“ Paraflights is a parasailing company based in Queenstown, New Zealand. „
Review: Parasailing in Queenstown
It was the last day of our holiday in New Zealand and we were due to leave Queenstown early afternoon. Now it is important to finish a holiday in style, especially since between us we had already done whitewater rafting, jet-boating down the canyon (FANTASTIC FUN!), horse-trekking, paragliding, the Gravity Canyon Flying Fox, swing and chair, as well as the touristy things. There was nothing for it - it had to be parasailing. Well, the intention was that my daughter would go Para-sailing and I would enjoy a leisurely cruise in the boat, admiring the view and silly people up in the air.
Now the technical term for the activity is 'Paraflight', for a good reason - you fly! High! Some of you may have read my review about gliding and may already be aware of my stomach-churning fear of heights? Bear this in mind as you read the rest of this review.
A short walk down to the harbour, along to the Main Pier in central Queenstown, to enquire about times and availability. We were in luck - the next group of up to twelve people could go out in half an hour's time. Trips went once an hour, so this was good timing.
The advertising leaflets proclaim:
Age is no barrier, our greatest flier is 98 years old.
Fly high, stay dry.
We paid for our tickets - one person to fly, one as an ordinary spectator. Forms absolving the company of any blame in the eventuality of an accident were signed. Weight was checked. The minimum combined weight should be at least 35 kg and the combined weight should not exceed 200kg. Would-be birds could enjoy solo flights or tandem flights. Most people opted for the tandem, preferring to share this experience with a friend. The solo flights cost $110 for adult, $80 for children. Tandem flights cost $85 pp for adults and $65 pp for children. An observer was charged $25, with the option of paying extra afterwards if you were tempted into more active participation once on the boat....as if!
Well we have already established this is an excellent spectator sport. A fairly smooth cruise on Lake Wakatipu, admiring the scenery with the occasional glance of admiration for the human birds above. Sounds good, eh? Relaxing, yes?
Everyone was fitted with life-jackets and then boarded the boat, which was custom-designed for New Zealand conditions and powered by twin 225 horsepower engines. Off we set.
The first two people were fitted into a comfortable, hands-free harness. This looked rather like a twin chair used in ski lifts, except the 'seat' was just a very strong harness. First the harness was laid out on deck and each person slithered into the leg straps. Next they sat up and another strap was fastened firmly round their stomachs. This combination of straps was already fastened to three vertical straps (very strong ones!) which were suspended from a horizontal pole. Those straps were in a convenient place to hold once up in the air, should you feel the need. At each end of the pole, on top, were fastened more straps which attached this contraption to the bright yellow parachute. Yes, parachute! I thought parachutes were intended for use when involuntarily leaving a plane in mid-air?! Just to make doubly sure that you would remember to enjoy the experience, the parachute was decorated with a big smiley face and you were advised to smile at all times as there was a camera which would take sneaky shots of the varying expressions on your face at random times during your flight.
'How did people get up into the air?' you are wondering. Well, clear instructions were given. Each person would have to be ready to take trusting steps backwards onto the platform jutting out from the back of the boat. The boat would surge forwards rapidly achieving the desired speed of 25 km / hour. The combination would, hopefully, launch the fliers into the air, rather like a kite on a beach. Otherwise they would get rather wet.
Steps back. The boat shot forward, rapidly achieving its required speed . The carbon fibre tow line unwound, enabling the fliers to swoop up into the air. Girlish shrieks filled the air as two teenage girls went up, obviously praying they would not lose their shoes. They went higher...and higher...and higher, squealing all the way. The boat swerved to the left, causing the 'chute to swerve to the right. Then another swerve, this time to the right and the 'chute swung to the left. Backwards and forwards they went, the speed at times slowing down or intensifying. The slower speeds caused the 'chute shoot to drop sickeningly, the faster speed lifted it back up again. Eventually the 'chute was slowly pulled closer to the boat by means of a winch, slower and slower, down and down. And the girls landed safely on the platform, staggering slightly forward as they struggled to get their feet.
Once all the straps were unfastened, they were carefully assisted back into the seating area, grinning and chattering in triumph and excitement at their amazing experience.
Two young children went up next - it was a special birthday treat. I think they were about nine or ten years old. Then a young couple went up.
Now all of this activity provided plenty of time for informal chat amongst the passengers, people marvelling at what was going on, admitting excitement tinged with an element of fear. Every now and again the instructor turned to me and asked me if I wanted a go after all. As if!... Hmm...Well, if young children and old people could do it, and if the young man who admitted a total phobia of heights could do it....well, you can imagine what my mouth opened and said! After all, how hard could it be?
We were duly strapped up... straight into action. Now, for some reason, my daughter thought it would be a good idea to take our own digital camera up with us, especially good as it could record video clips as well as take shots of.... the scenery (she said.)
My heart fell straight down into my stomach as we swooped up higher, higher, and even higher. "AGHHH!" could be heard almost continuously from one person - I wonder who? Meanwhile a running commentary could be heard from said daughter into the camera about the magnificent scenery, wonderful views, the beautiful clear water way below us (How on earth did she manage to release her hands? - Mine were clenched tightly round the straps, a true white-knuckle job). Needless to say, the camera ended up incidentally recording my every groan of agony and terror, accompanied by cheerful remarks such as, "Mummy is really enjoying this, aren't you, Mummy?" The replies were barely printable but were something along the lines of, "I'm never going to do this again!" Well, naughty words can't be used in front of one's offspring!
Eventually I stopped screaming...until the boat swung first this way, then the next. As for when the boat slowed down, deliberately to scare us... I still pale at the thought. "Smile for the camera, Mum," I heard in my shell-like. Down / up /down / up... and to think I paid for this torture!
After an eternity it was time to reel us in. The smiling instructor helped us out of our bindings, having prised my fingers off the straps, helped me to my feet (for some reason my legs were wobbly!) and asked how we had enjoyed the experience.
I don't think he quite expected the reply from yours truly. "An amazing experience. Truly a 'once in a lifetime' experience. I AM NEVER GOING UP IN THE AIR LIKE THAT AGAIN!"
At least, not until time has healed me, and I have forgotten the abject terror that tore my heart.
I wonder where we could do this in the UK?
PS The good thing about going on holiday / adventures with the younger generation, is that you get encouraged to try out all sorts of activities which you might otherwise avoid. Their very calmness can rub off on you, or at least give you the courage to be more adventurous than you would be otherwise. Wonder what I'll be encouraged to try next? ;-)
(This review has been posted on Ciao and Igoyougo, under the same user name and with pictures.)
Paraflights is a parasailing company based in Queenstown, New Zealand.