New Zealand is synonymous with adventure tourism - over the last 30 years it has become one of the leading places in the world to experience a thrilling adrenalin rush, while surrounded by some of the most sublime views and awe-inspiring destinations found anywhere.
Fun-loving visitors to New Zealand can experience everything from rolling downhill in inflatable balls and rafting on spectacular rivers. But, if there is one extreme tourism activity that sums up the pioneering, adventure-loving, free-spirited nature of New Zealand and its people, then it has to be the bungy jump.
This ‘leap of faith’ - which involves throwing oneself off a high platform with bungy-cords attached to the ankles - has been done in varying incarnations for centuries.
The original form of bungy-jumping was inspired by ancient land-diving rituals in Vanuatu. Oxford University's Dangerous Sports Club also experimented with the activity.
But it took Kiwi ingenuity and daring to bring the extreme sport to the attention of the world.
Making of an icon
New Zealander AJ Hackett thrilled and horrified the world when he took his own very public leap of faith from the Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1987. Never before had the modern world seen such a brazen and death-defying act.
This bold act - combined with AJ Hackett’s entrepreneurial acumen - set off an adventure tourism revolution.
In 1988 Hackett and Henry van Asch - a like-minded friend he met on the ski-fields of Wakana - developed the super-supple bungy cord with the help of students from Auckland University and opened the world’s first commercial bungy jumping operation.
The site was Queenstown’s Kawarau River Bridge. Here thrill-seekers of all nationalities could jump 43m from the now-famous bridge, framed by the spectacular cliffs of the Kawarau Gorge, towering above the quick flowing Kawarau River.
At the time, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) gave consent for the bridge to be used commercially for 30 days. Many critics thought this new tourism experience would be a fad that would fade out - those critics couldn’t have been more wrong.
In 2013 AJ Hackett Bungy celebrated 25 years of thrilling the world.
Twenty-five years of thrills
In true extreme sport style, the celebrations consisted of a 25-day series of events, promotions and competitions that culminated in a ‘not-to-be missed’ party.
During the 25 days of celebration the amazing achievements and successes of the pioneering adventure tourism company were honoured, as was Queenstown’s historic Kawarau Bridge, the official ‘World Home of Bungy.’
Since its humble beginnings over three million people have experienced the thrill of bungy jumping at AJ Hackett Bungy sites around the world.
AJ Hackett bungy - now solely owned and operated by Henry van Asch - has four sites across New Zealand with a range of enthralling bungy experiences.
Visitors can experience both the classic bungy and a new family-friendly zipride at the original Kawarau Bungy site, which now operates from an impressive contemporary Bungy Centre.
The Ledge Bungy and swing, in the heart of Queenstown, lets visitors experience one of New Zealand’s most spectacular landscapes, from a sky-high vantage point.
At 134m, the Nevis Bungy - over the thundering Nevis River - is the highest in Australasia and gives jumpers a breath-taking 8.5-metre fall.
Climbs are now also part of the AJ Hackett repertoire.
One climb traverses the iconic Auckland Harbour Bridge - an experience that allows visitors to see an immense and important structure from another view-point, along with 360-degree views of the ‘City of Sails’.
Visitors can also bungy from the bridge - another thread in bungy folklore as Auckland native AJ Hackett was arrested there in 1987 after making the first jump.
Teen heart-throb Justin Bieber famously did a jump at the Auckland Bridge Bungy. Other celebrities such as Katy Perry, Tiger Woods, Jack Black and a naked Billy Connelly have experienced the thrill at various sites across New Zealand.
AJ Hackett Bungy co-founder and director Henry van Asch said he was "overwhelmed and incredibly proud" to see the company reach the quarter of a century milestone.
"For 25 years AJ Hackett Bungy has encouraged people to step outside their comfort zone, balancing the perceived risk of jumping, swinging and now zipping from a great height, with the most stringent of safety measures," van Asch said.
"It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since AJ and I dreamt up the idea to jump off structures around the world attached to a bungy and then start a commercial operation at the now world-famous Kawarau Bridge.
"It’s been a fun, interesting and incredible ride, during which time we’ve become not only one of the best-known brands in New Zealand, but also the world."
Admirers can follow celebrations on the AJ Hackett Bungy Facebook page and are encouraged to use the #25daysof bungy hashtag on social media sites.
Bungy - a Kiwi adventure
Queenstown - birthplace of adventure tourism