Skydive watching at Motueka Aerodrome
Some people are seriously turned on by skydiving, many others would never consider doing it (fear, cost etc), but most people would enjoy spending a couple of sunny hours at the Motueka Aerodrome watching the skydiving operations.
Parachute jumps only take place when the weather is fine and not too windy, so the sunshine factor is always in your favour as a watcher. However, of course, you also need to check before heading out there that jumping is okay for the day.
There's stacks of car parking, and it's not too far from High Street for anyone to cycle there.
If comfort is high on your priority list, then a few couches and picnic tables at the front of the operations office offer a good place to relax, and there's usually enough happening to ensure you won't get bored.
On a busy day you can see how slick the operation is. Jumpers register in plenty of time so their jump times are sorted. Currently the planes take up a maximum of six jumpers at a time, and if it has any tandem jumpers who want a videographer to capture the event on DVD, that takes up three of the six places.
The first-time jumper gets a few minutes instruction and then is kitted out in the shed/hangar out the back. Have a peek at the work done out there - the skydive operation includes several back-stage staff refolding used parachutes and preparing the packs for the next users (including, obviously, staff jumpers). The skill and care taken by these staff is impressive.
As a watcher, sit near the next group waiting for their ascent and sense the buzz, the chatter between staff and clients. Staff are generally very happy to talk about their work and the technical aspects of the jump - how high they go and why, how long it takes, how cold it is, etc. You may learn a lot of interesting facts.
The next group are quickly but efficiently packed, seemingly like sardines, into the red wing-tipped plane and in no time the machine is noisily and speedily heading for the runway. Try following the plane as it ascends and shrinks to the eye - if your eyes and concentration are sharp, there are few clouds, and your neck can take it, you may see it all the way to the jump zone directly overhead. (Ask a staff member on the ground when the jump is about to happen.)
Then the hiatus, when you know up to six people are plummeting towards you but you can't see them. A minute or so later, out of the blue, parachutes open and you watch them descend.
Here's where some of the best fun comes. You'll be able to pick out the experienced jumpers, which may well include the one with the video camera on his/her helmet. They will descend fastest and will almost certainly include some acrobatics as they close in on earth. They need to get down in good time to film their client's landing and elation.
The result is always a pretty spectacular landing by the videographer, normally directly above and in front of you. It's so fast that you can hear the rushing wind flapping his equipment and you're sure he's going too fast. It usually ends with a great 20-metre skid as he judges his swoop to perfection. What skill!
Finally enjoy the amateurs in their tandem harnesses land, and stride back with glowing cheeks and whipped hair to the base and perhaps the approval of their friends. Meanwhile, the plane is refuelling and the next jump group is preparing to board in what must be one of the fastest turnaround operations at any aerodrome.
Watch for two hours and you will have experienced the slickness of a skilled, well organised business, the joy of the brave jumpers, and the pleasure of being in the open air.