In which we jump off a plane and survive the fall to raft on the wild waters of the river Barron. Part 2 of the Queensland Diary
The worst part about skydiving is the wait. There's a lot of paperwork, you need to sign waivers and wait for the diving instructors to return from their previous jump. Bec recommends we buy videos of the jump because it's something you never want to forget. Turns out she was right. The videos help a great deal to distract from the impending task at hand. Three hours after showing up at Skydiving Cairns (www.skydivecairns.com.au), we are on our way to the plane that will drop us off at a height of 14,000 ft. We would then free-fall for a minute, which is about 3 km, after which the instructor would open up the parachute just 1 km before we hit the ground.
The instructors check the harness at least thrice before the fall as we are all cramped up on two benches because that's all the space the plane has. We are asked to get into position — cross our arms, lean back on the shoulder of the instructor and let him guide the fall. "Once I tap you, it means we are OK and you can spread your arms like a bird," says Jeremy, my instructor, who has been doing this for three years. It helps to know that his fear of heights has kept him away from bungee jumping.
Wanted to feel like a bird, a plane, Superman? The moment arrived. And one by one, we fell out of the sky. The first three seconds are scary because you aren't used to the feeling of a free fall at that speed, from that height. But just as you get a taste of it, there's a tap on the shoulder and you spread your hands out like wings and... fall! It's the ultimate rush of adrenaline. The wind makes my face wobble as I discover that I can barely change the position of my hands that are now functioning as wings because of the air pressure. We are about a kilometre close to the ground – 20 seconds to death at that speed – when the diving instructor opens up the parachute. We are instantly thrust upwards and the fast forward mode of the fall is suspended to slow. I learn how to steer the parachute by pulling the strings before he asks me to get into position for a safe landing. And we glide down on the grass for a perfect landing.
It's a life changing moment. Because, once you've jumped off a plane, you feel you can do pretty much anything. It felt like we were all part of a reality show like Fear Factor. Because next up, we had to jump into a raft to navigate the wild waters of the muddy brown Barron river. I can't swim but that's part of the adventure. “Will the raft topple over? Will I fall into the water because I can't swim,” I ask Tucker, our Japanese guide. “You don't want to know,” he laughs.
Next thing we know, we are carrying the rafts on our heads and Tucker of Raging Thunder (www.ragingthunder.com.au) tries to lighten the mood with his jokes, occasionally pretending like a crocodile got his feet, letting out a horror movie scream. You sense how much fun he has on the job when he says, “This is my office,” as he points to a picturesque stretch of calm and green. It's a rollercoaster ride of a raft as the rocky rough river tosses us up and down the rapids with Tucker screaming instructions at regular intervals. We are all soaking wet in no time and the raft hasn't even toppled over even once.
Soon, we get a bird's eye view of the Daintree Rainforest as we get on board the Kuranda Skyrail Rainforest Cableway (www.skyrail.com.au). Not much of an adventure after all that we've done. Or so we thought, until someone played the Devil's advocate: “What happens if the cable-car stops or the cable snaps?” Looking down at the dense forest, as fascinating the view was, it was going to be a tricky situation. Nobody would ever find us. And we could end up as food before we manage to find some ourselves.
We had been in the air, fallen off the sky, got grime on our shirts, had soaked wet over rough waters and suspended over forests and there was more to come. We were yet to take in the magnificent views the Great Barrier Reef had to offer.
(To be continued)