There’s at least one extremely popular conversation in New Zealand that I’m confident I’ll never participate in: the debate over the merits of sky diving vs. bungy jumping vs. the bungy swing vs. any other pursuit that involves hurling one’s self from a great height and plummeting towards the ground for the sheer enjoyment of it. I have heard no fewer than a dozen heated arguments on the subject since arriving here a few weeks ago, but I’ve never felt the need to form my own opinion based on experience. The concept of “hoping I don’t go splat as entertainment” holds zero appeal for me. But the flying part? There’s something to be said for that. And, for once, there’s something I can say about that.
Yes, in a move that shocked no one more than myself, I decided to go hang gliding the other day in Abel Tasman National Park. Because, well, this blog isn’t called “Jessica Plays it Safe” or “The Year of Practical Thinking,” is it? Nope. So I strapped myself into a canvas cocoon, harnessed myself into a hang glider, and white-knuckled it as a prop plane hauled me 2,500 feet into the air with a thing yellow rope, trailing along behind the plane like one of those ads for Ladies’ Night at Mansion you see while sunbathing in Miami.
The plane circled me (and the actually-qualified hang gliding professional strapped to me) a few times over apple trees, vineyards, beaches, and kiwifruit orchards, before cutting the line and leaving us to float on our own in the warm thermal winds we’d caught. Every few seconds a sensor mounted on our handlebars would beep like a hospital heart monitor, indicating a warm wind coming towards us, and we’d lift up and cruise back down like a rowboat out in the ocean.
So, what was it like up there? I won’t say I felt like an eagle, or a superhero, or any such nonsense. I just felt like me — only freer. Free of responsibility or pressure or gravity or even nervousness. All I felt was serenity. And even at 15-minute intervals, I’d say that’s pretty special.
Admittedly, being in a setting like this doesn’t hurt the whole it’s-all-groovy vibe of hang gliding.
Anywhere else in the world, Abel Tasman would be an exclusive private resort where Jennifer Aniston and her latest beau would helicopter in to avoid the paparazzi for a weekend. Here, it’s a national park where you can stay for $22 a night and hike to the beach through native bush.
And so it’s not surprising how many people seem to end up just staying put here after visiting. Thursday night is open mic night at the Park Cafe, right on Marahau Beach at the entrance to Abel Tasman’s famous coastal track. I stopped by with a few friends for a drink and ended up staying all night, sipping carafes of merlot, making friends with an 11-year-old ukelele player, singing along to skillfully covered Bob Dylan and Red Hot Chili Peppers songs, and ditching my flip flops to hop around waving my arms on the flagstone dance floor as this guy wailed on everything from the flute to the electric fiddle:
This guy’s originally from Ohio. Nineteen years after arriving in Kaiterteri, he now goes by the name Harmony Aquarium and plays Bruno Mars songs on the uke while dancing in character.
And I have to say, after three days in Abel Tasman, the idea of a gradual descent off the grid a la Mr. Aquarium seems thoroughly do-able. For now, though, I’ll just stick to the hang gliding.