Kiwi bungy pioneers still thrill seeking 30 years on

When two Kiwi thrill seekers took a ‘leap of faith’ 30 years ago and launched commercial bungy in New Zealand little did they know they were pioneering a global phenomenon.

When two Kiwi thrill seekers took a ‘leap of faith’ 30 years ago and launched commercial bungy in New Zealand little did they know they were pioneering a global phenomenon.

AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch’s leap of faith not only opened up the precarious practice of bungy-jumping to the world but also put New Zealand innovation and adventure firmly on the map.

Today New Zealand is synonymous with adventure tourism and AJ Hackett Bungy New Zealand has celebrated 30 years of safely encouraging people to overcome their fears and take a life-changing leap into the unknown.

The company launched its first commercial bungy jumping operation at Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown in November 1988 and now operates 11 different adventure activities throughout New Zealand.

These include the recently opened Nevis Catapult another world first where thrill seekers experience up to 3G of force and speeds of almost 100km per hour in 1.5 seconds as they are propelled 150m out across a ravine before dropping suddenly towards the valley floor and experiencing a series of jaw-dropping bounces.

All AJ Hackett activities including Queenstown Bungy & Swing, Queenstown Bungy & Zipride, Queenstown Nevis Bungy, Swing & Catapult, Auckland Bridge Climb & Bungy and the Auckland SkyWalk & SkyJump offer thrill seekers an adrenaline rush with the distraction of sublime views in some of the most awe-inspiring destinations found anywhere in the world.  

As well as notching up world firsts, breaking records, developing new innovations and staging specialist stunts the company has a 100% safety record and co-founder and managing director Henry van Asch says it owes the 30 years of success to an inspiring crew committed to sharing bungy with the world.  

 “Thirty years ago, AJ and I hosted 28 thrill seekers -mostly our friends - looking to try out this thing we’d been talking about for years. At the time, we had no idea it would become a global phenomenon, we just loved bungy jumping and wanted to share it with others.”

He said AJ Hackett crews are dedicated to helping people overcome their fears and share the experience with others. “Over 30 years we’ve continued to challenge people with new opportunities to live more and fear less, whether it’s with a giant swing, a jump off Auckland’s Sky Tower or our latest world-first human slingshot, the Nevis Catapult.”

Earlier this year AJ Hackett launched its ‘Live More Fear Less’ campaign and new company brand with Mr van Asch doing a Heli Bungy Jump over Dunedin Harbour in the South Island. The bungy pioneer was also a New Zealand champion speed skier and downhill mountain biker and has been awarded Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

About bungy in New Zealand

New Zealand has become one of the leading places in the world to experience adventure tourism and the one activity that sums up the pioneering, adventure-loving, free-spirited nature of New Zealand and its people, is 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.

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 Wanaka - 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.

30 years on

AJ Hackett Bungy now operates across five sites in two iconic New Zealand destinations with a range of enthralling adrenaline-fuelled experiences.

At the original Kawarau Bungy site visitors can experience both the classic bungy and a family-friendly zipride both operating from an impressive contemporary Bungy Centre with an extensive viewing platform and cosy café for observers.

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. The Nevis Catapult is the latest in the AJ Hackett thriller bank and operates alongside the infamous Nevis Swing.

Climbs are 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.

Two of Auckland’s most popular attractions also come under the AJ Hackett umbrella - Auckland SkyJump and SkyWalk both operating from Auckland SkyTower offering the best views of the New Zealand’s largest city and the region beyond.

What next? Well it seems the innovative brains of those pioneering thrill seekers are never idle. To celebrate the 30-year anniversary there were several eye watering stunts at Kawarau Bridge, including a bungy jump on a bike, another in a kayak and some group leaps of faith with up to five jumpers at a time.