ease,” says Andrew. “Generally people say ‘oh I thought I’d be more nervous’ in the build-up. It’s when the door opens that the nerves kick in!”
Of course the thrill of overcoming those nerves and plunging through the air is a huge buzz – and highly addictive. Which is why Skydiving Bay of Islands also trains people to jump solo through their Accelerated Freefall (AFF) Program, a qualification that’s recognised around New Zealand and overseas.
The course involves a full day of training on the ground, followed by a series of practical levels that takes 3-4 days and involves several jumps. Some people sitting the course will plough through this practical element in one go, while others will do their training jumps over multiple weekends. Which, let’s face it, is a great option for anyone based in the Bay of Islands who wants to explore all the stunning attractions the region has to offer.
Bay of Islands skydiving quick facts
- 20,000 feet is the highest sky dive offered in New Zealand.
- While skydiving in New Zealand is available in locations such as Auckland, Taupo, Queenstown and Wanaka, the Bay of Islands Skydive experience is considered one of the most spectacular in the world.
- It takes 1.5-3 hours to complete a tandem jump.
- You choose the height you want, from 9,000 feet (20 seconds of free-fall, followed by a 5 minute parachute ride) up to 20,000 feet (80-90 seconds free-fall, followed by a 5 minute parachute ride).
- For safety reasons you must leave your own camera on the ground, but there are plenty of options for getting video and images of your jump, including HD free-fall video!
- Landing areas include Kerikeri Airport, Waitangi Treaty Grounds and Paihia beach.
- Certified to the highest possible safety standards by New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority. Tandem masters have over twenty thousand jumps and twenty years’ experience between them.