My first experience with paragliding

He took two resolute strides forward, but almost came to a complete stop when the wing behind him came up in the air and started tugging at his harness. He kept trying to go forwards until the whole wing was inflated and flying straight above him.

“Release”, the instructor shouted to him. He leaned forwards and let go of all the strings used for inflating the wing. Holding the brake handles in his hands and moving them to behind his back, he started running.

One of the two instructors shouted at him to continue running, which is what he did. Somehow he knew he was centered under the wing, it felt right, so he kept on running. As long as he kept going he was going to get airborne.

He didn’t jump or or anything that might collapse the wing. He just kept running and eventually the wing smoothly lifted him upwards, turning his speed through the air into lift. He simply noticed that his feet couldn’t reach the ground anymore.

He was airborne.

In December 2016, my last month in New Zealand at the time, I tried out paragliding and started studying towards a flying certificate.

Paragliding might look similar to parachuting, and indeed, that is where the sport originated. In modern paragliding however, the thing you’re hanging from isn’t a chute, but a wing. This means paragliding has more in common with an airliner than a parachute, you can actually fly upwards!

Of course most paragliders don’t have engines, but must use the winds and thermals to gain altitude. Thus a paragliding pilot must understand winds, weather and how airstreams move over terrain.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get all the way to a certificate. I need eight more flights. If I have the time, I’ll do this in Sweden, but right now it’s looking like I’ll have my hands full with work. At least I bought a glider and have it waiting for me when I come back to New Zealand…

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Mavora Walkway (Day 3,4)

The book had an almost magical attraction to him. He just couldn’t let go. Reading while walking wasn’t optimal in any way. It made him super slow, and it was probably a bit dangerous too.

It wasn’t because it was a particularly good book, it was more the pure joy of reading that entangled him so. It was probably the first time in years that he allowed himself enough time to get fully enveloped in a book. It was a joy he had missed, and now truly could enjoy after craving it for so long.

A hill in front of him looked like it would be a good spot for a break. He walked up to the summit and put down his backpack. There was a light wind up here, chasing away any potential sandflies.

Some ominous clouds in the distance promised rain but for now the sun was shining, so he sat down, leaning against the backpack, and continued to read.

Several hours later, the first raindrops interrupted his reading. When looking up, he discovered that the clouds where now on top of him. A curtain of rain was slowly moving up the lake in the distance.

Quickly shouldering his backpack, he almost ran the last kilometer to the hut where he was supposed to stay the night. Only to discover that the hut was already occupied by three kiwi families. Well tent it is, he thought and pitched his tent by the lakeside. He barely finished pitching the tent and shoving both backpack and himself inside before the rain arrived in force.

The Mavora walkway stretches from the Mavora lakes to lake Wakatipu. After spending an extra day reading I just couldn’t put down my book while walking back to my starting point. Eventually I finished it whilst the rain poured down on my tent. In fact, it was raining so much that I decided not to leave the tent at all that evening, and did all my cooking and eating inside.

Eventually the rains died during the night, and the morning gave some calm and somehow washed clean scenery. It was as if the rain had washed away a layer of dust and all the colors could be seen clearer.

My path back along the lake passed the place where Sam almost drowned in Lord of the Rings (or where that scene was filmed). I did not know this, but you can see the resemblance of the place in the photos.

Soon I was hitchiking on my way to lake Wakatipu and Queenstown.

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Mavora Walkway (Day 1)

Whistling to himself he started walking along the gravel road. Maybe another kilometer to where the track started. The long and wide Mavora valley lay before him. In the distance, at the end of the valley, he could see some snowcovered mountains. The mountains was quite big and looked intimidating, yet the valley floor looked flat and easily traversed. Eventually he’d have to leave the Mavora valley, but looking at the map told him that it was just going to be another long and flat valley.

On the side of the valley, a bit of fog was still hugging the forest on the slope. The top of the ridge above that looked really close somehow.

He closed his eyes and leaped, imagining himself appearing up on the ridge. He found himself exactly one leap from where he had stood. Of course, this wasn’t some childs fantasy but real life, yet he let the child out for some time and took some more leaps, imagining himself appearing in different parts of the valley.

The fact that he was in the mountains hiking again gave his face a big smile. He had been without the freedom it gave for too long. However, the heavy backpack prevented him from jumping with joy. He still had to work on that, having less and lighter stuff.

The Mavora walkway stretches from the Mavora lakes to lake Wakatipu. I spent one night in my tent next to one of the lakes before starting the hike. There was some exceptionally clear water with no wind during the evening. The resulting mirrorlike pictures are above. Unfortunately, no wind also meant an infestation of sandflies. I had a big fire going since they seem to dislike snow, the net result was that I was either coughing smoke from burned wood or getting eaten alive by the bloody flies.

The Mavora walkway is a three to four day hike, unfortunately the Wakatipu side is closed for lambing during spring, something I did not discover until I was halfway through the track. I spent an extra day reading in the last hut that was open, and then turned back the way I came from.

Even though I couldn’t walk the entire track, being up in the mountains again made my spirit feel alive. I was practically jumping of joy the whole way (as far as you can jump with 20kg on your back).

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Haast (Day 2)

He took another step, and suddenly he was slipping. As if everything was happening in slow motion, he could feel how the knee came way too much forward and started twisting his ankle.

He could only think one thing, shit.

Suddenly he was sprawled on the ground, he had not blacked out, the brain simply did not want to remember the moment when the ankle got twisted.

A soaring pain came up through his right foot. Cold rational thinking replaced all other thoughts. Time for first aid, he thought.

He twisted around on his bum to place the foot upwards in the slope, then he looked at Jacob and told him to get the first aid kit out. The foot quickly got wrapped up tightly to prevent swelling. Interestingly he could not feel anything in the ankle once it was fixed in place.

There was however an abundance of signal substances going through his body after the initial surge of adrenalin. He realized that he probably suffered a light shock. In a cruel twist of irony, that was really good. Whenever he got light shock, he tended to think clearly and make really good decisions.

If he suffered from severe shock though, he would probably lock up completely and panic like everyone else. He intended to not find out.

This was the second day of a shorter hike in Haast, following an old kettle track named Paringa. The track was used to move livestock up until the sixties, when the new state highway made it abundant. There are still old logs for bridges over streams and even some logs in the ground to stabilize it.

After the first day, the track follows on the slope parallel to a ridge. Mostly the track is really good, but in a lot of places it’s crossed by slips, places where the ground has slid away in a mudslide. There are also a large number of creeks passing and eroding the track.

It was while negotiating a creek gully (they’re about four to six meters high) i slipped and twisted my ankle. Fortunately it wasn’t so bad that we needed to call mountain rescue. I managed to limp back to the hut we had stayed in, and the next day we limped back to where the car was parked.

I was super happy to have my Swedish friend Jacob with me. He really helped to motivate me during some total of eight hours of limping. We also got some good cred for the first aid on the ankle. Wrapping tight and placing high initially to prevent swelling, then tape and rewrap more loose for support is apparently exactly the right thing to do. You can of course try and cool down the ankle initially too, to prevent swelling, but in my case the other countermeasures where enough.

Now, back to the problem of what to do when you cannot walk, but you’re in the capital of adventure sports. Maybe I should book a flight to Wellington?

Today, almost three months after the accident, my foot is back to almost normal again. I think I strained it a bit too early though, as I’ve lost a nerve connection going down through the ankle. A small part of my lower foot is now unaware of touch, though heat and pressure stimuli is just fine.

Moral of story. Wait until you’re fully repaired until you start doing crazy shit again.

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Haast kettle track (Day 1)

The landscape around him was special somehow. The trees had a distinct shape to them, one stem and a bundle of leaves only at the top. It looked similar to a savanna, or at least what he thought a savanna looked like. The flax growing on the ground next to the trees was typical for New Zealand though, and the damp almost marshy ground was too wet to be a savanna. The dampness was probably the reason for why the trees grew in such a special way.

It was fun to pretend he was in an African savanna though. What if he could see a lion or a giraffe?

Jacob called from up ahead. It looked as if he had found something on the ground. Emil walked over to check it out.

It was a big skeleton from some animal, a cow perhaps. Maybe there was lions around after all.

Emil got a sudden image flowing through his head. The leftover bones from a gnu on the savanna, as the lions walked away in the background. He just had to see if he could replicate the image with his camera. Well, maybe without the lions.

This was the first day of a shorter hike in Haast, following an old kettle track to Paringa. The track was used to move livestock up until the sixties, when the new state highway made it abundant. There are still old logs for bridges over streams and even some logs in the ground to stabilize it.

The Haast forest is a rain forest, so the track has become quite overgrown in places. Continuously changing shapes of rivers and streams also add to the confusion. That the track isn’t high on the DOC maintenance list doesn’t help.

Both me and Jacob (the Swedish guy I had along for the ride) agreed that a topomap would have been a good idea. Even if it’s pretty obvious where the track is, that extra security will make the walking a bit more relaxed. Especially when there’s no markers for some two kilometers.

Even without a map we made it to the first hut pretty easy. An axe made for some good woodcutting competition on arrival. The huts need bigger woodburners though, we couldn’t burn all the wood we cut.

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