Got up pretty early to beautiful blue skies - perfect for my last day in Queenstown. I'd been planning on doing an acrobatic flight in a stunt plane if the weather was nice, but then last night someone mentioned that they were going hang gliding and that sounded pretty good. Called to see if either had space available for the day - both did. Debated it and ended up deciding to do both. So I booked a noon acrobatic flight and a three o'clock hang gliding trip... looks like I'll spend a good portion of the day in the air! Spent the rest of the morning getting caught up on my journal and started packing (after being here for more than a week my stuff is spread all over).
Got picked up and driven to the airport. The plane is a Pitt Special - it's tiny! Less than six feet high and probably only about 12 feet long! It's a biplane with a canopy - I sat in the front and the pilot sat behind. The ride was short - probably only fifteen minutes. There were lots of loops, rolls, stalls, and even some inverted flight! It's amazing how wrong it feels to be facing straight down or even straight up - I tried not to think of reasons why we were flying over the lake. Actually the flight was a lot smoother than I thought - it felt more like being in a very good IMAX movie than real life - except for the extra G-force (up to +4.5 Gs and -2 Gs!). During the higher Gs (bottom of loops and pulling out of dives) I could notice my vision fading - I don't think it would take much more to make me black out - though I had no problems with queasiness (I did have a headache by the end though). To top it all off the flight was all next to the Remarkables mountain range - stunning scenery.
Back in town I dropped off the photos from the flight (all taken from the wing mounted camera) and had a quick bite to eat. Then it was time to go hang gliding! Drove up to the Coronet Peak ski area - it's a long way down. While the pilots assembled the gliders a helper got me suited up - jump suit, harness, and helmet. The the pilot and I practiced running together and he told me what was going to happen. Then we ran down a very steep hill ending at a drop off. We never made it to the drop off - probably only made it a third of the way down the hill. It was such a smooth transfer that I didn't really know that it had happened and was surprised to be no longer on the ground. It was so peaceful - normal conversation was fine. The control of the glider was simple the pilot let me drive for a bit - swoops and turns. It felt very stable and wasn't in the slightest bit scary. It felt so free, so pure... I could see it easily being very addictive (in fact I didn't meet anyone who had done it who didn't plan on taking it up when they got home). The landing was quite gentle if not graceful - they land on wheels rather than on foot as they would if it was a solo flight.
Back in town picked up the plane photos and dropped off the hang gliding film (also a wing mounted camera). Spent the rest of the day taking care of business (booking a hostel for tomorrow, checking connections for Greymouth and the train to Christchurch, and email / internet). Picked up the hang gliding photos, had diner, and celebrated Peter's birthday (Peter was one of the Kiwi Experience guys I've been hanging out with - we celebrated by waiting until midnight and buying him a slice of cake). While I was on the internet my throat was starting to tickle. By the time I went to bed I had a full blown sore throat and was feeling a bit wrecked.