It’s now been a full week since my first experience paragliding in Queentown, New Zealand, and I am still riding a high.
Paragliding. In layman’s terms, paragliding is running off the face of a mountain with a parachute strapped to your back.
It sounds incredibly dangerous, exhilarating and addictive, and after going on a tandem flight with Coronet Peak Tandems, I can assure you it’s (the latter) two of those.
While I wasn’t hugely familiar with the sport before moving to Queenstown almost two years ago, it’s something I’ve grown accustomed to seeing each day. I’ve got to believe that you couldn’t find a better spot to paraglide than here on New Zealand’s South Island. Leaving directly from town is the Skyline Gondola which places you at the top of Bob’s Peak – where, if you’re inclined, you can strap on your glider, go for a flight and get right back on the gondola. Fly. Repeat. Etc.
A common feature of the Queenstown skyline is paragliders flying back to terra firma. Whilst you can fly tandem from the gondola, I opted for a more alpine feeling flight from just outside of town at the Coronet Peak ski field – where, in winter, you get about double the elevation for essentially the same price.
After riding the chairlift to near the summit of Coronet Peak, we began a short hike to what I would find to be our takeoff point – also known as, a reasonably steep hill down the side of the mountain. I was hugely excited at what was come, and whilst I was slightly nervous I felt at ease with my pilot Angus.
Helmet on, check. Harness on, check. Smile for the camera, check.
After that, the takeoff was surprisingly simple. I was attached to Angus who stood behind me. After a quick countdown – three, two, one – I was asked to power walk down the hill. As I walked forward the glider inflated and …
… one, two, three steps and we were airborne – soaring high above the snowcapped Southern Alps of the South Island.
It’s impossible to describe the sensation. Cruising high above the snow and tussock covered ridge was absolutely blissful. It’s cliche perhaps, yet I could quite literally not wipe the smile off my face. I somewhat expected the flight experience to be slightly uncomfortable – imagining hanging from my harness as you would while rock climbing. In fact, it was the opposite – lounged out, legs stretched in a bucket seat that could just have easily been a recliner in your living room – albeit, one with million dollar views.
We followed a ridgeline which would lead the way to our landing area. During warmer periods, it’s possible to catch thermals – warm winds that result in you gaining altitude, extending the flight as opposed to flying back towards solid ground. We didn’t catch these in the high of winter, and instead continued cruising to high above the landing area.
And from behind…
I was beginning to think I’d get away from the flight without the stomach-dropping twist maneuvers you often see the pilots doing – seemingly defying the laws of physics by turning sharply, swinging up and down and back up over your glider. I didn’t. And I’m glad – this put the thrill in the experience and was an excellent way to finish.
See that in my mouth? It’s my stomach.
Our landing was the worst part of the flight; the worst, only because I didn’t want the flight to be over. We came in slow over the paddock (aka field, aka the landing area), Angus hammered on the breaks and before I knew it I was back on solid ground – and still smiling.
Paraglding in Queenstown – The Basics.
A tandem flight with Coronet Peak Tandems is $205. This includes digital photos and transportation to and from Queenstown. You’d want to allow about two hours for the entire experience, with the flight itself lasting about 20 minutes. In the winter, you’ll fly from the top of the Coronet Peak chairlift – the views back behind Coronet are stunning – snow-covered mountains as far as you can see. During winter, you’ll have double the elevation to work with when compared to flying from the Skyline Gondola – more elevation, more time in the air. I would suggest paragliding as a must do activity when you visit New Zealand and you can find cheap flights to Queenstown any time throughout the year.
This paragliding flight stands out as the highlight of my adventure experiences in New Zealand; it was quite simply fantastic. After my flight last week, I’m determined to learn how to fly. Be warned: this is the most dangerous aspect of paragliding – its hugely addictive rush. Yet go on, I’m convinced you’ll love it too.
Angus and Gitti at Coronet Peak Tandems provided me with a complimentary flight, but these opinions are – as always – my own. To book, call them on NZ Freephone 0800 46 7325 or visit Tandemparaglding.com. Until then, like them on Facebook. Thanks as well to local Queenstown Tours for making this post possible.