So, given that I’m in Auckland right now with the incomparable Zara Potts, this will be a co-written effort.
Simon: I’m currently on holiday in New Zealand – my friend Mel and I are spending a few days in the North Island, a few days in the South Island, then heading back to Melbourne. We’ve got a list of things to do while we’re over here, and the first item to check off – for me – was to go to Auckland’s Sky Tower and take a SkyJump. For those unfamiliar, the SkyJump is where you pay to strap yourself into a harness and jump off a 192-metre drop, freefalling for eleven seconds before the harness catches you and you decelerate the last few metres down to the landing pad.
It was Zara who originally suggested I do this.
Zara: New Zealanders are well known for their love of jumping off high buildings. It’s become something of a national pastime and we pride ourselves on this peculiar brand of brave foolishness. The SkyJump, however, is no ordinary bungee jump. The Sky Tower is an imposing concrete needle that reaches high into the clouds and is topped by a flying saucer-like disc, which tourists and thrill-seekers alike climb up to marvel at the best views of the city.
Native Aucklanders are so used to this ridiculously tall structure, which dwarfs everything around it, that they barely glance at it. Until, that is, they hear the screams of people plummeting towards the ground at terrifying speed.
I was pretty sure Simon was going to be screaming the whole way down.
Simon: We’d checked out the Sky Tower from a distance on our previous drives through Auckland, but it was only when we drove underneath I truly realised how tall it is. I’d booked while still in Australia and the reality of what I’d signed myself up for was still safely hundreds of miles away. Once I saw the tower up close and personal, however, I could also see the way it loomed high over the buildings surrounding it. It was at this point I started to get nervous, and I started making jokes about how what Mel and Zara would hear as they waited at the bottom was a loud Australian voice: “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu-“
I’d decided to do the SkyJump because when I first heard about it, I didn’t want to do it. Heights scare me, and so I’ve traditionally avoided them. And as soon as I realised I was scared, I told myself I had to do this thing; that I had to challenge myself and take the plunge. I’m no adrenalin junkie (at least, I wasn’t before the jump), but I do believe in facing your fears and coming out the other side. As a psychologist friend of mine is fond of saying, avoidance maintains anxiety.
Zara: I have managed to avoid going up the Sky Tower for the ten years that I have lived in this city. The best way of doing this, so that I don’t look chickenshit, is to suggest to visiting friends that while they take the trip heavenward, I will selflessly stay on terra firma and photograph their sky-hijinks from ground level.
When they hesitate, I am quick to reassure.
“It’s not that high really,” I say. “It looks scarier than it actually is.”
I fail to mention to them that I have never been brave enough to see for myself if this is true.
“Simon, you go up and I’ll get a good spot on the ground and record it for you on my camera. It’ll be awesome.”
He fell for it.
Simon: Sign-in consisted of completing a form agreeing that I wouldn’t sue anyone if the absolute worst happened, and then being fitted with a lurid yellow and blue jumpsuit. I was assured that yes, my butt did look big in it. My pleasantly Scottish guide strapped me into a harness and introduced me to the three teenage Kiwi girls who would be my jump group. As we first got ready, we were joking, and laughing, and trying to make light of the fact that the drop was getting closer and closer.
The lift up to the jump platform was set with large glass windows, so as we went up we could see just how high we were getting. It was when we passed the hundred-metre mark that we all went quiet. I cleared my throat and said ‘So who’s going first?’
One of the girls said she would, because she wanted to get it over and done with. Then the lift doors opened and we made our way out onto the deck.
Zara: As Simon was making his way up his personal concrete Everest, I was making a fast getaway out the front doors and onto the street. I cracked my neck as I craned my head to look up at the tower. I could see tiny shapes moving on the outer disc of the observation deck. I knew they were people, but at that moment they looked more like tiny spiders clinging to a steel web.
One of those shapes was Simon.
Simon: The fear that had earlier checked in at Casa Del Simon’s Stomach really started to kick into high gear as we stood in the windowed waiting room and watched the first girl walk out onto the ledge, get strapped in, and drop. It was only then I fully accepted the knowledge I was going to do the same thing in ten minutes.
After what seemed like a long, long time, the attendant came out and asked who was next. I raised my hand.
Desperate to keep my game face on while the upper altitude winds rippled my suit, I cracked wise with the guy standing by the roaring pulley system that was going to keep me alive. I asked where he was from (a hamlet in Yorkshire, England), told him that my mother was from a nearby town (Rotheram), and warned him to expect the loudest profanity that Auckland had ever heard as soon as I was off the platform.
The jump attendant hooked cables to my back and told me what to expect. Like someone walking the plank, I was lead out to the jump platform. And I thought Fuck. This is really high.
‘Want to take a look over the edge?’ the attendant asked. I looked, and instantly knew that was a bad idea.
‘OK,’ the attendant said. ‘Hang onto the handrails and lean out over the edge. You’ll feel everything tighten up, I’ll count to three, and on three, let go of the handrails and step off.’
My right leg was shaking and all I could think was Jesus, I hope I can let go of the handrails on the first try.
That seemed to be the worst part of it, that I would have to push myself off the edge. The city and the harbour were spread out before me, and I could see with complete clarity that it was a long, long way down.
I grabbed the rails and leaned out, trying to maintain self-control. Suddenly I felt the harness tighten, and the guy behind me started to count. And on three, I forced myself to simply let go and step forward.
Zara: I saw Simon fall. I hoped that I hadn’t just sent my friend to his plummeting death. I mean, what if the whole system fucked up on his jump? It could happen, right? The wires looked strong, but even the thickest cables can snap sometimes. The harness looked good, but what if it was nearing its use-by date?
I held my breath as I saw him drop and then pull up suddenly. His tiny blue and yellow clad body was dangling in mid-air and he started to swing wildly from side to side. This meant that the cable was strong enough to hold him, but another worry quickly jumped into my mind. What if he got stuck there? How would they rescue him? Would it make the six o’clock news?
Simon: The SkyJump is divided into two parts – first, you dangle a couple of metres down like a hooked fish and the staff take a picture of you hanging in mid-air. Then they send you on the drop proper. So there’s a stomach-lurching second of absolute terror until the harness first catches and they call out, as you’re suspended high over Auckland, and say ‘Hey! Wave to the camera!’
It was as I was waving up at them when a little voice in the back of my head said As soon as they take that picture, you’re on your way down, buddy.
And, sure enough, a heartbeat later gravity kicked back in.
As soon as I fell, my fear vanished completely, replaced by wild exhilaration. I remember bursting into laughter on the way down as my body went into adrenaline overdrive. Apparently people can reach speeds of 85 km/hr; I think I must have hit a speed close to it. The landing pad was a tiny square that got closer and closer at an incredible rate, and the sheer excitement of speeding straight at the bullseye was overwhelming.
I remembered the instructor telling me to bend my knees on landing, and I pulled them in as I came crashing back to earth.
Zara: Mel and I were lying on our backs next to the giant orange bullseye watching Simon’s plunge through the safety of our camera lenses. Reality is so much better when viewed on a screen. The only sound we could hear was the screaming whistle of the steel cables that signaled his descent.
Despite my prediction, no screams escaped Simon’s lips.
In fact, he was pretty much lost for words. He could only find two to sum up his eleven-second fall:
His shit-eating grin said more than any sound could convey.
Simon: I was buzzing for hours afterwards – even now, I can’t see the Sky Tower dominating Auckland’s cityscape without saying ‘I’m so glad I did that.’ I can remember how scared I was waiting up at the top of the tower, the resolve it took to step away from the tower, and the sheer exultancy of coming back down.
And the best part is, having done it once… I now have a discount ticket to do it again.
(Photos by Zara Potts and Melanie Sheridan)