There are certain image collections that keep on popping up on facebook. “20 scary pictures from the past”, “OMG I can’t believe she wore THAT to the Oscars”, “10 things you should never eat” and “these paintings sum up modern life completely.” Especially the last one. Cue a selection of kitsch digital paintings showing suit-clad zombies with faces stuck to their phones, a lone woman trapped in a facebook cage right next to a slightly ajar door, and how your kid’s childhood is being eaten by a soul-eating iPad.
Hang on a second. It’s true that we’re spending more time than ever before in front of screens and feel a little weird leaving the house without our phone, but that is because the digital revolution has opened up a whole new world of possibilities in which technology is simply too useful to ignore. Anyone who read Douglas Adams predicting the invention of the internet-enabled smartphone in 1978 would have dismissed this mythical device along with the other futuristic gadgets introduced in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (drink inventor, anyone?). But ladies and gentlemen, just like we found out the earth is actually no longer flat, we have made the future’s wildest dreams reality. That little affordable device that fits in your pocket, works for 12 hours without being plugged in and can connect you to anyone around the world instantaneously also happens to give you access to the entirety of human knowledge, from everywhere and of all time. THAT, dear friends, is a miracle.
Louis CK did a fantastic commentary on Late Night in which he describes how instead of seeing the incredible things we’ve created, we take things for granted filling us with an instantaneous feeling of entitlement. Everything is amazing, and nobody’s happy – is this just the human condition? We like to think that humans are empathetic beings, and respond to what is around them. And as founders of a company that uses the internet every day, we see what an incredibly powerful and positive tool it is. Put aside high computing power, stock markets and commerce, for one thing that technology has totally revolutionized, it’s how we connect to other people.
You may argue that we spend less time with real humans and more in cyberspace. However, if you weigh up the incredible benefits of global interconnectedness with you making the decision to stay on your sofa with YouTube instead of inviting friends over for dinner, we’re afraid to tell you that blaming the biggest social communication network in the world for you choosing the easy option is plain lazy. Meeting up with people takes a little bit of effort. It always has and it always will. You need to create your own entertainment, you need to navigate through awkward pauses, you need to *shock horror* share your personal space with other people. As messaging and facebook made interactions less awkward (you can, after all, wear whatever you want and walk away from a conversation at any point by claiming your phone died), we tend to choose staying in over going out of our way to connect with others in real life. That’s hardly technology’s fault, so stop faffing on Buzzfeed and go organize that movie night with mates right now.
Once we’ve got over the scapegoating, let’s sit back and contemplate who we’d not be in touch with if it wasn’t for the internet. Our team have travelled and lived in many different countries over the years, and facebook has provided an invaluable platform to keep in casual contact with our friends. No need for long, personalized “my life this year” newsletters. No need to cut off from people you weren’t good enough friends with to be pen pals, but had a great time with and care about enough to be interested in how they’re getting on. And how about the people you would never have seen again because, even if you wanted to, there’s no way to be in touch? Take for example one of the nurses that treated Saxon when he got Typhoid in Timor, in hindsight a pretty funny story that involved a ping-pong match, skimping on travel jabs and carrying blood back and forth up and down 3 flights of stairs. That nurse is on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Melbourne next week (what are the odds?), and we only know because of this wonderful global interconnectedness. Beer time.
Our producer’s recent California mission was powered completely by facebook – connecting with old contacts at Cinequest Film Festival, networking in LA and bringing together good friends that hadn’t seen each other in years due to pursuing careers around the world, everything was possible at the touch of a button. And the best thing was – despite being on opposite sides of the planet, we had been part of our lives all along. Chatting online, posting articles and film trailers we loved, showing what we were up to for fun, things that happened that made us sad… we were all there in it together. Isn’t that incredible?
No matter if it’s connecting likeminded people unrepresented by government and media to gain strength and stage a revolution for democracy, doctors sharing knowledge to fight disease on a global scale, or YouTube, the global stage for absolutely everyone to show off what they are passionate about and by doing so open people’s minds to strangers from different countries… the best of humanity is out there, ready for you to take part. Because the secret is, no matter where we’re from, what we do, what our cultural background is – we all care about the same things. Where we sleep, what we eat, what we do for work and fun, and how much we care about those we love. Technology hasn’t changed this, it’s added a whole new universe to our lives as social beings. Thank you, digital revolution.
We just happened to look up from our editing machines as the lightning struck full pelt across the horizon. Ominous black clouds rushed across the skyline as Melbourne’s corporate tower blocks were swallowed one by one by the encroaching bank of torrential rain. It may have been 2pm, but the sky was so dark our screens had automatically adjusted to twilight settings. No wonder our eyes were straining. We looked up at each other puzzled. Hadn’t it been blazing sunshine just half an hour ago?
Melbourne has the reputation of having four seasons in one day. Popular TV panel show The Gruen Transfer even made a point back in 2013 of advertising nearby Tasmania as the most cost effective destination for the 2024 Olympics as you could hold both the summer and winter Olympics in the same venues, on the same day. Two for the price of one you may say.
This volatile climate is mainly down to two factors: wind direction and topography. Wind from the south comes straight over the ocean from the arctic and creates wonderful ski slopes around Mt Buller east of Melbourne. Yes, you can ski in Australia. Google it. Wind from the north comes straight from the hot desert where the first three Mad Max films were shot. As Melbourne is by the sea, and air warms and cools at different rates over land and the ocean, wind is common. Add a lack of mountains (such as the Rockies along west coast USA) to hold hot or cold air pockets in place and you get days where the wind suddenly changes causing a 38 degree day to turn into a 21 degree afternoon. And vice versa – this is what makes it all so exciting. Yes, it’s not for everyone. It gets cold, but it also gets really hot and having a good mixture ensures we never get too bored with either. And with a floor to ceiling panoramic view from the top floor of our studio & living space, we thoroughly enjoy the show.
Melbourne isn’t the only place in Oz with rather spectacular choreographies going on in the skies. Perth’s extremely hot, super-dry summers, inherently unstable atmosphere and close proximity to the dusty, iron-ore-red outback have brought forth spectacular dust storm cloud formations. Slap one of those rust-orange towering walls topped with a froth of swirling charcoal thundercloud above the azure ocean and you’ll see where Fury Road got its colour palette. Perth also boasts the most costly natural disaster in Western Australia’s history, when a particularly ferocious storm cell on the 22nd of March 2010 caused over $1 billion damage.
The 27th of November 2014 saw another vicious weather system hit Brisbane. Huge tennis-ball sized hail showered down on parts of the city, smashing all windows on one side of our Dragon’s brother’s house and pock marking cars all along the street. Ominous dark, swirling clouds eventually passed, leaving what has until hours before been an early summer’s evening looking like it had been hit by a freak blizzard. More than 100,000 homes lost power supply due to 642 power lines brought down, 39 people were injured and a number of planes were flipped over at Archerfield Airport. Over 500,000 insurance claims for hail-damaged cars took over a year to process and repair. Brisbane is otherwise a lovely city with wonderful warm weather. Just don’t mention the 2013 ocean foam buildup on the nearby sunshine coast that blanketed roads, resorts, caravan parks, back yards, houses, cars, dogs, gerbil cages and unsuspecting German tourists in what looked like a 2m deep Ibiza club foam party. Just a few big-ish waves and rough seas during a cyclone, that’s all. Nothing to see – move along!
To steer clear of severe weather, all you need to do is avoid the East Coast, West Coast, South Coast, Tasmania and the centre of the Australian continent. The Northern Territory may be home to an abundance of man-eating crocs, but at least the climate is friendly. That is if you are a being from hell. For Australia is rather well known for its devastating bushfires that in the case of a 2003 alpine fire, destroyed 41 homes and over 1.3 million hectares of land. The most fire prone areas may be in the southern states (Victoria being the heaviest hit), but one plucky cameraman in Alice Springs managed to capture the moment a fire was sucked up into a tornado. Yeah Sharknado might have been fun, but this shit is real!
Australia’s extreme weather is destructive, no question about it. However, as with most things in life, there is another side to the bat-shit crazy weather that is incredibly creative. Certain plants such as the Banksia have evolved to rely on bush fires for re-production, where seed pods only open due to presence of extreme heat. Indigenous Australians have used fire to cultivate grassland and create tracks in dense bushland, allowing for plants and animals to thrive, making bush fires an essential part of Australia’s ecology. For us mere humans, being able to ski, surf huge waves, relax on tropical beaches and trek through rust-red deserts and dramatic wind-swept rock formations all in one country makes Australia an incredible place to be. Don’t even get us started on the clouds…
We get it. You’ve seen it all already. On those posters, fliers, brochures, facebook ads and friends’ profile pics: the screaming, freefalling, sometimes cleavage-heavy adrenaline portraits of the young and daring tandem skydiver, plummeting through the air at 200km/h strapped to some tattooed weekend-base-jumper with a maniac grin plastered across his Oakley-sporting face.
If hanging around drop zones for the last 5 months has taught us anything (and it’s taught us WAY more than we could have possibly imagined), it’s this: Yes, that backpacker-thrill-face is part of our daily subjects as we cling to our cameras whilst trying to not get hit by landing humans on the beach. However, as with the added knowledge about the sky, the clouds, the physics of parachuting and the aviation industry in general, we were surprised by the people we met who we’d never expect to be in any way connected to what is perceived to be such an ‘extreme’ sport. Filmmaking gives you amazing access to people’s experience, ideas and worlds, and here are our top 5 surprises:
1) Don – the unintentional expert
Don is a tandem master with over 9600 jumps to his name. “It all started back in the 80s, I had just got divorced and was looking for a new social group”. He was introduced by a friend and as he really enjoyed hanging out with everyone at the drop zone, he ended up jumping. It actually took Don 20 jumps to start enjoying himself properly.
After years of experience and training, Don gained his tandem qualification in 1991. In his typically calm, collected and approachable manner, he explains that he loves taking people flying, and especially enjoys tandems with paraplegic passengers or people with cerebral palsy. “You’re up there in the air with them, and there’s nothing for your legs to do, so letting your passenger fly a parachute around feeling weightless and free is just amazing”.
Don also teaches the AFF (accelerated free fall) course to people who want to learn to fly on their own. “It’s rewarding to the max to see people I taught flying on their own and having fun or challenging themselves in competitions”. We ask him if this is day job. “Oh, no, this is how I spend my weekends. I’m a postman during the week!”
2) Alan – the birthday boy
There seems to be a popular belief that skydiving is the realm of 20-something year old people without a real job. We must admit that we were a little surprised ourselves to learn that, unlike driving your car without regular tests, the upper age limit for skydiving is non existent. We first met Alan as he was assisted off the landing area as he had difficulty walking. “I’ve always wanted to skydive, but my wife wouldn’t let me!” he laughs out in a brash Aussie twang. “Well, unfortunately she died before I was 80, so on my 80th I booked in to skydive. I’ve treated myself on my birthday every year since!”
Alan has difficulty walking, but so long as you can lift your legs up for the landing, you can go skydiving without any special equipment, yes, even if you’re in your 90s or above (and it’s been done!). “We had three elderly ladies booked in Cairns”, Hannah who organizes front of office explains, “and as they all put down the same address, I thought they lived together. Turns out it was the address of their nursing home. They had a fabulous time up in the air and wouldn’t stop telling me all about it whilst they waited for their photos.”
3) Allie – the fast rider
Allie is probably the most likely out of all our unlikely people because she does things that you would expect from a skydiver, and at that, one thing in particular: Allie races motorbikes. What is completely unexpected is how humble she is about her amazing achievements on the racecourse and in the sky. “Many of my skydiving colleagues would never ride a sports bike, because it’s ‘too dangerous’” she smiles knowingly. “I’m the ground safety officer here and make sure everyone lands nice and safely after jumping out of the plane. So I absolutely agree with them. Looking at the statistics, you’re more likely to get hurt driving in your own car to the drop zone than falling out of a plane.”
Her knowing smile holds another story though, as Allie is afraid of flying. “It used to be awful, I’d have to take a Qantas flight here or a Jetstar flight there and whilst everyone was sitting around chatting about the coffee being terrible or zoning into the in-flight entertainment, I was clinging to my seat, sweaty palmed.” Most people think the riskiest part is outside the plane, but everyone we know in skydiving is much happier once they leave the plane. “Those things are way more scary than jumping out. I used to take my parachute on as hand luggage so I knew that if anything happened, I’d be fine in mid air”. Allie successfully manages her nervousness when flying these days but it gives her valuable insight into what first-timers feel like and how to re-assure them. “It’s not about being fearless, it’s about feeling it but helping yourself to do it anyway. You’ve got to go out there and enjoy life.”
4) Sammy – the wiz-kid
“There’s lots that determines your coolness-factor at school. One of them’s your pencil case. Another is your mum’s restraint level when you just don’t want a cuddle. I totally nailed it. I jumped out of a plane.” Sammy isn’t 18. He isn’t 16 with parental consent either. Sammy did his first skydive at 13, one year older than Australia’s 12+ age limit. Surprised? Well, in New Zealand, so long as you can get strapped in, you can fly, no matter how young you are.
“It’s like when you’re in bed, and you’re having a dream that you’re falling, and you wake up with a jolt, BUT IT DOESN’T STOP” he explains mystically to his older sisters. “I was a bit nervous, not about the plane, cause it was going to be my first flight ever anyway so I thought I’m gonna love it. But going on this bus full of adults I don’t know to get to the airport was a bit daunting. But Dave my tandem master explained everything really clearly and then kept on joking about stuff so we ended up sniggering all the way.” Sammy’s mum was also a little bit nervous but the knowledge each rig contains a main and backup parachute as well as a computer that deploys the chute automatically at a certain altitude was reassuring. “He had such a good time, it was all worth it. Someone’s got a new fridge photo to put up and show off.”
5) Greg – the aviator supreme
You’d be surprised to not find a pilot at a skydiving gig. These mystical creatures, shrouded in starched shirts, mirrored aviators and banter only air traffic control pretends to understand, are often the only clean-shaven face in sight of a plane’s petrol docking station. You may have had the privilege of catching a glimpse of a pilot walking through the VIP lane at airport security or flicking switches and checking charts with the co-pilot through the crack of the nearly-closed cockpit door as the stewardess opposite you motions to you to take your seat at the back in row 29 and refrain from holding up the queue any longer.
But when you’re cramming 17 people into a small plane with two seats and a Perspex shutter instead of a door, things get cosy and you have the chance to get a good look at a real-life pilot. Greg as been flying since 2011 and completed his training for skydiving piloting 2 years ago. He’s flown a lot of different types of planes in all sorts of environments, but flying parachutists requires quite a unique combination of skill and experience. “Unlike a normal flight, everyone’s really excited to be there. You have to get up to altitude as fast as you can and then maintain a track, altitude and air speed whilst losing about 1400kg out of the door in the space of about 50 seconds.”
Camera fliers make things really interesting for Greg as they cling to the outside of the plane creating a lot of drag until they suddenly drop off at the same time as two other people. “You have to compensate with the plane, which is fine with 1 camera flier but when there are fun jumpers involved, we’ll have up to 13 people hanging on to the outside of the plane.” All this experience means that when you apply for jobs with a commercial airliner, having worked as a skydive pilot is great on your CV as you’ll have honed your skills to keep a plane steady and secure as well as being awesome at takeoffs and landings. “In a normal situation, you may do 3 or 4 takeoff and landing combinations a day. When you’re working in skydiving, you’re doing 10 to 20 a day, which means you get really, really good.”
When the door of the plane opens, it gets a bit scary, we say. “You don’t need to be fearless, just skilled, and the physics involved are amazingly supportive. One pilot I work with is scared of heights, but he loves flying once he gets to a certain altitude, so he just deals with his fear and he’s fine. He’s applying for a major airline at the moment and he’s a fantastic pilot so will do very well. It’s when you see beyond your physical reaction to the possibilities life holds that you really start to enjoy yourself.”
Over the Christmas break, after enjoying the big city lights of Melbourne, a group of us headed to Northern Queensland for an experiment. Is everyone’s home someone else’s dream destination?
“Townsville. Super boring. Why would anyone want to visit. Trust me, I know, I grew up here.
Townsville really doesn’t have much to offer. A big army base has dominated the town’s demographic makeup ever since I can remember. Being a teenager was hard – you kept on being muscled out of bars by rowdy army guys and getting to know girls that didn’t go to your school was next to impossible. The scenery is ok, but being much drier than Mission or Airlie Beach, and with much less stuff to do, there’s a reason the tourists tend to drive straight through.
When we touched down I was super-excited to see my family and the few friends that had stayed, but to be honest, destination-wise, I would have spent my money on going somewhere else. Remember, I know this place inside out.
We went to the Billabong sanctuary to watch animals I can see in my mum’s back yard. Roos are constantly at the side of the road, ‘cause they’re stupid and get hit by cars. Cockatoos and galahs trash stuff. Koalas sleep all day. So at the sanctuary, you can hold one. It still sleeps. The crocs are a little bit more exciting, but also one of the main reasons I can’t swim in the sea. Bummer.
Maggie Island is one of my favourite places. It was fun to go, but it’s just my back yard. Why would anyone want to go there? Yeah the beaches are nice and stuff, but you could go to Bali? Or spend Christmas somewhere that actually LOOKS like Christmas. Like Munich, or Frankfurt! Also, Magnetic Island’s not THAT exciting unless you hung out there as a kid and now that I’m an adult I’m not that sure it should be recommended. Just like that moment your brother laughed so hard milk came out of his nose. It was really funny at the time, I swear. We had dinner with one of my mum’s friends, which was super-tasty. But again, if you could go to the Taj Mahal, who wants to hang out with my mum’s friends?
We actually left Townsville to drive to Mission Beach, which is just up the road, but a REAL tourist destination. They have skydivers there, and one of us went, which was pretty awesome. The drive was lovely, we stopped off at the giant gumboot in Tully, Frosty Mango and Crystal Creek on the way back, but I won’t go into great detail cause it’s really not that exciting. So there you go. 6 days in my hometown. Really nothing special.”
“I’m not going to lie. I was a bit dubious when it was suggested that we take the week I have after Christmas to go visit somewhere rather off the tourist trail. We could have gone to Cairns, or Airlie Beach, which I’d seen advertised many times in the Lonely Planet, Tourism Australia brochures and on the Internet. But this was going to be something different. We were flying to Townsville.
Coming from a cold and wet Frankfurt to spend Christmas in hot and sunny Australia was a real treat. All the seafood and pool parties and cycling trips to the beach – it didn’t feel Christmassy at all. We were exploring this world completely new to us, where wearing a Santa hat surfing really is a thing. Now that we’d flown to the North end of the country, it was going to get even more exotic. I spotted a huge flock of brightly coloured parakeets swing through the air above the airport arrivals lounge. It may sounds strange, but arriving somewhere that has a huge “careful about the crocs” poster in the foyer gave me this real sense of adventure.
And adventure it was – we headed to the Billabong Sanctuary that has actual, real, live wombats! I’d never seen one in my life! It was incredible! And all the birds, the cockatoos even said ‘hello!’. All these animals I’d seen photos of, but never actually seen up close, in real life, suddenly weren’t made up creatures on a piece of paper anymore. They were there – living and breathing and squawking and shuffling around, cage-free and there for the petting. And we’re not talking boring rabbits or badgers or deer… I never even knew that something called and Echidna existed! I even got to hold a small koala, it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. You simply can’t imagine how soft and springy and dense their fur is.
We were staying with family of friends and you can’t imagine my surprise when I saw wild wallabies jumping around in the back garden. We could even feed them! I was over the moon. But there was more to come. We took the ferry to Magnetic Island and spent the day exploring. Wild koalas, beautiful empty bays with aquamarine water, flocks of parakeets flashing between rainforest trees… we had to swim in a stinger net but clambering up huge rocks to watch the ocean was just magical. I loved the warmth of the water here, and how it was so easygoing – we ended up being the only people in the bay so we just left our stuff and went for a walk along the sand. We certainly built up an appetite as we were invited to dinner with a friend of the family. It was simply delicious, and so good to hang out with a real local who was interested in me and where I come from, and showed me the difference between 5 (!!) sorts of mangos. We chatted for hours and hours, it was wonderful.
Our final big outing was to drive to Mission Beach, 3 hours up the coast. I can’t remember the last time I drove for 3 hours without stopping off; it’s such a long way to drive in one go. Mission Beach was beautiful, especially from above, as it had been arranged for me to go skydiving. I could not believe my luck that I can do these kinds of things. I’m so incredibly grateful. Most of my friends just stay where they are, but here I was, hanging 5000ft in the air with a parachute and a wonderfully entertaining tandem master. Seeing the coastline stretch as far as the eye could see below me, and the rainforest on one side and Great Barrier Reef on the other was just amazing.
The drive home was even better than the drive up. We stopped off at the biggest wellington boot I’ve ever seen – you can even climb it, what a hoot! Then we bought some fresh local prawns – the lady in the shop was completely mental, but really well meaning. She was saying all these things I couldn’t understand because her accent was so thick, and she shouted a lot, but it was hilarious – you just can’t make this stuff up. Neither can you plan or pay for this kind of real local experience, and the setting in which we ate the prawns was amazing. Up in the rainforest, a stream rolls over these huge boulders creating little pools and slides and even really deep bits you can dive into. As it was the weekend, families came with their kids and friends (via delicious ice cream shop Frosty Mango!) and just brought lunch, hung out and swam in the stream. Some of the kids even caught wild crayfish. I would have never found this place if it wasn’t for our local’s knowledge, and I feel really privileged to have been somewhere that very few tourists know is there.
Looking back, I had such a great time in Townsville. It was every day life for some, but to me everything was so exotic and exciting. I mean, wild parrots in your back garden? How much more holiday-like does it get? Words can’t describe it, you’re just going to have to go to Queensland.”
If we’ve learned anything from our little experiment, it is to not underestimate how interesting your own surroundings can be for someone from a different background. We all had a fantastic time, but here lies the secret: just because you think it’s normal, doesn’t mean the rest of the world thinks the same. Just because it’s ‘ugly’ or ‘boring’ or ‘every day’ doesn’t mean others won’t be amazed by your ‘edgy’ or ‘incredibly relaxing’ or ‘so different from where I live’ surroundings. People have different ideas about what they find inspiring, they travel all over the world to beachside holiday resorts, or icy landscapes, or North Korea, or Kazakhstan or Kenya. Or even Frankfurt. It’s often the things you take for granted that outsiders pick up on and find fascinating. What? Everyone sticks to the queuing system? Huh? You eat cold meats and cheese for breakfast? OMG! You have actual, real SNOW in your garden?!?
So if you can’t get away, and are stuck at home, in your boring surroundings, remember that someone else is dreaming of seeing the cool English pub down the road, or your sash windows, or your heated toilet seat. Invite someone to check out what makes your place ‘normal’ and see how they point out things and laugh about stuff you never thought anyone would notice. See your own surroundings with new eyes. You never know, inspiration might just be around the corner.
That goat scene will never leave your memory. What had the goat done to deserve this anyway? But it could also have ended so beautifully – like that Tiger in Russia who decided to not eat his takeaway-goat-dinner but befriend it instead. But according to Spielberg, it’s the dinosaurs who are out to get us. Well, we have news for you. For on two islands in the South Pacific, whose rainforest covered mountains, treacherous gorges and snow-capped peaks have fascinated humankind since their arrival over 800 years ago, it was the birds you really have to worry about.
New Zealand’s 65 million years of isolation from any other landmass and consequent lack of mammals (apart from bats that flew over the sea at some point and some seals that swam there) meant the islands’ native flora and fauna is unique to say the least. Where Africa boasts large mammal carnivores that keep the eco-system healthy and Europe’s soils are kept fertile by burrowing moles, New Zealand didn’t have as much as a single wallaby to stop the shrubs from taking over. Nevertheless, the Kiwi eco system is incredibly complex and diverse thanks to birds, reptiles and insects taking over ecological niches usually filled by mammals.
When humans first arrived in New Zealand, there were as many as 131 species of terrestrial, freshwater and coastal birds as well as another 65 species of seabirds, of which 115 were only found in New Zealand. If at this point you’re like “meh, I know what a pigeon looks like”, then take in a face-full of these awesome creatures:
1) The Kakapo
Yeah, its name might make you snigger, but so will video footage of it shamelessly humping Stephen Fry’s cameraman. This flightless, nocturnal parrot isn’t only the world’s largest and longest living, but also the world’s only non-monogamous parrot (which means he’s a bit of a slag). Its name actually translates from Maori to Kaka (“parrot”) + po (“night”) and only uses its flightless wings to balance or break its fall should it leap the wrong direction out of a tree. Not needing them for flight makes the Kakapos feathers extremely soft, which unfortunately meant they were often made into items of clothing by the Maoris, which on top of being easily hunted and eaten straight off the ground by settlers pets such as dogs, cats or ferrets, resulted in the Kakapo becoming critically endangered. Bummer. Randomly, Kakapos are also said to smell really nice (no irony here).
2) The Kea
Staying with roughly the same kind of bird, let New Zealand introduce you to the Kea, the world’s only alpine parrot. About 48cm long and mostly olive green and grey, it feeds on all kind of stuff, including sheep. Or so farmers from the 1860s believed so they could kill it for bounty. Luckily keas are rather smart and flew back into the mountains, helping each other out and preparing and using tools to get what they need to survive. Yup, it’s all caught on camera. As of 1993, so is a group of kea attacking sheep. So the farmers were right after all – Sir David Attenborough says it. Seriously. These are your sheep-killing parrot-predators.
On this note, a group of kea is referred to as a ‘circus’ and they are rarely found on the North Island, debunking claims they actually want to get somewhere warmer but are just a bit lost. Often called “the clown of the mountains”, keas will do what all parrots do: wreak havoc. Investigating backpacks, skis, snowboards, boots, clothes, cars, flying off with anything that’s light and not bolted down (including one unfortunate Scottish man’s passport) and generally trashing places are only a few reasons they are no longer kept as pets.
3) The Moa
Another bird you probably don’t want as a pet is a moa. Mainly because it was up to 3.6m tall and weighted up to 230kg. That’s a lot of bird feed per week. Moas also display different sizes for males and females, with one being up to 150% taller and 280% heavier than the other. Interestingly, it’s the female that’s the larger one. Hellooooo ladiiieeees. The difference was so big that until 2003, the bones were attributed to distinct species but those clever DNA people at CSI Miami quickly cleared that one up. Despite their size, moas fed on plants, twigs, leaves from trees, shrubs and your mum’s rose bushes. Think of filling the niche of a prairie-wondering giraffe, deer or buffalo. They swallowed several kilos of stones to help them digest coarse material and you can still find them on the beach today if you know what to looks for (ask Jonny at the Purangi winery for tips!).
The other main reason you won’t want a moa as a pet is that it will be dead. Due to over-hunting, the last living moa to grace the face of this earth kicked the bucket around 1445 AD. There are, however, thirty six whole moa eggs still in existence in museum collections, so if you want to run your own Jurassic Park style re-animation-breeding program, we’re sure there’s a kickstarter audience out there for you. In fact, Jonny has it on good authority that someone has already succeeded in his neck of the woods. There have been sightings… don’t shoot the messenger. Remember you didn’t believe the sheep-eating parrot thing either, before Sir Dave confirmed it.
4) The Haast’s Eagle
We have established that at 3.6m height and 230kg, moas are massive. Think the body mass of an average pony. So what on God’s green earth could the main predator that hunts moa look like? A tiger? A bear? An eagle? … hang on… EAGLE? You heard correctly, the answer to New Zealand’s lack of large mammal predators is… stick some massive wings on a massive raptor’s body and voila: you have your apex killer.
Interestingly, DNA evidence shows that both the haast’s eagle and the moa used to be way smaller but were able to just get larger and larger due to lack of competition. This is called “island gigantism” and resulted in a bird weighing over 16kg and a compact but nevertheless impressive wingspan of 3m. To give you a comparison, a haast’s eagle’s lower beak bone has been measured at 11.4cm vs the largest beak of modern day eagles only get up to 7cm long. We have to say ‘modern day’ eagles as unfortunately, as moas were turned into fancy new Maori handbags in the 15th century, haast’s eagles lost their main food source and died out.
5) The Kiwi
Kiwis are awesome. We saw Atu and her friend Kevin, a great spotted and brown Kiwi in Otogohanga’s Kiwi House, who were so surprisingly fluffy, cute and actively bopping around their little night time forest enclosures, we didn’t realize half an hour had passes since we started watching them. It may surprise you to learn that kiwis are related to ostriches, emus and cassowaries, but at the size of a domestic chicken. Furthermore, kiwis more closely related to huge Malagasy elephant birds than they are to native moas. They are the only bird to have nostrils at he end of their beaks, possess bone marrow and lay the largest eggs in relation to their body size of any bird in the world. An egg will be 20% of the female’s body weight. Compare that to an ostrich’s measly 2%.
Just like Brett in Flight of the Conchords, New Zealand’s birds have got it going o-oh-ooohhhn. The Islands’ unique setting cut off from the rest of the world has made it’s animals and plants incredibly creative, so when you visit, it will look like nothing else on the planet. And if you take a closer look at these amazing creatures, their dinosaur ancestry suddenly becomes apparent. Maybe it’s the dinosaurs (in modern form) you need to be afraid of after all.
We’ve been researching a lot about skydivers recently. Last September, our project for Skydive Australia started to open up a whole new world to us, which ain’t a mean feet – we’ve been quite a few places already. We were both surprised and in awe by what you can do in the sky and how accessible and inclusive skydiving really is. We also stumbled across a whole bunch of amazing feats fliers have achieved, so, without further ado (and shamelessly un-paraphrased off Wikipedia), we simply HAD to share a definitive list of skydiving world records.
- On October 24, 2014, Alan Eustace achieved the highest parachute jump in history, jumping from 135,890 feet(41,422 m) and drogue-falling for 4 and a half minutes. The previous height record was set on October 14, 2012 by Felix Baumgartner who still holds records for the longest and fastest free-fall by breaking the speed of sound achieving Mach 1.25 jumping from 127,852 feet (38,970 m) as part of the Red Bull Stratos U.S. Air Force Captain Joe W. Kittinger, the 4th highest jumper (102,800 feet (31,330 m), August 16, 1960), served as mission control for Baumgartner.
- World’s record for themost tandem parachute jumps in a 24-hour period is 103. This record was set in 2009 by Chip Bowlin and Kristine Gould.
- World’slargest formation in free-fall: 8 February 2006 in Udon Thani, Thailand (400 linked persons in freefall).
- World’slargest female-only formation: Jump for the Cause, 181 women from 26 countries who jumped from nine planes at 17,000 feet (5150 meters), in 2009.
- World’s largest head down formation (vertical formation): 31 July 2015 at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Illinois, U.S. (164 linked skydivers in head to Earth attitude):
- Largest female head down formation (vertical formation): 30 November 2013 at Skydive Arizona in Eloy, Arizona, U.S. (63 linked skydivers in head to Earth attitude).
- European record: 13 August 2010, Włocławek, Poland. Polish skydivers broke a record when 102 people created a formation in the air during the Big Way Camp Euro 2010. The skydive was their fifteenth attempt at breaking the record.
- World’slargest canopy formation: 100, set on 21 November 2007 in Lake Wales, Florida, U.S.
- In 1929, U.S. Army Sergeant R. W. Bottriell held the world’s record for most parachute jumps with 500. At that number, Bottriell stopped parachuting and became a ground instructor.
- Australian stunt parachutist, Captain Vincent Taylor, received the unofficial record for a lowest-level jump in 1929 when he jumped off a bridge over the San Francisco Bay whose center section had been raised to 135 feet (41 meters).
- Don Kellner holds the record for the most parachute jumps, with a total of over 40,000 jumps.
- Cheryl Stearns (U.S.) holds the record for the most parachute descents by a woman, with a total of 20,000 in August 2014, as well as the most parachute jumps made in a 24-hour period by a woman—352 jumps from 8–9 November 1995.
- Erin Hogan became the world’s youngest sky diver as of 2002, when she tandem jumped at age 5.
- Bill Dause holds the record for the most accumulated freefall time with over 420 hours (30,000+ jumps).
- Jay Stokes holds the record for most parachute descents in a single day at 640.
- The Oldest Skydiver: Frank Moody, aged 101, made a tandem jump on 6 June 2004 at Skydive Cairns. The Tandem Master was Karl Eitrich. Previously, the record was unofficially generally credited (at least in the U.S.) to “Smitty the Jumper” (H. Truesdell Smith) — from around 1959 (age 61) through his last solo jump in 1974 (211th jump, age 75), to his last tandem jump in 1990 (221st jump, age 91), and even until his death in 1995 (age 96).
- Largest all-blind skydiving formation: 2, with Dan Rossi and John “BJ” Fleming on September 13, 2003.
If this is all pretty amazing but sounds a little unachievable, don’t worry. Check out who we met during our project and tell us again that skydiving’s beyond your abilities…